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Dr. Jitendra Nath Misra, Ambassador’s Interview by Mr. Martim Cabral and Mr. Nuno Rogeiro of the SIC Notícias Television Channel on Sunday, May 25, 2014

Posted on: May 25, 2014 | Back | Print

Dr. Jitendra Nath Misra, Ambassador’s Interview by Mr. Martim Cabral and Mr.Nuno Rogeiro of the 
SIC Notícias Television Channel on Sunday, May 25, 2014

Martim Cabral : Ambassador, thank you for being with us. It’s a pleasure having you here in the studio. For the first time in 30 years, one party, the BJP, was able to gain a majority of votes and is going to rule alone for all intents and purposes. Was it a surprise to you that this happened?

Ambassador : Well, it was and it wasn’t. It was a surprise because the margin of victory was probably a surprise. But a lot of the exit polls which are not necessarily completely accurate, had suggested, had forecast, that the BJP would win, and it was something like 260 to 280, 270 seats. So, the fact that the BJP was able to win 282 seats, which means it has the majority, simple majority to be able to form a government on its own, alone, without its partners, that was a little bit of a surprise to a lot of observers. But I am not a pundit. I am not an astrologer. What matters is the result and not the expectation.

Martim Cabral : Well, let’s talk about the result. The BJP only in fact won 30 per cent of the vote but that was enough given the system in India for it to form a majority government. There are huge expectations, are there not? Because this vote must translate into people having a huge amount of hope in to what the BJP can do?

Ambassador : Oh, yes, absolutely. The expectations are very huge in India because we really need to develop at a very fast pace, and we are growing currently at less than five per cent. And there is a great sense of disappointment- not despondency, but disappointment- that we have not achieved our potential, and we achieved nearly ten per cent just three or four years ago and compounded growth was in the last ten years over seven per cent.

Martim Cabral : And now it’s gone down.

Ambassador : Well it’s below five per cent. So for India a lot of people, friends in Portugal smile when I say we are very disappointed at five per cent. They say, “Really, it’s incredible,” because ........ (Martim Cabral interjects)

Martim Cabral : It’s all relative.

Ambassador : It’s all relative. But for us, because we are a developing country, we are a poor country, we really need to grow at ten per cent if we have to bring millions of people out of poverty. Therefore, the expectation is very high. Don’t forget that we had a lot of new voters in the young age group, about three per cent, two to three per cent between 18 and 21. These people, we would assume and imagine, might have voted for change, because they always want change. There is restlessness, there is increasing aspirations, because you can see what’s happening in the rest of the world. So, huge expectations there.

Nuno Rogeiro : You told us that you are not a pundit but if we go to the opinion of the pundits what they say is that the BJP, the People’s Party, will put another tone in India’s internal and foreign policy that probably is not as consensual and as full of integration as was the Congress policy. I mean would you foresee some sort of radical change in India’s stance, for instance towards its neighbours that are not so ruly, like Pakistan, China, a bit further, Russia? Do you see any change? Afghanistan?

Ambassador : Well, I have to tell you that the verdict is the democratic verdict of the Indian people. The BJP has a manifesto, a party manifesto. But I have to tell you that no party in India, when it comes to power, historically, has made a radical shift in foreign affairs and it’s most unlikely, a radical shift. There could be a shift in nuance. But a radical shift, whether in internal or external policies is unlikely. Well, I am not an astrologer, as I said. Let’s wait for the government to be formed. It hasn’t been formed. It will be formed on the 26th talk too much about forecasts. But I can tell you something about the general direction of our policies, foreign policy, for example. Our policy towards our neighbours is that, fundamentally, our foreign policy, the strategic goal of India is to have a peaceful environment in the neighbourhood, in the extended neighbourhood, and in the larger world, so that we can concentrate on economic development.

Nuno Rogeiro : That doesn’t depend only on India, that doesn’t only depend on India, right? That also depends on what the other countries are doing, right? You alone cannot influence the region. Right?

