1. Russian-Indian ties have a long and rich history. At the end of the 19th century Russia’s future Emperor, Nicholas II, who visited India during a voyage around the globe, expressed interest in opening a Russian consulate in Bombay. Relations between our countries have never been overshadowed by wars or conflicts. How do you see the dynamics of relations between our countries?
Ans. Indeed, ours is a relationship with strong and deep roots in history. Russian merchant Afanasy Nikitin visited India in 1469; Indian merchants from Gujarat came to Astrakhan and established trade relations and a vibrant Indian community since 1615; Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich in 1646 itself had sent emissaries to the then Emperor of India Shah Jahan seeking to establish diplomatic relations between India and Russia.
Russia was probably one of the first European countries to have introduced Indology studies. There has been tremendous interest in each other between people of our two countries through centuries. Indian films have been very popular in Russia; Russian literature has found resonance in India. So, our connections run deep and long.
At a personal level, my first international agreement as Chief Minister of Gujarat was with Astrakhan.
Since India’s Independence in 1947, India and Russia have formed a genuinely close strategic partnership, characterized by unmatched mutual trust and confidence, and solidarity with each other. Russian assistance has helped India’s industrialization and progress in many areas, including space.
Russia provided defence equipment to India and international support when few were willing to hold our hands. Indians will never forget the Russian support that we got when we needed it the most.
The world has gone through enormous political and economic, technological transformation since the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union.
However, through these turbulent times, our relationship has remained on a steady course of progress. A lot of credit goes to President Putin and Indian leaders over the past two decades.
I am pleased to see where our relationship is today. Russia was the first country with which we concluded a formal agreement on strategic partnership, which has since been elevated to the level of ‘special and privileged’ strategic partnership in recognition of our multifaceted bilateral engagement. I see positive signs of further growth owing to complementarities of both the countries. The strengths of Russia in science and technology, military technology and nuclear energy to name a few, complement the large market of India, expanding economy and demand of its young population. This provides us with the confidence that we can take forward our existing dynamic partnership.
2. The dynamic development of the entire range of bilateral relations has lent them a trait of comprehensive strategic partnership. Russia and India have made tangible progress in advancing cooperation in a wide variety of spheres: trade, the economy, investment, energy, military-technical ties, science, education and culture. It will not be an exaggeration to say that there is practically no sphere where our countries have not yet established close relations. In what area of our bilateral cooperation the achieved progress is the greatest and where certain potential remains untapped?
Ans. Our relations with Russia have been unique, covering almost every field of human endeavour. We have excellent understanding at the political level. We have robust partnership in the field of defence, nuclear energy, science & technology and other areas. Russia has been the largest supplier of military equipment to India and would remain so.
Energy is a sector where we can do a lot more. Russia is one of the world’s top sources for hydrocarbon resources and India is one of the world’s largest importers. We have had significant investments in this sector. Our hydrocarbon companies have been in the Russian market for the past two decades through investments in Sakhalin, and are presently acquiring stakes in Vankor, TassYuryakh and LNG projects.
India’s global re-engagement in nuclear energy has begun with Russia. We already have one reactor that is operational, one attaining criticality in early 2016 and we are committed to construct at least 12 nuclear power stations with Russia’s collaboration.
In Space, India’s first satellite Aryabhatta was launched by Russia in 1975 and the first space travel by an Indian cosmonaut abroad a Russian spacecraft took place in 1984. Cooperation in Pharmaceuticals has seen mutually beneficial investments and reliable supply of medicines at international quality while at affordable prices.
There is potential to further strengthen our relations in the field of trade and investments. Our bilateral trade, though growing, has not achieved its full potential. We have committed to increase this to USD 30 billion by 2025. Similarly we are committed to increase our investments to USD 15 billion each by 2025.
Russia has the potential to be the leading partner in our Make in India mission in defence manufacturing. We are soon going to make a beginning in that direction.
