From the time former Singaporean Premier Lee Kuan Yew came to India for an international jurists conference (when he was not head of State) in 1959, he has been asking India to take a greater interest in South-East Asia, Sunanda Dutta-Ray, author of the just-released book ‘Looking East to Look West – Lee Kuan Yew's Mission India,' said.
While this did not work immediately and, in fact, did not happen for a long while, it began to take concrete shape after 1992. With Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister, India began to alter its view of the South-East Asian region.
Looking east was not a one-off policy of the Rao government, Mr. Dutta-Ray said. It was part of a package of measures that India took up then, including joining the Asia-Pacific Council that it had once been deeply suspicious of, sending out feelers to Taiwan, Israel and South Africa; even considering a military exercise with the United States, after first conducting it with eastern nations such as Singapore, Malaysia and Australia.
At a book release function here at Oxford bookstore, Mr. Dutta-Ray read passages from his book underlining the strong Tamil connection with Singapore. The book was first launched in Singapore by the island nation's President S.R. Nathan and subsequently launched in Kolkata too.
The author is an editor, Statesman; and editorial consultant to the Straits Times, Singapore.
Former Governor of West Bengal Gopalkrishna Gandhi said the book was written by one who did not claim to be an academic, but he had brought to it the rigour of research and the easy readability of journalistic writing.
He also found the book to be a remarkable analysis of the world of the Indian diplomats in Singapore – playing the traditional role of engaging with the host country in a meaningful manner. Lee Kuan Yew apparently valued the inputs of diplomats, he added.
Y. Venugopal Reddy, former Reserve Bank Governor, said the book was a masterly exposition of the subject it sought to handle, well-researched and written with deep insight. It was also was eminently readable.
The 21st century will be the century of Asia, Dr. Reddy said, and Singapore as the ‘knowledge society' would have an important role to play in the geopolitical science of the region.
Ajit Singh, Consul General of the Republic of Singapore in Chennai, said the book captured what has evolved as Singapore-India relations across the entire spectrum through which it grew – social, economic, strategic, and cultural. However, both nations had come a long way since then to share a very special, dynamic relationship.