NEW DELHI, April 19 (Bernama) – Bilateral relations, in terms of trade,
investment and politics between India and Malaysia, is at a high level and is
expected to strengthen further, though people-to-people relations remain far
from satisfactory, according to experts.
Over the years, bilateral relations have improved tremendously between the
two countries, particularly after Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun
Razak’s visit to India and India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to
"It was a completely different body language, context and substance," said
Honorary Fellow, Centre for Policy Research in India, Sanjay Babu, who also sees
defence, business, economics and people-to-people concerns as four aspects of a
Business relationship between New Delhi and Kuala Lumpur is rising and
expected to be on a trajectory growth, he said at the India-Malaysia Strategic
"Asia has overtaken the US and Europe combined as India’s largest trading
partner as a consequence of our look east policy, FTA with Asean, building
connectivity and rising investment from Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, South Korea
and Malaysia," said Babu.
DEALING WITH THE SAME ISSUES
But, despite 50 years of bilateral ties between the two countries,
people-to-people relationships somehow seem to lack, he noted, acknowledging
that this aspect is the most complex dimension to the links between the two
After the US and Nepal, Malaysia has the third largest Indian Diaspora, with
a population of about 2.0 million.
"India has 80 per cent Hindu and 20 per cent minorities, while Malaysia has
60 per cent Muslims and 40 per cent minorities. We have different demographic
balances, but internally we are all dealing with the same issues of empowerment,
entitlement and inclusive growth."
However, "we are not talking to each other enough, we are not sharing and
experiencing enough about how we can help each other and create a more open
society and economies," Babu said.
"Defence and business are based on interest, it is purely
government-to-government and business-to-business relationships between two
How do you evolve purely from an interest driven relationship to an interest
plus value-based relationship?
Babu said that there were enormous potentials for greater people-to-people
interactions, if nations recognise how powerful the pluralistic institutes in
our societies are.
"We in India talk about unity in diversity, which is also the essence of
Malaysia, as well as Indonesia. There are several religions, languages and
races," said Babu.
He added that there are issues; some sensitive that needs to be dealt with
by the way of intellectual honesty and coming to term with it, rather than
A number of participants shared similar views as Babu, saying that there has
not been a proper understanding among the common man about each other''s country.
"For many Malaysians, Bollywood, which is widely watched by the Malays,
Indians, as well as the Chinese, is the window to India," said Director of
Foreign Policy and Security Studies at the Institute of Strategic and
International Studies (ISIS), Malaysia, Dr Tang Siew Mun.
However, Bollywood does not reflect India entirely, just as the
world-renowned Petronas twin towers is not entirely Malaysia; there are things
beyond that, said another participant.
ROLE OF TOURIST
Although, the Indian movie industry comes to Malaysia for shooting, while
the craze of Bollywood had rung up tourist receipts in both countries, that
doesn’t endorse an understanding of the people in the respective countries, he
According to Malaysia Tourism statistics, India is the sixth largest source
for inbound tourism to Malaysia, with about 700,000 Indian tourists visiting
Malaysia in 2010.
Similarly, Malaysia is the tenth largest source for foreign tourists coming
to India, with 160,000 Malaysians visiting India in 2011.
It is worth mentioning that about 85 per cent of Indians in Malaysia are
Tamils, an ethnic group from Tamil Nadu, a state in South India.
Hence, the movement of people between India and Malaysia is mainly between
South Indians and Malaysia, as compared to people travelling from elsewhere in
India, New Straits Times columnist and editorial trainer Balan Moses said.
"It won’t be wrong for me to say that, despite the close political and
economic ties, the man on the street in Malaysia knows more about New York and
London then he knows about New Delhi," he said.
The two groups of people from India that stand out in Malaysia are the IT
professionals and the skilled and unskilled laborers who work in the country’s
"This is because of the perspective and perception gap that exists today in
Malaysia vis-à-vis India," he said, adding that such barriers need to be
addressed to learn and get to know each other’s country better.
And for average Indians, especially from the North, Malaysia is another
Southeast Asia country with Indians, predominantly Tamils or South Indians, he
"So, firstly there should be a bridge in the information gap," said Balan.
One of the ways to bridge this gap is through a tie-up between Kuala Lumpur and
Chennai as sister cities, and similar moves should be considered with Punjab,
amid a large Sikh community in Malaysia, to further enhance the people-to-people
connectivity, he suggested.
As of 2010, about 2,000 Indian students were studying in Malaysia, while an
estimated 5,000 Malaysian students studied in India. These students can become
ambassadors for their countries, he said, provided they are given the kind of
information they need by their government and institutes of higher learning.
He also suggested that a joint Malaysia-India Committee on Social
Interaction can effectively use the Indian and Malaysia mass media to
disseminate information to the general public on both sides.
"The media needs to work together to provide editorial space for a deeper
understanding of the mutual cultures," he said, adding that there is a need for
more media representatives in each other’s country.
Speaking about the media, Dr Shankari Sundararaman, an associate professor
in Southeast Asian Studies, said media needs to dwell beyond the level of
India-Malaysia bilateral relations. She strongly believes that besides cultural
and economics, the domestic politics of a country also remain very valid to
There needs to be an understanding of what are the events that are shaping
Malaysia and vice versa, she said.
The head of the Commonwealth journalists’ association, Mahendra Ved, said
the people-to-people relationship has to be carefully nurtured, "it needs to be
inclusive, accommodative and allowed to follow in a spirit of give and take. It
also has to be voluntary and spontaneous".
He noted that the government could only be a facilitator, it should help to
build a bank of positive possessions and room for different views, and
"psychological barriers needs to be removed."
SM INE FR CR