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Opening Remarks by Ambassador at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) on February 11, 2019

Posted on: February 11, 2019 | Back | Print

Opening Remarks by Ambassador at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) on February 11, 2019

Good Morning,

Honourable Prof. Pieter Jan Perrett, Dear Friends,

I am indebted to Prof Perrett for several reasons. First and foremost, for giving me a young, vibrant and yet disciplined audience, second, for being the supervisor of this unique renowned Focus India project, which has become one of the most prestigious and sought after projects in Switzerland and in India and third, for being part of several of the start-up and business events that my embassy in Switzerland has been organising during the last one year.

A diplomat is defined as an honest gentleman, who “lies” abroad for his country. Often, he has to lie for his country. But with the advent of the communications revolution, it is not easy to lie and get away with it. Diplomats are among the victims of communication revolution, other group of victims include Professors who face students who confront him with a different narrative to the definition that one professes. So let me confirm that I will say truth and nothing but truth today.

Being part of the Focus India programme, I am sure that you have learnt about India, its geography, its polity and its economy. As a diplomat, like scientists and scholars, one is also trained to look at everything from overarching perspective. That is how one should look at India. 

India is a huge country with huge population. It represents one sixth of the total population of the world. It has a population of over 1.3 billion. It is a relatively young population. Geography gives India a unique position in the geo-politics of the Asian continent. It footprint reaching well beyond South Asia to West Asia, East Asia, South-east Asia and Central Asia. We share one of the longest land borders in the world with China and we have land and maritime borders with three South East Asian countries. 

India has a coastline of more than 7,600 km and 1,250 islands, with its Exclusive Economic Zone covering over 2 million sq. km and continental shelf extending up to 350 nautical miles.Our Andaman and Nicobar islands are just over a few hundred kilometers from Indonesia. They are a group of 570 islands in Andaman Sea, which narrows to form the Malacca Straits. It is the only country with an ocean attached to its name- Indian Ocean. 

I have a world map in my office kept upside down. I look at India from the top of Himalayas. What do I see? A vast ocean extending upto Antarctica. Indian peninsula penetrating deep into the Indian ocean with Africa and  Australia on either side.  I would urge you to look at the map from the other side also.

While talking about India – Swiss relations, let me start with the story of a university student who asked me a question in one of my interactive sessions in Switzerland. She asked, Ambassador how much time one should spend in India to get a grip on the Indian culture and Indian way of life. I thought for while about the huge task she has before her to get a grip on Indian culture, which is so vast and so diverse. I said to get a grip on Indian culture, perhaps you need to spend a lifetime or a little more than a lifetime in India; to get a taste of Indian culture, perhaps a years or at least a few months. But if that is also not possible, the best option is to spend a few hours listening to the Indian Ambassador.

I recall a story that I quoted during my last visit here. In an article captioned ‘Gods of Zero and Infinity’ by a renowned Indian writer. He writes about a story in ancient history, when Alexander the Macedonian, after having crossed Persia, came to India, met a sage on the banks of the river Indus, who he referred to as a wise man, in Greek. This sage sat on a rock and spent all day staring at the sky. Alexander asked him what he was doing and the sage replied, "Experiencing nothingness.” The sage asked Alexander what he was doing. Alexander replied, "I am conquering the world.” Both laughed. For Alexander, the sage was wasting his one and only life. For the sage, Alexander was wasting his time trying to conquer a world that has no limits, with a sense of urgency that made no sense when one lives infinite lives. The empire that Alexander built collapsed within a few years of his death. But Indian spirituality continues to attract the world towards her, so is the engagement between the east and the west. I am happy that Focus India programme is a forum to continue that engagement of East with the West. 

Let me congratulate you for showing interest in India and for joining the Focus India programme. 
As you are aware, India became an independent country in 1947, just over 70 years ago, after a long period of colonisation which lasted over two hundred years. India is a young country but is an ancient and continuous civilisation. This year India is celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation of India, who through a peaceful struggle of non-violence won India freedom. India is a land of unity in diversity. We speak several hundred languages, we practice different religions, we worship different gods, we believe in different political ideologies. But these differences are our strength. I have brought a book ‘Temples of South India’ which gives you a picture of the art and architecture and diversity of India. 

