Interview: Anup Kumar Mudgal – High Commissioner of India
“ India’s extraordinary bilateral relationship with Mauritius has never been impacted by political changes on either side”
Shri Anup Kumar Mudgal, High Commissioner of India to Mauritius, has been in post since about six months. He has a wide experience of different peoples and cultures as a result of his postings in several countries of the world. On the occasion of India’s Independence Day, we took the opportunity to request him to share his views on some issues that underlie our relationship with India, such as the DTAT, the special regard of India for the country and its sustainability and importance, the Diaspora perspective from the Indian side amongst others. In the more detailed interview we reproduce here he elaborates on these points.
Mauritius Times: The recurrent qualification to describe the relationship between India and Mauritius is invariably “special”. In his book ‘India’s Ocean: The Story of India’s Bid for Regional Leadership’, David Brewster quotes Paul Bérenger as describing (the) bilateral relationship as “umbilical and sacred” – he has lately taken to talking in terms of “Mother India” – and Sir Anerood Jugnauth referring to the “blood relations” which bind the two countries. Beyond the vocabulary of politics and diplomacy, which of the three would you say best describes that relationship?
Anup Kumar Mudgal: I think all of these phrases, in their own way, capture the essence of this relationship. Our ties are indeed anchored in the fundamental bonds of shared kinship, ancestry and common cultural heritage.
* The perception here at times is that it’s the political leadership in India that is more amenable than the Indian bureaucracy to appreciating the “special” nature of the ties between India and Mauritius – and therefore more accommodating towards Mauritius’ interests. Could this be correct?
That there is across the board goodwill for Mauritius at the highest political levels both in India and Mauritius, is true. The role of a bureaucrat, or a diplomat for that matter, is simply to convert this goodwill into a convergence of national and economic interests – and that is what all bureaucrats do, to the best of their ability! In a way, if you think of political leadership as the “architects” of a vision, it is the bureaucrats who play the role of “structural engineers” to finally give concrete shape to this vision. There simply cannot be scope for divergence or disagreement!
* Could it be said that the interests of India and Mauritius are not mutually exclusive, that they have coincided most of the time but not anymore in so far as some millions of dollars worth of tax revenues are concerned?
The convergence of interests continues, and is inherent in the fabric of our partnership. The India-Mauritius relationship is much larger and goes much beyond individual issues, whatever they may be. We have commonalities and mutual interests in every possible arena of cooperation, ranging from economy and trade, defence and security, education, culture, science and technology. This is a relationship that has stood the test of time, and will continue to do so.
* Or does it have to do mostly with the fact that the Indian authorities are to date not entirely satisfied as regards Mauritius’ response to its concerns with respect to dubious investments which would be channelled to India through the Mauritius route?
I assume that the question pertains to the issues arising out of the India-Mauritius Double Taxation Avoidance Convention. This is an old treaty, and has served both sides well.
There is, as you are aware, an official consultative mechanism in place to address issues of concern on both sides. This dialogue process has been working well, and I am sure that an agreeable arrangement will be arrived at soon. As with any such international financial arrangements, there is a need from time to time to update and review some of the provisions – this is standard practice, and should not be seen as anything else.
I can also assure you that there is deep appreciation and awareness at the highest levels, of not only the concerns of both sides on the matter, but also the larger importance of this relationship. As I mentioned earlier, this special relationship has been, and always will be, much larger that these individual issues.
* It may be argued that India’s position vis-à-vis a Diaspora country like Mauritius has evolved over time in view of its geopolitical strategic interests, especially in this part of the world, and that India will make do with whichever political dispensation is at the helm at Government House and is therefore prepared to look beyond the sentimentalism that the Diaspora attach to the ties between the two countries?
First, I do not think that ‘sentimentalism’ is such a bad thing! The emotional and cultural linkages that bind our people together are some of the most important pillars on which the India-Mauritius partnership rests. That said, even in the past, India’s extraordinary bilateral relationship with Mauritius has never been impacted by political changes on either side, and I am sure this will be the case in the future as well.
* As regards India’s geopolitical strategic interests, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a speech wrapping up two days of talks in New Delhi that “the United States strongly supports India’s growing global influence and military capability including its potential as a security provider from the Indian Ocean to the greater Pacific”. How do you react to that and how would ”Little India” fit in that picture?
While I really can’t comment on remarks made by a visiting foreign dignitary to India, of course Mauritius occupies an extremely important geostrategic position in the Indian Ocean, which gives it the potential of becoming a regional hub for trade and commerce, among other things. India, as always, stands ready to partner Mauritius in developing this immense potential.
* As regards the present and future scenario of Indo-Mauritian business relations, there’s the proposed Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement (CECPA), which is now lying in limbo as both countries seem to have been unable so far to reach a minimum consensus for the way forward. Has it been shelved or has its resolution been tied up with the DTAA?
We hope to continue working together towards forging a more comprehensive economic and commercial relationship between India and Mauritius, including eventual conclusion of a CEPCA.
* Is the Indian Diaspora in Mauritius of any importance to India? Does India have any expectation from the local Diaspora?
The Indian Diaspora anywhere in the world, including Mauritius, holds a very special place for India – their vibrancy and diversity is a reflection of the pluralism and tolerance that is so cherished in India. They continue to share strong bonds with India, and we have several platforms which facilitate dialogue and exchange between Indian and her Diaspora.
One of these is the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas which is organised by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs each year to bring together persons of Indian origin for interactions in economic, social, cultural and other spheres. The Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre (OIFC) has also been set up to facilitate the investment and business endeavours of the overseas Indian community. Every year young PIOs from around the world, including Mauritius, discover India on a 3-week visit, under the Know India Programme.
* Published in print edition on 14 August 2014