Stereotypes as a rule are enduring. Sometimes they are very hard to break. India’s stereotype was not so rosy before the early 1990s: an ailing economy, poor public hygiene, and illiteracy of a large portion of its people. However, since 1991 India has more and more often been spoken of as a country which, despite all difficulties, has managed to achieve considerable progress, especially in the field of information technologies. When India gained independence in 1947, only one out of seven adults could read and write. Nobel Prize winning Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore once said that the few “educated” lived on the top floor, while a huge mass of the uneducated dwelled on the ground floor, with no stairways between. When India only began to industrialize, other countries were already passing through the scientific and technological revolution. As former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said figuratively, India “had to learn to run before learning to walk.” What India managed to achieve in the years of independence, what it still expects to achieve, and why Ukrainian-Indian relations might be better — this is the subject of the conversation with Vidya Bhushan Soni, the Republic of India’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Ukraine who visited The Day.
“Ukraine is very much interested in the experience of India, especially in your country’s technological breakthrough. Mr. Ambassador, could you open the secrets of what brought about and promoted this breakthrough? And what are the further prospects of technological development in India?”
“This is something we are very proud of. After gaining independence in 1947, we passed our Constitution and became a democratic republic. We were to create an independent press, free judiciary, and legislative power. Today, the media and the law are independent. Then we took the next step, combating poverty. First we were to overcome starvation. While India produced only 54 million tons of food grain when it gained independence, now it does 209 million tons. We have not only managed to keep a country of a billion people well-fed but are also exporting grain. Then came industrialization. We built, first of all, steel mills, then telecommunication lines, roads, bridges, and the power-supply network. The government made it a top-priority task to train skilled research personnel. The early fifties saw the construction of technological institutions in New Delhi, Bombay, Kanpur, Kharakpur, and Madras. We patterned them after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US. A large number of their graduates specialize in information technologies. As a result now Indian immigrants account for almost 35% of programmers in the US Silicon Valley. A fourth of NASA engineers and technologists also come from India. Microsoft and IBM employ over 40% Indian immigrants. Bill Gates often comes to India to found research centers and joint ventures. An American entrepreneur said export of software is for India the same as oil for the Arab countries. Germany has already requested 20,000 Indian programmers. Even Japan wants to invite 15,000 specialists of ours. Indian exports of software items are on the rise and are expected to reach $6 billion this year. It is said to increase to $10 billion within two or three years. Two-thirds of the software goes to the US.”
“Are you prepared to cooperate with Pakistan?”
“We are always prepared for peaceful coexistence when they change their policies.”
“Does this mean India will stop in this case criticizing Ukraine for its tank contract with Pakistan?”
“This is an unhappy page in our relationship. India was very disappointed by this contract. In fact, this changed the security scenario all over the region and triggered an arms race. You know that Pakistan is now working on the Al-Khaled tank (MBT-2000). It is also sad to say that this tank is being developed through the tripartite cooperation of Pakistan, China, and Ukraine. I hope this project will not be carried out.”
“Mr. Ambassador, why did India not seize earlier the opportunity of military cooperation with Ukraine?”
“We also cooperate with Ukraine in this field. But your tank contract with Pakistan predetermined to a great extent the further development of relations between our countries. I would like to say that trade turnover between our countries has dropped by a hundred million dollars compared to last year and is now $240 million. But even this is not so little in comparison with $7 million, the trade turnover between Pakistan and Ukraine. I would like to stress that Pakistan’s hard-currency reserves are a mere $600 million, while those of India come to $35 billion. Which of the countries can better do business with Ukraine: the almost bankrupt one, which gets nothing from the International Monetary Fund, or India?
“What has also had a negative effect on the relations between Ukraine and India is the fact that Kyiv is one of the few who condemned the nuclear tests we conducted in 1998. Friends do not do such things, they do not resort to condemnation, because we only conducted nuclear tests to reinforce our country’s defense. India was very disappointed with this. If you are so insensitive, how can you hope that India will not be upset? We are an independent country, and no one has the right to condemn what we do. Even the US and the European countries did not condemn the tests. India has never condemned what Ukraine is doing. Moreover, the Indian nuclear tests posed no danger to the security of your country.”
“But Ukraine earlier forsook the world’s third most powerful nuclear potential. So Ukraine seems to be taking quite a natural stand in this issue.”
“Ukraine is not surrounded by hostile neighbors. In other words, there are no nuclear powers next door, which could threaten Ukraine, while our neighbors are handing nuclear and missile technologies to each other. We must be prepared to defend ourselves. Secondly, you remain under an antinuclear umbrella, while India has no guarantees of security.”
“In Russia the idea is very popular of a multipolar world in contrast to a unipolar one. India and China have been named as these poles. Does India accept this idea?”
“We are against any armed blocs. India was a founder of the nonaligned movement. We do not believe there should be two blocs fighting each other. We have never supported this, neither during the Cold War nor now. We do not even see any necessity for this. The world seems to be becoming a global village, where there are no two poles. We must work for well- being, not discord, throughout the world.”
“Mr. Ambassador, do you think the relations between Ukraine and India are becoming frozen after the tank contract with Pakistan?”
“I would not state so categorically that relations between our countries are freezing. It looks more like slow development. But some steps have been taken to speed it up. We have received very good signals from the Ukrainian government. I was the first foreign ambassador to be received by Mr. Zlenko, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. He himself said that he did it as a symbol, precisely to show that Ukraine has forgotten all things past and that the time has come to develop a fruitful relationship. He again extended an invitation to the foreign minister of India to visit Ukraine. We hope this will occur early next year. It is also possible that Vice Premier Yekhanurov will soon head a delegation of businessmen on a visit to India. Under consideration now is the possibility of a visit to India by Prime Minister Yushchenko to pave the way for a visit of President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine. Our countries are making efforts to strengthen not only political but also economic and commercial cooperation. The Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce has signed an agreement with the Federation of Indian Trade Organizations on establishing a joint business council.
“Three months ago India and Ukraine signed a treaty on cooperation in science and technology. Now our scientists can exchange experience. There is no freeze. On the contrary, I would say we can observe some development in our relationship.”
“What about cooperation on the level of medium business?”
“This sphere also shows some change. For example, quite a large number of Ukrainian businessmen visit India. Some of them take part in international exhibitions. For instance, the Ukrainian company, Motor-Sich, is now doing big business in India. Our country is going soon to host an air show, in which Motor-Sich will also participate. Many Indian business people also come to Ukraine. What is popular in your country is our pharmacology: Indian medicines are world class but the prices are much lower. What attracts India is the Ukrainian chemical and metallurgical industries. I think your country is interested in such traditional goods as tea, jute, coffee, and textiles. Some contracts have already been signed to bring up the trade turnover between our two countries. The only problematic issue, where there is no visible progress, is signing a treaty on shipping. This problem dates back to the time when the Soviet Union collapsed. Some problems of reciprocal payments are also under discussion.”
“Mr. Ambassador, we happened to hear many times from European businessmen that Ukrainian business is very fickle and thus poses a certain danger for capital. And what do Indian entrepreneurs think of this?”
“We have no complaints here. Neither Ukrainian companies nor the government of Ukraine are in debt to India. Our imports from Ukraine in fact account for 2/3 of the total trade turnover between our countries.”
“Does the business climate in this country suit you also?”
“It does to some extent. Indians are used to working all over the world under difficult conditions. They are very experienced businessmen and should find the ways of effective cooperation. This is an innate feature of theirs.”