The backdrop is crucial: in the 60s, when Asean was being set up, it wanted India to be a founding member. India declined and later began regretting its decision. From the 80s, it was our turn to plead for induction. A plea that has not been heard favourably as yet, though India and Asean have an agreed schedule to create a free trade area between 2011 and 2016. That too on our initiativea far cry from those days in the 1960s, when they asked us to be part of Asean.
Since end-2002, the annual India-Asean summit has been working on progress towards an FTA. India has been trying to ensure that it stays on course. But we continue to remain outside the ambit of the Asean-plus caucus that keeps the organisation pro-actively engaged with China, Japan and South Korea.
The last thing we need is to get into a self-congratulatory mode on the basis of an invitation to be an observer at the December summit. All large countries like to live in this make-believe world, that their size commands awe and respect among lesser beings. China, Russia, US and Brazil are, like us, members of this club. But the hard reality is that trade blocs of today are far more powerful than some of the worlds largest nations. It is how smaller nations get back at the larger economic powers. India has realised this a little late. That we are actively pursuing better relations with trade blocs now is most heartening.