Beginning a new chapter in the country's relationship with South-East Asia, the inaugural India-ASEAN Car Rally on Tuesday kicked off from the historic Judges field in Guwahati in the presence of Assam Governor Lt Gen (Retd) Ajai Singh and Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi.
The rally, which received a ceremonial flag-off from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last evening, will traverse 8,000 kms through eight of the 10 ASEAN nations carrying the theme of "Networking People and Economies" and the objective of having a transformative effect on India-ASEAN trade and business relations.
Nearly 250 participants from all the ASEAN countries and India will be touring in a caravan of 60 vehicles, and the rally will drive through hilly terrains, concrete roads and even dirt tracks and pass through Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore before culminating its 20-day sojourn at Batam, Indonesia, on December 12.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday said the rally would play an important role in enhancing cultural and economic bonds amongst the people of the region and would also provide impetus to the development of the North-Eastern states.
As this is the maiden year of the Rally, it will be a non-competitive event -- more of a "parade" with advance pilots and marshals regulating the pace and stops -- running in convoy formation rather than a hardcore professional competition with special stages.
With the Governments of India and the South-East Asian countries working hard to establish a Free Trade Area framework by 2011, organisers are hoping that the unique initiative would also help in raising the level of public awareness about India-ASEAN relations and enhance trade, investment, tourism and people-to-people links.
The proposal for the rally was first mooted by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the ASEAN-India Summit in Bali, Indonesia, in October last year to bring India closer to the South-East Asian group.
In accordance with the policy of focusing on the development of North-Eastern states, it was decided to flag off the rally from Guwahati.
The rally would be received by the Heads of States of all ASEAN nations and Manmohan Singh at Vientaine, Laos on November 30.
Parallel business and cultural events will also be held alongside the rally.