India's Eastward Engagement: From Antiquity to Act East Policy.

AuthorLouis, Yantha Meena
PositionBook review

India's Eastward Engagement: From Antiquity to Act East Policy. By S.D. Muni and Rahul Mishra. London and Delhi: SAGE Publications, 2019. Hardcover: 348pp.

It is said that the best work is usually one that is done in the pursuit of truth, or in the case of this book, the solid reiteration of the truth. The authors, S.D. Muni and Rahul Mishra, both experts in Indian and Southeast Asian affairs, trace the history of India's eastward engagement from antiquity to the present time, which culminates in the reinvigorated Act East Policy (AEP) announced by Prime Minister Modi in 2014. The book highlights important indices of India's dynamic political behaviour and all aspects of Indian statecraft with respect to the East, flawed or otherwise.

The authors begin with an insightful introduction into how India perceives the East and the important civilizational exchanges and cultural diffusion that have taken place over millennia between the two places. The introduction also provides a clear outline of the book's main themes. Despite the elaborate historical recount, there is a clear focus on India's foreign policy and the country's engagements with East and Southeast Asia. The coverage of the three initial "waves" of India's eastward engagement and the "Indianization" of Southeast Asia not only serve as a chronological background to the study, but also contextualize the cultural similarities and the Indian diaspora present in Southeast Asia today.

The account of the three waves of history is especially fascinating as it chronicles the first signs of India's interaction with the East, which occurred as early as prehistoric times. The authors skilfully highlight Hindu and Buddhist influences which are considered the first wave. In fact, in the case of East Asia, India's engagement began with the Buddhist wave. The spread of Islam to Southeast Asia, the second wave, was facilitated by regional Muslim kingdoms in southern India, particularly along the Malabar Coast. Thus, these two waves are actually the origins of the Indian diaspora in Southeast Asia. The third wave, orchestrated by the British colonial authorities, was more deliberate and purposeful. Britain sent millions of Indians to its Southeast Asian colonies as plantation and mining workers. This third wave made possible the emergence of the links between India's political elite and the leaders of countries in the East struggling for independence, and paved the way for the camaraderie that...

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