In addition to bringing our businesses and CEOs together, we are also in the process of launching negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement with Eurasian Economic Union. We are establishing a more direct trade route through the International North South Transit Corridor that will drastically reduce cost and time for transporting goods between India and Russia. And, we have recently notified a Diamond Trading Centre in India that will enable Russia uncut diamonds to be directly routed to India for processing rather than through third countries.
3. What is your opinion of the potential of and outlook for cooperation by Russia and India in nuclear power and the fuel and energy complex?
Ans. Energy security is critical to India’s economic development and Russia is a key partner in this area. Nuclear energy is an important component of our energy security strategy. Russia is currently our leading international partner. Our cooperation with Russia in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy is a cornerstone of our strategic partnership. I am glad that the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project has become operational, and is set to expand. I believe our cooperation in the area of nuclear energy will continue to grow. After Kudankulam, we are finalising a second site for Russian-designed reactors in India. We have outlined an ambitious vision for nuclear energy and construction of at least 12 reactors, which will have the highest safety standards in the world. As two countries possessing advanced nuclear technology, we are interested in taking forward this cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
4. Military-technical cooperation between Russia and India has been underway for more than half a century now and its scale is traditionally wide. Of late, that cooperation saw transformation from the simple “customer-client” relationship to diversified partnership in the development of new technologies and upgrading military hardware. What is your vision of the results of cooperation in that sphere and its outlook?
Ans. Russia has been India’s foremost defence partner through decades, accounting for a majority of our defence equipment. We value Russian support during the era when not many doors were open to us. Even in the current environment, and despite India’s improved access to the world market, Russia remains our principal partner. The aircraft carrier ‘INS Vikramaditya’, Sukhoi fighter jets and Brahmos cruise missiles are great symbol of our defence cooperation.
They are the result of unwavering mutual trust and confidence and reflect the strength of our strategic partnership.
Our defence ties have been transformed from a buyer seller relationship to one involving joint research, development and production of advanced systems such as the Brahmos missile system in India as well as licensed production in India of Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft and T-90 tanks. As part of our enhanced military cooperation, joint military exercises are being conducted by the Armed Forces of both the countries regularly. We are also working together for joint manufacture of defence equipment and components in India under the Make in India initiative.
5. Moscow and New Delhi adhere to close or identical views on most current foreign policy problems. For instance, our countries are advocates of a multi-polar world where the national interests of all countries and peoples are taken into account. Alongside bilateral cooperation, Russia and India have been very active in building up ties and contacts within the framework of international and regional organizations, such as the United Nations, BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. What is your opinion of our cooperation along these lines?
Ans. A strong international partnership has been the hallmark of our relations. Russian support in international forums, including in the UN Security Council, through the decades is deeply valued in India. Today, our international cooperation has widened. We work together in a number of international forums, including BRICS, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (where Russian support helped in a decision on India’s full membership this year), G 20 and East Asia Summit.
BRICS, which was launched by President Putin, is making a major contribution to international finance and trade, development finance, international terrorism, climate change, food security and sustainable development. BRICS can be an important voice in advancing a more equitable and inclusive global order. In both SCO and East Asia Summit, we can work together in advancing peace and prosperity in two major regions of the world, where we both have vital stakes.
Multipolarity is a global reality. India and Russia represent two faces of a multi-polar world. We want to work with Russia not just for our bilateral interests, but also for a peaceful, stable and sustainable world.
6. Development of high technologies is the road India has chosen for itself for integration with the world community. Over the past decades it has managed to join the list of world leaders in that field. Such achievements cannot be seen in any other place in the world! What do you attribute such excellent results to?
Ans. India’s achievements in the field of high technology are recognized all over the world. There is an ancient tradition in mathematics. Our excellent academic and research institutions in the field of fundamental sciences and applied technology have been producing excellent technical manpower, which has been helping us taking forward our technological prowess even higher.
