|Nilova Roy Chaudhury, India Strategic||Published: July 2017|
New Delhi. Having reduced the duration of his stay in the United States for his visit to meet with US President Donald Trump, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi added two more European destinations to continue his enhanced engagement with key European Union members, while responding to the call of the Indian diaspora.
The uncertainty of the Trump White House greeting weighed heavily on the minds of policy makers in New Delhi after the US President blamed India as one of the reasons for pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, prompting the Indian PM to cancel the Houston leg of his US tour.
Instead, the Prime Minister opted to pursue his enhanced engagement with Europe, choosing to visit Portugal on his way to Washington and the Netherlands on his back. Portugal was the first EU country to elect a prime minister of Indian origin while, in Europe, after Britain, the second highest number of people of Indian origin live in The Netherlands.
Even though these were stopovers, each less than a day long, the visits reflected the government’s intent to intensify engagement with the European Union as a whole and key members of the EU, particularly as Britain prepares to leave the EU.
They were aimed at strengthening ties with the EU which, as a bloc, is India’s largest trading partner, and an extension of his visits to key EU member states, Germany, Spain and France earlier this month.
Defence collaboration comprises a critical component of India’s engagement with the EU.
The call of the Indian diaspora also played a key role in the choice of both countries on this visit, a senior official told India Strategic.
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa is of Indian origin. His election as Portugal’s PM in 2015 opened avenues to energise bilateral relations between the countries of his birth and adoption.
Felicitating him in Lisbon and presenting him the Overseas Citizen of India card, Mr Modi said, “Prime Minister Costa represents the best of the Indian diaspora across the world.” Earlier, during his visit to India in January, Costa, originally from Goa, had been awarded the Pravasi Bhartiya Samman by the Indian President.
Mr Modi held wide-ranging talks with Mr Costa during his brief visit June 24, to discuss ways to further intensify bilateral relations, and enhance the economic aspects of the relationship. During their joint address to the media after the bilateral discussions, Mr Modi, who clearly shared a great rapport with Mr Costa said, other than PM Costa’s Indian roots, football could further connect people in the two countries.
“Portuguese passion for football runs deep. PM Costa himself is a big fan. This could form another league to further connect our societies,” Prime Minister Modi said.
During the visit, a total of 11 agreements were signed between India and Portugal, including a double taxation avoidance agreement and important agreements on collaboration in Space and biotechnology. There were also some agreements on cultural partnerships, including sharing archives, and higher education, while business chambers signed several MoUs.
Prime Minister Modi concluded his three-nation tour on June 27 with a visit to The Netherlands, after his two day Washington visit, which belied expectations and was hugely successful, with the Trump White House rolling out the red carpet and hosting its first official White House dinner in Mr Modi’s honour.
In The Netherlands, PM Modi held talks with his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte at the latter’s official residence of Catshuis in Amsterdam. After a two-hour long set of discussions, India and the Netherlands signed MOU on Cultural Cooperation, MOU on Water Cooperation and Agreement on Amending Social Security Arrangement.
Addressing a joint press meet with Prime Minister Rutte, Mr Modi reaffirmed the status of the Netherlands as an important and natural partner in India’s economic development.
“The Netherlands is a key partner to help India achieve its goals,” Modi said, particularly thanking the key European nation for backing India’s Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) membership.
Mr Modi held an interaction with Dutch CEOs jointly with Mr Rutte. Water was identified as a prime sector for cooperation; both irrigation and conservation.
The Dutch PM said Dutch companies were keen to invest in India, particularly in sectors like water management, waste management, agriculture, infrastructure, smart cities, banking and pension funds.
Mr Modi said the Netherlands is the 5th largest investment partner globally and, over the past three years, had emerged as the third largest source of FDI for India.
“Our trade and economic ties are increasing, said PM Modi.
Mr Rutte said India’s emergence as a global power is a “welcome development from both political and economic point of views.”
Expressing concern about the grave threat posed by the spread of terrorism and violent extremism to both the countries and the world, Modi and Rutte, in a joint communiqué, reaffirmed their commitment to combat terrorism and prevent radicalisation that could lead to violent extremism.
“The India of the 21st century cannot stay behind when it comes to technology and infrastructure. Everything we have must be world class,” Mr Modi said.
“India has taken up the responsibility in the field of renewable energy. India is making every effort to make energy from non conventional sources,” he said, addressing a large group of the Indian diaspora in The Hague.
“Netherlands is the country which has second largest Indian diaspora,” Mr Modi said at the Indian community event, adding that barely 10 percent of the diaspora had overseas Indian cards. He promised to rectify that situation soon, as he signed off before returning to New Delhi.
Indian Ambassador Venu Rajamony said that the visit was exceptionally successful and that Mr Rutte also wrote a letter to Mr Modi condemning the terror attack in Anantnag which killed eight Hindu pilgrims and called for collaboration in tackling terrorism and extremism.
Incidentally, The Netherlands is the country outside India with the maximum number of roads names after Mahatama Gandhi.