Ambassador : Yes absolutely, we cannot influence the region. But we have to work very hard with our partners, with our neighbours. Please don’t forget that China, Pakistan, these are very important countries, and Bangladesh, Nepal. And our neighbourhood will be our top- most priority. It will be the top- most priority of the new government as it always has been, to have friendly, stable relations.

Nuno Rogeiro : But before passing to Martim, the new prime minister was known for the so-called Gujarat miracle. I mean he was governor of... of a promising province where lots of things are changing and developing, but he was also known for probably not being so wise in 2001, 2002 when lots of Muslims were killed in riots in Gujarat. And I mean you know that there was a time when your new prime minister could not travel for instance for the United States. Is that past influencing the present or not?

Ambassador : I don’t think so because I think we have moved on and what happened in 2002 is not something that anybody spoke about in the election campaign, from the BJP, of course. In fact the entire campaign, as far as the BJP and its allies were concerned- if you analyze the television debates and what Mr. Modi said throughout his campaign, he talked about two things. The most used word was development and the second most used word was India. He talked about development and India, and this really touches a very deep chord, as I said earlier, among the Indian people, because there is a restlessness. There is a very important rise in expectations that has happened, with better education. And when things start happening it gives rise to more hope. There is not the kind of despondency we had, say in the 1950s’, 60s’, after independence, the

So let’s wait for things to happen and let’s not first few decades. We were devastated by colonialism, and we were just finding our bearings. But today India is more confident, it’s more relaxed. So I think Mr. Modi understood this very well. I think he’s very intelligent and he had a pulse. He could read the pulse of the people.

Martim Cabral : Could you tell us a little bit about him because he is a contentious figure. As he said, he is banned from travel to the United States, to England and to European Union, a ban which was lifted about two years ago because of his alleged involvement in these riots in Gujarat. And tell us a little more about him because he is a self-made man which appeals to the Indian electorate. He is known as a Hindu nationalist. He was a member of an RSS organization which I won’t even try to pronounce because the name is just unpronounceable for me. And then went to be the BJP. He is a contentious figure, isn’t he? Because people say that he is now turned around and he has widened his appeal. But who is Mr. Modi? For us here in Portugal we don’t know him. How would you characterize him?

Ambassador : Well, he is the Prime Minister-elect. He is the democratically- elected leader, and as the democratically- elected leader he has been making very statesmanlike statements as you know. All he has been talking about throughout his campaign (Martim Cabral interjects)

Martim Cabral : But would you agree with the people who say that he is a Hindu nationalist first and foremost?

Ambassador : Well, I don’t agree with that. He is an Indian patriot. That’s all I would say. And I don’t understand these phrases that are being used in the media, particularly in the western world. I would like to tell our friends in Portugal that please, I request them, don’t use such phraseology because these are stereotypes. India is too vast and too complex a country. By the way, for 2002, our Prime Minister-elect was exonerated by the courts.

Martim Cabral : Yes, I know.

Ambassador : Nothing was proved. And we should let matters rest there because nobody in the world has said that the Supreme Court of India is anything but completely fair. So, that matter should lie at rest. We should look at the future.

Martim Cabral : It happens; it is inevitable that people will talk about it.

Ambassador : Well they can talk about it but we also have to talk about the future.

Martim Cabral : Of course.

Ambassador : And the people of India certainly, as far as they are concerned, they have moved on. And they were talking about roads, they were talking about infrastructure ,they were talking about trains, water, sanitation, health, education. These are the issues on which this election was fought, and I think our Prime Minister-elect understood this, the aspirations of the Indian people, very well. And that’s probably why he won the election, and particularly among the young people. We had 100 million new voters, as you know.

Nuno Rogeiro : One of the points when he was governor of Gujarat he did quite well according to lot of witnesses with lot of economic transformation that was good for his people and we see the economic figures of Gujarat before he came and after and they are abysmal. One of the people saying is that he has a talent to attract new investment and to develop new investment that would not go to other places if it would not be for him. Do you see a change in India’s economic policy under his mandate?