Our demography is also an added advantage. More than 50% of the country is less than 25 years of age as of now and 65% of the country is of less than 35 years of age. We have, thus, one of the largest pools of technically qualified professionals in the world. Our recent Mars Orbital Mission was a mark of our technological achievements. Our skilled professionals are the very foundation on which our technological strength lies. There is also a strong culture of innovation. My government is trying to create an environment in which innovation flourishes.
This is an area that offers immense opportunities for India and Russia to cooperate.
7. India boasts an ancient culture and civilization with the richest traditions. Modern India is a multi-cultural state. How do you manage to support and develop ethnic cultures and traditions? How do national traditions and modern Indian society manage to get along?
Ans. India is one of the oldest civilizations in the world, which believes that the world is one family; and, that humanity is an integral part of Nature, not superior or distinct from it. This has created an ancient tradition of openness, respect for diversity of beliefs and cultures, and a timeless tradition of living in harmony with nature. India is a nation with all the religions of the world; 22 official languages; more than 100 languages and more than 1500 dialects; and, diverse cultures and ethnicities.
Yet, there is a strong sense of unity across our diversity. India is a garden with many flowers; and, a tapestry of many colours. And, when we are tested the most, we have spoken most strongly in one voice and as one people. Our Constitution both guarantees and nurtures the diversities of our country.
We see no contradiction between progress and tradition, between our timeless culture and modernity. This is because modernity is not about particular lifestyles, but about values.
8. India is a booming tourist destination in Russia. Holiday-makers are eager to go to Mumbai and to Goa’s health resorts. What places would you advise foreign guests to visit in India and what place is your favourite in your wonderful country?
Answer: In the course of my spiritual and political life, I have travelled as an ordinary citizen in every part of India. I have seen the extraordinary diversity and beauty of India in the culture, food, monuments, landscape and way of life. There is something unique in every part of India.
I would recommend to my Russian friends to visit as many places as possible across India.
Goa is one of our major tourist destinations that have been attracting large number of tourists from Russia. In 2014 over 250,000 Russian tourists visited India and this year we have received over 100,000 Russian tourists so far.
I hope the numbers would continue to grow. I want Indian tourists to also experience the splendor and vastness, the culture and people, of Russia. I have always said that while terrorism divides, tourism unites people.
9. India’s cuisine is deservedly considered as one of the best and most diversified. Many come here largely because they would like to taste Bombay Duck and coconut shrimp with incomparable spices, of course. You prefer vegetarian dishes, do you? What is your favourite dish?
Ans. When foreigners come to India, they are surprised to see the variety of cuisines and the range of vegetarian dishes. Indeed, the diversity of India is manifest in the culinary tastes and variety available from North to South or from East to West of India. I have had the opportunity to visit all parts of India during my early life and absorb the tastes of India from the North Eastern States to Kashmir in the North and Kanyakumari in the South. It is really difficult to have one favourite when one can have such variety of vegetarian food in India.
10. India is a country where people like holidays and festivals. Lately, Russians became very fond of celebrating India’s Holi festival of colours. What holidays do the people of India like to celebrate most of all? What do you do for such celebrations? And what holiday is your favourite one?
Ans. India is home to people from all major faiths. India is a country that observes public holidays for the most important festivals of all major religions. Festivals such as Holi, Diwali, Id-ul-Fitr, Christmas, Baisaki and Buddha Purnima are celebrated with enthusiasm and fanfare all over the country. These festivals remind us of the unity of mankind. It gives people from different faiths in India to come together in celebration. It inculcates in our society a respect for tradition and culture.
There are also colourful festivals, unique to each region of the country, which attract millions of visitors from all over the world. The Kumbh Mela, for instance, can get 10 million visitors.
11. One of your hobbies is yoga. You pioneered the idea of making Yoga Day an international one. In 2014 the UN General Assembly session adopted a resolution on marking International Yoga Day. In Russia, Yoga is becoming increasingly popular and ever more Russians tend to join the celebrations. What can you say on that score? How India celebrate this day? What yoga means personally for you?
