VIVAT MUMBAI!

21 Ноябрь 2010

Speech by H.E. Mr Alexander Kadakin, Ambassador of Russia to India, at the celebrations of the 110th Anniversary since the establishment of Russia's Consulate-General in Bombay (Mumbai)

      Mumbai, November 20, 2010

     This memorable date in the history of Russian-Indian relationship which gathered us today on the soil of the “great state” – Maharashtra – prompts us to turn our eyes on the past and try to assess its significance in terms of modern realities. It was a truly auspicious day when when in November 1900 Bombay (now Mumbai) saw the opening of the first Russian diplomatic mission,which was then temporarily located in the gorgeous historical building of the Taj Mahal hotel. This event adequately crowned more than 30-year-long efforts aimed at gaining the right in opening of its official gateway to the largest country of South Asia.

     It is an apposite time to remember today the pioneer of Russian diplomacy in India Otto (William Oskarovich) von Klemm, recollect his selflessness and dedication which made this complicated task a success. At that time India was not yet an independent nation, but it was in those years that the foundation of Russian-Indian relationship was laid under intricate circumstances of the watchful and biased attitude of the British colonial administration towards Russia. It was the time of mutual acquaintance and emerging sympathies inspired and assisted by brilliant and highly professional work of the Consul General. As many documents testify, British officials acknowledged highly the professional background, intellectual level, vast oriental knowledge and erudition of the Russian diplomat, who by that time had already had wide experience of working in Central Asia – Bukhara, Tashkent, and Ashgabat. However, the way he favored establishing friendly contacts with representatives of different ranks of Indian society, made the British alert and even frightened. It is quite obvious from one of the confidential despatches which read that Otto von Klemm “had a real taste for oriental languages and life, it would be difficult to replace him and, in addition it would be a hardship to remove him”. It was objectively quite a flattering reference but at the same time it is an evidence of those truly titanic difficulties that Otto von Klemm faced while working in India.

     The personal qualities of the Russian diplomat are worth mentioning in this regard. He was a man of enormous responsibility and commitment. Even such severe strokes of fate as the death of his little son did not affect his commitment for the diplomatic service. It is worth mentioning that recently, a famous Russian India-scholar, Prof. Dr Irina Glushkova, restless in her research of Maharashtra's history and traditions, has managed to find the grave of von Klemm’s little son in the Christian cemetery in Panchgani. There towers a white marble monument with a simple, yet touching epitaph: “In the loving memory of Boris". It is good that the Indian period in von Klemm's life had not only tragic moments, but also joyous and happy event.

     The birth of a daughter named Elena in 1905, baptised in St. Peter’s church in the same town of Panchgani, was one of such moments. Although the first Russian diplomatic mission operated in Bombay for quite a short period and after 10 years was shifted to Calcutta, it was instrumental in striking first Russian-Indian acquaintances and establishing trade and scientific contacts. While colonial authorities looked at Otto von Klemm’s activities with great suspicion, Indian public, on the opposite, displayed great interest towards the Russian diplomat. The archive sources show that the Russian Consul General was a prominent figure in the contemporary political, public and cultural life in Bombay that allowed him to establish confidential contacts with many representatives of the political, creative and scientific elite. It is no secret that Klemm attended rather risky meetings and even forged friendship with iconic freedom fighters like Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

     The official visit to India of the Russian Emperor’s cousin grand duke Boris Vladimirovich Romanov in 1902, which took place during von Klemm’s tenure, drew a wide public response. Nearly one month long trip of the distinguished guest and his escort around the country (besides Bombay he visited Baroda, Jaipur, Agra, Delhi, Kartarpur, Benares and Calcutta) splendidly organized by the Russian Consul General alone despite all the obstacles posed by the colonial authorities, meetings and contacts with the Indian elite, which were arranged along the route, were conducive to dispelling the false image of Russia implanted by the British administration and creating an objective picture of my country in the eyes of Indian people.

     Von Klemm also got credit for developing public diplomacy which is an important component of our bilateral ties. For example, it is well known that the unique exposition entitled “Bombay – Fishery in India in live forms and figures” Russia received from Bombay from brothers Vinayak and Eknath Khate through the mediation of von Klemm. It was presented at the International Fishing Fair in St. Petersburg in 1902, where it enjoyed massive success and took the first place. Brothers Khate, who stood up with the initiative to send their private collection to Russia, were later awarded a gold medal from the Government of the Russian Empire.

