I met a few business and creative people from SAARC countries in New Delhi earlier this week. Everybody was anxious to exude the eagerness for #onesouthasia, a topic trending on social media that day.
A cool atmosphere inside hotel compared to dry and hot weather outside was not deliberate. A fear for dengue was certainly a topic to discuss though Lutyens’ Delhi was safer. Yeh, you need a topic to engage yourself.
“Do you think ‘One South Asia’ will be realised one day?” asked an impressive-looking delegate from a neighbouring country in the northern high hills during a tea-break.
Noting that I was silent, she quipped: “More than 2.6 trillion USD of trade – a big factor of being a global player together – it’s dream of economics”.
“Yet less than 30 billion dollars of intra-regional trade,” I quipped.
“But then, it’s growing!”
“Tourism of entire South Asia accumulates to less than just Malaysia’s tourism revenue.”
“But we have 25% of middle-class consumer.”
“And 40% of world poor.”
The lady was looking disappointed. I also understood why dialogue was not making sense. And, I changed my way.
“In spite of all these, we are neighbours. This alone makes sense why we should work together.”
The lady was happy to see the change.
“We should increase economic cooperation; and the cooperation should go beyond governmental intervention.”
She could not disagree.
“The communication infrastructure must be laid for better trade and people-to-people contact.”
“Yes, we need to create multi-modal transport network with sea-traffic, Ganga and Brahmaputra waterways, road routes and more frequent flights,” she asserted.
“More, we should deepen ties with cross-border power grids for energy sufficiency in the region.” I added.
“But India being taller partner, in geographical and economic size, should be primarily responsible to make these happen and should take the lead.”
“Why not small countries – like the way Belgium or Luxembourg did for European Union, or why not like what Singapore did for ASEAN integration?” I opined.
“We differ, and don’t add up this way,” she told impatiently.
Yet we are dreaming for #onesouthasia, and that is exactly what makes it work. A process of deliberation, dreaming and baby-steps is the way for South Asia, in its new effort of integration. Perhaps both were thinking the same way – could not really differ further.