Ans. Yoga is a way of life, which creates inner harmony in a person and balance between man and Nature. It can be practiced by anyone and does not involve any cost.
Yoga may have its origin in India, but it is a gift to the world. It should be our common heritage, because it can make a difference to this world. Yoga creates a mindset, which can promote better health among people, peace among nations and a sustainable future for our planet.
That is why I had, in my first address to the UN General Assembly in September 2014, called for adoption of June 21 as International Day of Yoga. We were delighted that India’s proposal was adopted unanimously within a record time of 100 days with record co-sponsorship of 177 member countries. The first International Day of Yoga was celebrated in over 190 countries.
We are happy that Yoga has been adopted by Russians in a big way. I am told that the first International Day of Yoga event was attended by over 45,000 people in over 200 locations and in 60 regions across all the time zones in Russia. It is remarkable manifestation of the deep interest among the people of Russia in Yoga. Even before this, our Cultural Centre at the Embassy has seen large following for Yoga where we offer classes by experts of Yoga.
12. An Indian saying goes that governing a thousand people is a task as complex as governing three. You are the Prime minister of a country with a population of over one billion. What are the main principles you are guided by in your activity? How do you make decisions?
Ans. The most overriding principle is the trust and confidence of the people. If I can instill in them the belief in their huge potential, build an environment in which they can flourish and give them the skills to use the opportunities, I would have succeeded in my mission.
That is why I have always believed in “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance” and followed the creed of “With everyone, for everyone”.
So, I am trying to make our governance more open, participative, responsive, transparent and completely free of corruption. I am making it easier and simpler for citizens and businesses to interact with Government. I want government and citizens to communicate with each other better.
In a federal system, I am working more closely with State Governments in the spirit of cooperative federalism.
I have worked with the principle of 'cooperative federalism'. I have firm belief that the participation of the States in the decision making process will make it more inclusive. It is with this in mind that we have converted the Planning Commission into National Institution for Transformation Initiative (NITI) Aayog in which the State Government has greater say. Greater finances have been devolved to the State Governments so that the decisions on the expenditure can be taken quickly and finances devolved to the grass root level quickly. I have also attached greater role for the States in International relations. It is for the first time that the Ministry of External Affairs has set up a special wing called 'States Division' to promote greater exchanges between in a decentralised manner between the States in India and local governments and provinces in other countries, including Russia.
13. You were recognized as India’s best performing chief minister. You hold a number of awards for the promotion of business. Your appointment looked quite predictable, but had you ever had a thought you would be Prime Minister some day? What helped you on the way? What is helping you now?
Ans. You can only choose your path, but you cannot decide your destination. I dedicated myself to the service of the people. I have always been focused on the cause, on what I have to do and not on what I should become. The position I hold today is not mine. I hold it in trust of our people and a servant of a great nation. My only goal has been to see India emerge as a developed and prosperous country, in which every citizen has a life of opportunity, dignity and equality, and for India to contribute to the larger global good. This has guided every action of mine in the course of my work in various capacities and at various levels in my country.
14. This year you turned 65. At this landmark point in your life what would you like to say about the years gone by? What is your advice to the younger generation, who are just at the start of their life path?
Ans. I have always told the younger generation to hear their inner voice, to pursue excellence and perfection in what they do, to be selfless in the call of duty, to be sensitive to their environment, to be responsible members of their families, the nation and the world.
15. Our program is called the Formula of Power. Now our traditional question: What is power in your opinion? What does it taste like? What is the formula of power?
Ans. Power from me is the voice of the 1.25 billion people of India. Their trust and confidence. Their aspirations and expectations. Their welfare and future. My motto has been 'Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas'. I have said before that when 1.25 billion people walk hand in hand and in step with each other, each step they take will move the nation 1.25 billion steps forward, and we will get the strength of 1.25 billion pairs of joined hands.
DECEMBER 14, 2015