India-LAC connect : Colombia celebrates its 212th Anniversary of independence : warm felicitation and greetings!
Distance, language and logistics are fast becoming irrelevant in geopolitics and international relations. The emerging software of globalisation and international affairs is mostly scripted and programmed in the ‘languages’ of economics, strategic objectives, security,commonalities of the nature of development experiences and soft power.
Accordingly,India – LatinAmerica/ LAC connect should be one of the most intriguing subjects of this decade.An imperative priority.Even if we talk only about economic and strategic factors.
India and Latin America have only managed minimal relations for the last many decades. It’s incomprehensible why India before the Modi government has not made serious attempts to build robust bilateral engagement with the region.
Despite all the complementarity of economies and similar development needs , colonial history and post-independence situations, its surprising that both the regions have done little in the past to realise their actual potentials in development cooperation , cultural exchange and people to people connect. Under the Modi government the relations not only strengthened through the enhanced and unprecedented trade volumes, but the PM has taken active interest in expanding and deepening India’s connect with the region.
However, a near absence of Latin American studies in prominent Indian universities and think tanks and miniscule interest in the region ‘s art, culture and literature in Indian intellectuals and cultural spaces, leaving a few exceptions, underlines the need for a reenergized emphasis on ‘focus LAC’ effort with a re-engineering of mutual priorities and with a comprehensive cultural connect.India has the potential to become latin America’s major partner. Possibilities for both the regions are limitless. But a serious consistent effort is required. This series of articles is one such scholastic effort in this direction.
Enormously, kaleidoscopically, mysteriously alive was the phrase which was once used by the Guardian to describe a famous book of the great Colombian writer G.G.Marquez. I think the same phrase can be used for this zestful and dynamic country which is celebrating the 212th anniversary of its independence. Colombia is also welcoming its new president and vice president who will take charge next month. Another reason to celebrate Colombia emerging as a strong democracy is because it is for the first time an African Colombian woman has been elected as the vice president.
Having lived an intense and volatile history, The republic of Colombia, which still has 102 groups of indigenous peoples living there from over14000 years, was a Spanish colony once. Independence was declared in 1810 and the country has politically evolved from Granadine Confederation,United States of Colombia finally to the Republic of Colombia in 1886. There is so much to study and research about the gripping colonial and modern history of the region, even for making a comparison with the Indian colonial experience and history,but I don’t think it’s been of much academic interest to any of the Indian premier University’s international studies department until very recently. Our academic world remained within the boundaries of Europe, occasionally stretching its frontiers a bit west to the liberal left academia of America and some selective stretch of Africa, Russia and far east . And that made a popular syllabus of global studies and international relations courses in India. Sheer ignorance about the region is surprising. These selective academic blinkers thus need to drop ! If India aspires to be ‘vishva guru ‘, then the dream can not be realised without a deeper understanding of these 33 countries having 8.42 per cent of the world’s population. Meaningful footprints in LAC should be the urgent priority along with a serious effort for bilateral engagement.
Thus the Modi government’s current engagement with the region is both visionary and strategic. Not only the journey has initiated fresh openings in new areas of research and development but have opened the doors for a deeper cultural understanding too. And fortunately both sides are equally responsive. Great interest has been shown in the celebration of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav in Colombia and likewise Delhi metro recently celebrated Colombia ‘s independence day by installing the artwork of renowned Colombian urban artist Laura Ortiz Hern’ndez.
The new avatar of Columbia is of a stable polity and democracy, of hope and prosperity, and of an emerging economy which is fast realising its growth potential with a growth rate of 10.8 per cent. Colombia over the last two decades has emerged as the fastest growing major economy in the western world. Post- 2005 the stability, confidence and structural reforms fuelled growth. With the export sector leading the growth, reforms and competitive exchange rates both worked in its favour. Strong prices for petroleum, the expansion in the coffee market and the growth in the cut flower industry all contributed to its impressive rate of growth and employment. Modern industries like electronics, automobile and tourism grew exponentially supporting diversity in trade and industry.
