MO,22/1/2018, IT will be an old familiar feeling for Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak when he arrives in the Indian capital on Wednesday. This marks his fourth official visit to India since taking office in 2009, coming on the heels of his high-profile appearances in Chennai and New Delhi less than a year ago. Last April, Indian and Malaysian business leaders signed one of the biggest trade deals in Malaysian history – US$36bil (RM158.68bil).
The amount was even higher than the RM144bil worth of deals signed by Malaysia in China just four months earlier. This time, Najib is scheduled to attend the Asean-India Commemorative Summit which will coincide with India’s Republic Day celebration. India’s relationship with the 10-nation regional grouping is a key pillar of its foreign policy and foundation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Act East Policy.
The world’s largest democracy became a Sectoral Partner of Asean in 1992, Dialogue Partner in 1996 and Summit Level Partner in 2002, leading to its upgrading as a Strategic Partner in 2012. Political observers said Najib’s presence at the two-day Commemorative Summit, themed “Shared Values, Common Destiny”, on Thursday, recognises the geo-political importance of India to Asean.
“His visits to India also prove his interest to widen engagement with a country that is predicted to be the world’s third most powerful economy by 2030,” said Datuk Dr A.T. Kumararajah, former executive director of SEED (Secretariat for Empowerment of Indian Entrepreneurs). “Malaysia’s relations with India have always been strong based on social ties alone, with the natural tendencies of the 2.7 million-strong Malaysian-Indian diaspora which is now in its third and fourth generations,” added Kumararajah, who was in Chennai last year for Najib’s meeting with South Indian corporate leaders.
Wisma Putra has been working on the finer details of a bilateral meeting of two Prime Ministers who have forged a close bond between them. Although it is common that such bilateral meetings are held on the sidelines with the visiting heads of state or government, officials said Najib’s meeting with Modi will be substantive due to the enormous strides in the relationship. “This meeting will give both PMs an early opportunity to revisit some of the significant MoUs signed during Najib’s visit last year.
“There is a further opportunity to break new ground with the robust growth of the Indian economy,” said Consortium of Indian Industries in Malaysia (CIIM) founder chairman Datuk Umang Sharma. He said with an ambitious government undertaking comprehensive reforms, India has enormous growth potential compared to other emerging economies, with a projected growth rate of 7.3% in 2018 and 7.5% for the next two years.
He suggests India consider awarding “Most Favoured Nation” status to Malaysia within Asean and for Malaysia to reciprocate, which will go a long way in enhancing two-way trade and investments. India’s ruling party BJP, Malaysia chapter, president and convenor Pardeep Batra said the Indian government holds Malaysia in high esteem and the Najib-Modi partnership is the closest forged between both countries in recent times.