In the 17th century, India was the world leader in manufacturing, producing 25% of the world's industrial output up until the mid-18th century. In 1947, at the time of independence India's share of the world economy declined from 24.4% in 1700 to 4.2% in 1950, and its share of global industrial output declining from 25% in 1750 to 2%. From that stage of poverty and deprivation in 1950s, India today has emerged as the fastest-growing large economy in the world, with a growth rate of nearly 7.5%. 

At the same time, it continues to be one of the most vibrant democracies in the world. Today, it is stable democracy emerging as a global hub for manufacturing and innovation. It is moving towards a knowledge-based society, which aims to build a five trillion dollar economy by 2022. According to the World Bank and IMF, India’s growth rate is going to be steady and high. 

India is going through a transformation of unprecedented scale. To quote the President of India, “India, today, is a land of billion ideas. India, today, is a land of billion opportunities”. The Indian story today is one of inclusivity and progress. From economic growth to economic reforms, from women emancipation to women empowerment, from Health for All to Total Sanitation, and from Space Mission to Digital Revolution, we are making steady progress on many fronts. India’s socio-economic achievements are helping the Sustainable Development Goals, and its growth, powering the global economic engine. 

India has put itself in the forefront of the 4th Industrial Revolution, and through the International Solar Alliance, it is contributing in combating Climate Change. India’s programmes of inclusive development, including Financial Inclusion, universal access to basic needs by target year, Make in India, Skill India, Digital India, Industrial Corridors and Smart Cities will boost growth and, employment in India. This will be a source of strength for the global economy.

With Switzerland, India has a forward looking comprehensive partnership, which both countries see as a ´A Longstanding Dynamic Partnership’. We have a comprehensive Joint Statement that India and Switzerland signed in August 2017, focusing on a wide range of issues including trade and investment, finance and tax matters, sectoral cooperation in clean technology, skill development and capacity building, scientific cooperation and cyber cooperation, railways, health, wellness and tourism cooperation, synergy at UN and multilateral fora, cooperation in multilateral export control regimes, the list is comprehensive. We are committed to take our bilateral relations forward. 

To implement this comprehensive action plan, we have a framework of dialogue mechanisms both at the government and private sector level. Financial Dialogue to Defence Dialogue to Consular and Science and Technology Dialogue, which hold regular meetings. 

At the political level India and Switzerland maintain highest level of engagement. Prime Minister Modi was in Switzerland in June 2016. Swiss President was in New Delhi on a State visit in August 2017. In January 2018, Prime Minister Modi was in Switzerland to deliver the opening key-note address at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. During the visit, PM Modi held wide range of discussions with Swiss President Dr. Alain Berset. In August last year we had the Foreign Minister of Switzerland Dr. Ignazio Cassis visiting New Delhi and the historic city of Varanasi. 

2018 was a special year for India – Swiss relationship. It was on August 14, 1948 that India and Switzerland signed a Treaty of Friendship, a treaty between the world’s largest democracy and one of the oldest democracy. Quoting my Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi I can tell, “in the last seven decades, our friendship with Switzerland has consistently seen an upward trajectory.” We celebrated the 70th anniversary in a befitting manner through a series of cultural and business events in Switzerland and in India connecting Himalayas with Alps. 

In fact, our business engagement with Switzerland is growing rapidly. Our bilateral trade today is nearly USD 20 billion, which makes India the one of the largest export destinations for Switzerland from Europe. The engagement between Indian and Swiss companies are deepening. India’s Flagship Programmes like Make in India, Smart Cities, Digital India, Swachh Bharat (Clean India), Startup India, Skill India and other initiatives are resonating well in this land of innovation and competitive edge. We have a successful MISSP programme where we work very closely with the Small and Medium companies in Switzerland. In its transformational journey, India regards Switzerland and Swiss companies as natural partners. There is vast scope to combine our relative advantages, in capital, technology, science and human resources, and to work for mutual benefit.

We are continuing our celebration of India in Switzerland, this year. As I mentioned earlier we are celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. This celebration is special for Switzerland as Gandhi had visited this country in 1931. I will be happy to come over again to talk more about Gandhi and his contributions to the world. 

Once again let me thank Prof. Pieter Jan Perrett for inviting me and thank you for patient hearing. 

Thank you.