The Indian Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, will be the chief guest for our Independence Day celebrations. We have frequently reiterated our close affinities with India on all occasions important personalities from India have made a call on us. We’ve placed emphasis each time on consolidating our ties with the subcontinent. Most of the time, things have stayed at the level of emotional ties between the two peoples. We have to maintain this but must go further as India braces itself to make a quantum jump on its economic agenda.
Keeping emotional ties warm is good enough. But, in the case of Mr Modi, we are dealing with someone who sees sharply through things and is business-driven. He sees the future of his country in terms of fostering and lifting the social and economic infrastructure of his country which requires a serious overhaul. Mere talk will not be enough. It has to go along with substantive action and, of all persons, Mr Modi knows this perfectly well. To catch his attention, we will have to convince him that we can do much more business to lasting mutual advantage as he goes on transforming his country.
For a long number of years, we have imported mostly goods pertaining to our cultural affinities with India. We hardly have machine tools made in India on our market, no equipment, hardly many vehicles or even items of common consumption. We’ve been exporting, on the other hand, financial services in connection with pooling from different countries investments going to India since decades. In both cases, limits may likely be reached unless we re-engineer the framework of cooperation to a more effective level.
The long drawn-out tussle we’ve been having with tax officers concerning our double tax avoidance agreement shows that progress has been thwarted even inasmuch as Mauritius could have played a major role towards becoming an effective intermediary in the channelling of those services to India. Investors have become wary about tax hassles they’ve been increasingly confronted with. But let us leave to Mr Modi and his Finance Minister to straighten up things in this regard on their side. They are aware of the stakes and their vision is farsighted. The next Indian budget towards the end of February promises to be path-breaking and we can take a bet on that, given the first signals the new Indian government has started giving of late.
It is on our side that we should work hard. We have to equip our public and private institutions with intelligent, level-headed leaders who know what they want and where exactly the country should be finding itself at its next lap. It means that rather than indulging in fruitless intrigues, those leaders should collectively set a stage for people to come over to do more business with us concretely; they should be the creators of our economic advantage internationally and competent enough to strike mutual and lasting deals. What our international interlocutors look forward to is to deal with people who, by their strong and world-class abilities and competence, inspire confidence in them.
A lot of overhauling work is required at this level, I am afraid. We’ve been letting too many things slip out through our fingers and the game has lasted long enough to seriously undermine our potential. Enough of that! It is up to us to get things moving up again to the mutual benefit of the two countries.
We’ll need at all cost to move things forward constructively on both sides if Mauritius is to partake in the vast drive India is contemplating by pushing forth its investment and export frontiers in diverse fields with a view to capture non-traditional markets.
India wants to go for manufacturing on the scale of China but its GDP is currently one third that of China. India needs outside partners to lift itself there and to catch up with its ambition to become a global player of significance and get respected by economic giants like America. Just like Singapore has been a player by the side of China during China’s ascent to becoming a global economic power, Mauritius could play an identical role for India.
India has the store of soft skills enough to reach its goal. If we want to play by its side, we have to prove that we can be a relevant partner in development. We’ve shown that we can do this with our international financial services sector. Now, we need to demonstrate the same kind of potential in a wider range of activities that will go to support India in its drive to expand India’s economic scope and influence globally.
Suppose we were Singapore. Do you think an outpost like Agalega would have remained a sheer idle fishing village? It would have become a supplementary international port, airport, fishing, communications and logistics hub complementing Port Louis, fully integrated into a much more modern Mauritius. The question is: why have we not sought the support of friends like India to transform this potential into reality? We have to work in cooperation with others, leaving aside any sentimental blackmail that could try to frustrate a grander vision of Mauritius.
Unless you extend your hand to reach out, it will be very difficult to bring up Mauritius to its next higher station as an economy. If we find our interaction with Europe cast in some amount of doubt at this moment, logically we have to look up for alternatives. India has always stretched a hand of help to Mauritius and this goes back to our pre-independence days. What would we stand to lose if we gave a wider and more tangible expression to our mutual exchange between the two countries than what we are doing already? Let us open up and abandon the past system of frustrating, out of short-sightedness, initiatives which produce constructive results. Mr Modi’s visit will be an occasion to tap his mind on how far we can go together but we have to go to the table with a whole range of propositions from our side to make this a productive occasion.
Many have been baffled by the large victory scored on the 10th February by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) of Arvind Kejriwal in the state of Delhi beating the BJP of Mr Modi 67-3. They have started believing that the BJP is likely to lose out the large victory it secured nine months ago at the national level to the AAP. Nothing is further from the truth. Mr Modi commands a majority at the national level and there can be no better interlocutor for us with India than Mr Modi himself. We have to leave it to him to deal with internal matters in India; he is a master at that. What we need to do is to deal with him in all earnest as the best harbinger of a new era of more fruitful relations between our two countries than ever before.
* Published in print edition on 20 February 2015