Ambassador : Well, I was looking at the manifesto. He’s talking about FDI, 100 percent FDI in everything except multi- brand retail. Except, with the exception of that we will have direct FDI.

Nuno Rogerio : Would you explain? Foreign Direct Investment?

Ambassador : Foreign Direct Investment. So, what I am trying to say is that it is not the policies that are so important; it is the governance to me. What we need to improve is our governance. We have laws, we have policies.

Martim Cabral : That was his slogan.

Ambassador : Exactly. And that is why he won the elections. We will wait and see. India of course, Gujarat is India, but India is not Gujarat.

Nuno Rogeiro : Of course.

Ambassador : And therefore, to rule a complex and vast, sprawling nation like India is an altogether different matter and here you will see, I am sure, history shows that no leader at the centre ruling the federal government can succeed without carrying all Indians with him regardless of race, caste, creed, ethnicity- because it’s a very complex country and that’s what he’s been talking about.

Martim Cabral : How, to what extent is the fact he doesn’t have a majority in the upper house- is that going to hinder any changes of the type they have been talking about because that is a limitation, isn’t it?

Ambassador : I cannot answer that question but I think he will expend his best efforts to carry the upper house with him. You know, in India, under Indian law a bill cannot be law unless it’s passed by both the houses, as you know. So, you raised a very important point and this again shows that there are checks and balances in Indian democracy. And Congress has 11 states even today. So let’s not talk about concentration of power which the media in the West, particularly, (Martim Cabral says hmmm....., in agreement) has been talking about to some extent. There was a very circumspect article I read on the BBC website which was very spot on. Firstly, India is very complex. You have to carry all the ethnicities, all the groups, all the political parties, even the Opposition along. And that’s democracy, that’s part of the process.

Nuno Rogeiro : That’s precisely the point, that the Congress party until now has been doing that and what the pundit says that the BJP could go into another direction of being less inclusive. But let’s not waste more time on that.

Ambassador : I doubt very much that’s going to happen.

Martim Cabral : Let’s talk about the Congress party, the losers, the big losers in this election. The Congress Party, it’s obviously too early to predict whether it is finished or not. What about the Gandhi dynasty? This was a resounding slap in the face wasn’t it? They’re not used to it.

Ambassador : Well, the Congress party has been used to it in the past. Don’t forget that in 1999 they were quite devastated as you know but they bounced back in 2004 and 2009.

Martim Cabral : (Inaudible)

Ambassador : In 1977 they were beaten after the Emergency, but in 1980 they bounced back.

Nuno Rogeiro : They were declared dead lots of times (repeats the same words).

Ambassador : And I would never write off our venerable Congress party.

Martim Cabral : What about the Gandhi family, a dynasty. It’s really a dynasty.

Ambassador : The Gandhi family, we don’t call it a dynasty.

Martim Cabral : It’s impolite.

Ambassador : We don’t call it a dynasty because we are a democracy. If somebody comes to power through a democratic process, so be it. Let’s not talk about dynasties.

We have dynasties in the United States. We have dynasties in other countries. We have the Bushs’ for example in the United States.

Martim Cabral : The Clintons.Ambassador: The Clintons.

Nuno Rogeiro : The Clintons. We have soap operas and TV series about dynasties.

Ambassador : So it is not a uniquely Indian phenomenon. Let me correct that perception. And this is what we see in the media and I always say, “Oh no, not again.”

So, I wish the Gandhi family very well. I wish all our democratically- elected leaders very well.

Martim Cabral : Why did they lose, Ambassador?

Ambassador : Well... (Martim Cabral interjects)

Martim Cabral : I mean, what I am asking I suppose is did they lose or did the BJP win? It’s not really the same thing.

Ambassador : Well, I think it is a combination of both factors. They lost to a great extent because, as I said, governance is the main issue. And when growth slides so much and inflation rises- I think part of the problem was the inflation. In the last twenty years, in the last three years, inflation in the last twenty years has been the highest in the last three years. Now, what determines the elections in India in the past? Very mundane things like onions, potatoes, tomatoes.

