Heena Vijaykumar Gavit points out links between the two countries and industries in which India sees Spain as a leader
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.
Heena Vijaykumar Gavit is an MP for Maharashtra and belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party. In the 2014 elections she became the youngest Member of Parliament. She is the daughter of Vijaykumar Gavit, former minister of the Government of Maharashtra, and is a trained doctor with a Master’s Degree in Medicine from Terna Medical College, Navi Mumbai. She is very active in social activities, especially in social work in tribal areas and social issues like malnutrition and anaemia amongst women.
- What was the image you had of Spain before taking part in the Leaders Programme?
I was familiar with the renewable energies projects in the country over the past few years. I was impressed by this level of technological development and I admit it was one of my main reasons for participating in the Programme. In India, coal is one of the main sources of power, but we are now extremely interested in alternative sources like the ones developed by Spain to prevent overexploitation of natural resources. Visiting Spain and learning about that was a great opportunity for me and for India.
-How has this image changed after the visit?
I now have a much deeper understanding of the country. I have strengthened my knowledge about the renewable energy industry and I have also been able to learn about other sectors in which Spain could be a key partner for India. For example, Spain has very advanced technology and has greatly developed its transport system and is committed to smart cities. How to avoid pollution, adapt cities to the needs of their inhabitants and reduce traffic are all aspects we are looking to replicate in our country. I now have a very different image thanks to the Indian Leaders Programme.
- What would you highlight of the Programme?
I would highlight the activity in which we had the chance to learn about Barcelona as a smart city. It was quite different from the rest since we walked around the city and that gave us the opportunity to experience first-hand what technology can do to improve citizens’ lives. I would also highlight the meeting we had in Madrid on urban transport systems management. The system was excellent and I found its integration into a global network fascinating. Lastly, I also enjoyed the meeting at the Ministry of Defence with the Secretary General for Defence Policy, Alejandro Alvargonzález, which will allow us to forge a new relationship in this area to work jointly on common challenges such as terrorism and cybersecurity.
- Are there also opportunities in the area of culture?
Of course. I think that, on top of the existing opportunities, we have a very similar culture and our social traditions are quite alike. Beyond any commercial interests we may have, the things we have in common favour a fluid, lasting friendship.
- What is the image of Spain in Indian society?
Spain has a very clear image in India. For example, from a soccer point of view, many young people would love to come and visit the country given their passion for teams such as Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. However, I think we must make an effort to communicate what we have learned and experienced and boost tourism in both directions. We could organise similar programmes on tourism promoting food and culture in different cities of India. Bollywood is also a great opportunity that should not be underestimated, the impact it has on Indian society is truly extraordinary.
- The third edition of the Indian Leaders Programme focused on education. What are the opportunities in this area?
Personally, I think it’s one of the sectors we must emphasise to connect the two societies. The main problem is that, for Indian students, it is not easy to study abroad for financial reasons, which is why the Government offers various grants and programmes to boost international mobility. Spain is a world leader in education, especially when it comes to training in economics and management at its world-famous business schools. It’s important to support that academic exchange and provide students with the resources they need as a long-term investment.
- 2016 will mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between India and Spain. What can we expect from economic, political and social relations in the future?
We can expect further cooperation agreements. In the past few years there have been several bilateral agreements, such as those signed in 2012 or a more recent one on security and information. I’m hoping we can strengthen our cooperation with a future agreement regulating and improving our commercial relations. I also trust there will be new opportunities in the sectors we’ve discussed: renewable energies, infrastructure, roads, metro networks, etc.
- What message are you taking away with you from the Spain India Council Foundation’s Indian Leaders Programme?
That bilateral relations between Spain and India have a very promising future. India needs Spain to adapt these models and innovative systems, which entails a huge opportunity for Spain due to the scale of the Indian market. We will talk with the people in charge of those areas as soon as we are back in order to replicate Spain’s strengths in our country.