The MP is confident that bilateral relations will go from strength to strength and foresees significant results in the long term
The fourth edition of the Programme, hosted by the Spain-India Council Foundation in June 2015, brought four Indian MPs to Spain to learn about the country’s socio-economic situation. The Council Foundation, as part of its active communications policy, is publishing monthly interviews with those participants.
Vivek Gupta is a Member of Indian Parliament representing All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) for Kolkata (West Bengal). He is part of the Consultative Committee of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, represents Rajya Sabha (the upper house of Indian Parliament) before the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER) and is a member of the National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction. He is also the Chairman of Group Sanmarg PVT, owner of Sanmarg, the leading Hindu journal in the West of the country.
- What was the image you had of Spain before taking part in the Leaders Programme? How has this image changed after the visit?
I knew Spain as one of Europe’s most important countries. I imagined the country mainly as a tourist hub because of traditions such as gastronomy, soccer and local festivals, but I had no knowledge of how technologically advanced the Spanish economy is, or of the innovation that has taken place in the past few years. The Indian Leaders Programme has been a hugely educational experience for me and has given me the chance to learn about Spain as an exporting country and about the internationalisation of its businesses and pioneering technology. I also didn’t know about its presence in India. I was surprised to learn, for example, that Spanish technology is used at Delhi Airport in a great number of areas. This fact is not duly recognised.
- Which strategies would help build an image of Spain beyond the usual clichés?
Firstly, it should be noted that Spanish companies have a significant presence in India, where they are doing outstanding work and contributing to the economies of the two countries on several levels. Taking it from there, I would suggest certain strategies, such as the need to bet on India as a whole, as the focus tends to be largely on Delhi and Mumbai. More exchanges between the country’s civil societies is also needed, through tourism and international mobility of students. I also think it’s essential to organise events and activities to promote aspects such as Spanish gastronomy, arts and soccer. Those exchanges generate knowledge and interest and help make the message go viral. People will want to visit Spain and, as a result, cultural interest will turn into an interest to invest. Finally, I would suggest that a Government Trade official visit India, specifically cities such as Kolkata, Bangalore and Chennai, to make contact with local Chambers of Commerce and work on a better approach to this process.
- Throughout the Programme you’ve emphasised the importance of education. How does this impact bilateral relations?
In the event that took place at Caixa Fórum I realised that many Indians come to Spain to study, mainly at business schools, which are among the best in the world. We also looked at some issues that they tend to encounter. It is important to work both ways. On the one hand, more grants need to be offered, to ease the burden of studying abroad. On the other hand, we need to get more information to students through festivals and academic and job fairs showcasing potential opportunities. I wish there were more opportunities for talented, entrepreneurial individuals, and I think India is known the world over for both.
- Which measures should be prioritised to strengthen Spain-India relations?
Rather than specific measures, this is a long-term project. It’s an investment that will eventually bear fruit, as is already happening with the agreements signed to date and our existing business relations. The work of the Spain India Council Foundation and the Leaders Programme has been underway for several years and has had a great impact on this process. From now on, we will keep Spain very much in mind in our work in Parliament, and strive to build a future of friendly, sustainable, long-lasting cooperation.
- What message are you taking away with you from the Spain India Council Foundation’s Indian Leaders Programme?
The programme was excellent, and it went by too fast. After travelling to Madrid and Barcelona, I look forward to visiting the rest of the country someday. In the past 6 days I have had the chance to learn about a range of different Spanish sectors and the enormous cooperation opportunities between the two countries, and I have met people from whom I have learnt a great deal: politicians, business leaders, members of civil society. Given that it is just a week, I don’t think the programme could be improved upon at all, and I would have hated to have missed out on any of the activities.