Martim Cabral : Onions are very important.

Ambassador : Very important in the Indian diet, as you know. It’s the staple, it’s like a pickle. It’s a side dish for the poor people. (Nuno Rogeiro interjects: “Let’s, let’s...” Ambassador: Governments have fallen over the price of onions.

Nuno Rogerio : Let’s us move away from the onions and from the soap operas.

Let’s go to the bilateral field. Portugal as you know has a big history, common history with India. As we say we left blood, sweat and tears in your territory and there are places like Goa, Daman and Diu that still have a Portuguese heritage. Would you say that your task here is more to revive the cultural ties or to move to economic and financial connections?

Ambassador : Well, I think we can do both. We can celebrate everything and I would like to thank you for asking me this question because I want to say something to your listeners, and to our friends in Portugal. The unfortunate thing is that whatever the history may be, the history, we have a very rich common history. We must celebrate that and Goa should be a bridge in that. But then Goa is not India. Well, India is not Goa, Goa is India but India is not Goa.

Martim Cabral : But it’s a small part of India.

Ambassador : It’s only a constituent of India. So we have to understand that to develop a broad- based relationship we have to look at Goa. We have to celebrate our history. Nuno Rogeiro: You understand why Goa is important for Portugal?

Ambassador : It is very important, and it should be celebrated. But we should look at the economic aspect of the relationship. In my view, very respectfully, I’ll say that it is greatly below potential. How do we do this? We have to do more advocacy. We are going to do a business conference perhaps in October and we’d like to invite you to come and to take part.

Martim Cabral : Is there more interest on the part of entrepreneurs in India in Portugal or vice versa? The Portuguese are very interested in penetrating the Indian market. Are there large difficulties in getting into India?

Ambassador : Well, I would say that there is moderate interest on both sides, not a great deal of interest in either side. I can tell you that we have excellent companies from India here such as Tata Consultancy Services, such as Ranbaxy, such as Wipro. I name three companies. Zomato is coming in. And from Portugal you have Martifer. Martifer Solar.

I went to visit them in the state of Odisha during my tour of India, before I came here, at the advice of your ambassador, and it was a real eye-opener. I went to Oliveira de Frades to see them. So they are doing great work in India. But we need more Brisas, more Martifers. Visabeira is looking at India.

Nuno Rogeiro : So mainly civil construction, constructing roads, bridges, airports, ports. We are good at constructing things.

Ambassador : Yes, you are very good at constructing things. Plastic moulds.

Nuno Rogeiro : Plastic moulds. What about renewable energy?

Ambassador : Renewable energy. We have .... you know your Minister of Environment was in Delhi for the Renewable Energy Summit and we had very good discussions and I met him the other day and we really need to learn a lot from you about energy.

Nuno Rogeiro : Aren’t you interested in, for instance, in ordering boats and ships from our Viana do Castelo shipyards that are needing so much international


Ambassador : Well, we could potentially certainly look into that, and ........ (Nuno Rogeiro interjects).

Nuno Rogeiro : Martim is laughing because he thinks that we are already doing a deal here but we are not doing. (laughs)

Ambassador : All deals begin with friendly conversations, don’t they? (laughs)

Nuno Rogeiro : I didn’t know that you were working for them. (laughs). No, I become worried when I see Portuguese unemployed. It worries me.

Martim Cabral : To end, there is a sizeable Indian community here, bigger than the Portuguese community in India?

Ambassador: Oh certainly, by far.

Martim Cabral : Much bigger here.

Ambassador : Oh, yes.

Martim Cabral : Well Ambassador, welcome to the Indian community here in Portugal.

Ambassador : Thank you very much.

Nuno Rogeiro : Obrigado. (Thank you.)

Ambassador : Muito Obrigado. (Thank you very much.)

Martim Cabral : I am very glad you came to talk to us. I hope to see you here again.

Ambassador : It has been a great pleasure. Thank you very much.