Post-covid recovery has also been remarkable despite challenges. A pro-active monetary-fiscal combination protected worsening of major income losses. As per OECD report, the post covidthreats, like in India and everywhere else, were higher informality, job loss and poverty. Comprehensive efforts of the government to tackle informality of employment, regional disparity and deepening of social protection networks are showing positive results. A policy of Focus on education and skills and expansion of social programs are also bringing visible outcomes. Bilateral trade between two countries has been growing consistently. in 2019-20 the trade was USD 1.85 billion. FromApril 2021- jan 2022 bilateral trade stands at USD 3.56 billion.Also there is growing interest about Indian heritage and culture. The cultural events have been increasing on both sides from fusion music to yoga. fromAyurveda to cuisine.
With the newer areas of cooperation and research like biotechnology and space, India- Colombia bilateral relations are on the upswing. MOS (EA)Ms.lekhi’s visit to Colombia in sept 2021 and her meeting with Ms. Marta Lucia Ramirez, vice president and foreign minister of Colombia and Minister of science and tech. Mr Tito Jose was significant for building cooperation in the areas of mutual interest. External affairs Minister, Dr S Jaishankar met the VP and the foreign minister Ms. Ramirez in sept 2021 on the side-lines of the UN general assembly. The subsequent visits of the Colombian VP , health minister and their meetings paved the way for writing a new chapter in indo Colombian bilateral relations.
Most significant was the discussions held by the Minister of external Affairs with the VP and foreign minister of Colombia on the 2nd oct 2021 followed by the meetings with ms.lekhi, MoS, EM. Both the frequency and depth of engagement shows the trend and seriousness to make joint efforts to strengthen bilateral ties.
The proactive lead taken by the ambassador of the Colombian republic H.E.Ms Mariana recently visiting ISRO and her meeting with the chairman and the secretary department of space adds a new chapter in the India Colombia MOU signed in sep 2021.
However, the tourism potentials and people to people connect are yet to be strengthened. Space connect is to be transcribed into spaces where cultures meet!
Few Indians know about its mega diversity. And that Colombia is ranking second in biodiversity and ranking first in bird species and largest number of endemism. How many coffee lovers here in urban India know that Colombian coffee which itself was imported in 1700 is farmed by over 500,000 farming families establishing Colombia as one of the biggest exporters of the elixir!
We certainly know about the happiness index of Bhutan but have no knowledge that Colombia was frequently voted among world’s happiest countries ! How many of us have tasted Arepas.? Or have curiously found that just like India, Colombians like to celebrate making it the only country where public Holidays are more than India. Eighteen!.
And that national anthem is played on the radio and television twice per day, exactly like we play Vandematram on Akashvani in the morning! Interesting indeed! But geography contributed to ignorance.Behind the stark differences in language and the landscape, the mysterious similarities in culture, food elements, social norms and family values are fascinating! You realise it even more when you dive deeper in literature and poetry of the region. A confounding invisible South south connect is evident.And yet unexplored.In the backdrop of a total of 27 MOUs between two countries, one hopes that better understanding will be built through the increasing live cultural and people connect. Through art and literature, through music and poetry, through food and films !
Thus one is delighted to see a magnificent display of Colombian art at the vasant vihar metro station.I can only visualise Mahatma Gandhi’s newly installed bust at plaza de la Paz in Barranquilla spreading the message of peace and harmony, while i stand at vasant vihar metro station appreciating the vibrant art work of the Colombian artist.
More such initiatives are needed. And more meaningful opportunities should be created to engage and develop a stronger connection which will fuel curiosity ,create understanding and build cultural collaboration. Time is ripe for strong commerce with stronger cultural connect.
By Dr Jyoti Kiran
(The writer is ex-chairperson, finance commission, Rajasthan)