     A very significant aspect of the activities of the Russian Consulate was to stimulate interest among the Russian business community towards business opportunities with India. In 1902 with the assistance of von Klemm two steamship lines were put in operation, which became the important arteries for Russian-Indian trade. Branches of Russian Trade Houses were opened in this country. In particular, the trading house “Leon Mantashev” supplied kerosene to entire Western India in the beginning of the century, delivering it from Baku through Batumi. According to the official British statistics out of 91.5 million gallons of kerosene exported to India in 1900-1901 84.5 million gallons came from Russia. Russian tea-traders, such as “Gubkin & Kouznetsov Copartnership” made large purchases of Indian tea. Before the First World War Russia was one of the largest buyers of Indian tea, being second only to Britain.

     In his activities the first Russian Consul strictly adhered to the instructions given by V.N. Lamsdorf, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who clarified basic policy aspirations of the Russian Government towards India. In particular, it was stressed that the establishment of the Russian Consulate “in the largest trade centre of Indostan… mostly meets Russian commercial interests” because this city “on account of its trade and industrial significance has permanent links with all major centres of the country”.

     The establishment of the Russian Consulate in Bombay laid foundation for multifaceted economic cooperation. The consular archives keep numerous trade inquiries of Russian and Indian merchants which indicate great interest of businessmen of the two countries in promoting closer ties. The activities of our first Consulate also gave impetus to the development of humanitarian exchanges between our countries. It is well known that people from Russia and India have always been eager to study the culture and spiritual legacy of each other. The correspondence between Count Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi served as a graphic evidence of this. Scientific contacts of Russia and India as well as the achievements of the Russian Indology gained stronger footing in early 20th century. Later on, Jawaharlal Nehru highlighted brilliant scientific work of Academician Fedor Scherbatsky in studying Indian philosophy and Buddhism. Bombay is inseparably linked with the scientific activity of prominent Russian microbiologist Vladimir Haffkine (1860-1930) who worked in this city for 22 years. He was also the founder and the first Director of the Antiplague Laboratory which, since 1925, has transformed into the Haffkine Institute. The scientist proved the infectious origin of cholera and invented vaccine against plague and cholera.

     The successors of Otto von Klemm in 1906-1907 were A.Polovtsev and S.Girkin, in 1908 – A.Geikin, in 1910-1912 – B.Arsenyev. In 1910 the Russian Consulate General was shifted from Bombay to Calcutta, the then capital of British India.

     If we make an attempt to sum up the major results of the work of the first Russian Consul General, I would say that he managed to formulate and implement the essential principles of Russian-Indian relations which were further developed by many generations of our diplomats and up to the present day define the nature and content of our cooperation. Obviously, the outcome of the first Russian Consulate General’s work is not comparable to the level and qualitative parameters of the Russian-Indian cooperation at the present stage, and those issues that our Consulate General in Mumbai deals with.

     Today we can say with confidence that current work of the Consulate General in Mumbai manifests continuity of traditions laid down by our compatriot at the dawn of the XX century. The activities of our diplomatic mission in the Western part of India are aimed at safeguarding Russia’s interests in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Goa as well as at promoting Russian-Indian cooperation in trade, economic, scientific, technological and cultural spheres. In this context it may be quite enough to mention just one project with participation of the Ratan Tata’s largest industrial group in establishing the Skolkovo international center of innovative technologies near Moscow. Our Consulate in Mumbai also helps to strengthen fruitful interaction with many research centers and business entities which are involved in implementing major Russian-Indian projects, first and foremost, with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, engaged in the construction of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant with assistance of Russian “Atomstroyexport” company. It is significant that Mumbai shows profound interest in fostering direct ties with Russian regions. It is a brother-city of St.Petersburg with which it has excellent links in trade, economic, cultural and other spheres.

     It is inspiring to know that throughout many centuries the threads of friendship and cooperation between our two countries have only strengthened. Nowadays the shores of the Arabian Sea which saw the first Russian traveler from Tver, merchant Afanasy Nikitin in the XV century, welcome not only traders from Russia but also such flagships as the heavy nuclear missile cruiser “Peter the Great” of the Russian Navy coming on a friendly visit. This clearly shows the level of our time-tested relationship. On the eve of mourning the tragic events of 2008 in Mumbai which unfolded, among other places, in the very historical building where the first Russian diplomat embarked on his work in India, one should recall deepening Russian-Indian collaboration in combating the threat of international terrorism. Both Russians and Indians have learnt through their bitter experience the cost of criminal crafty designs of terrorists. For this reason we totally support India in this fight.

     Celebrating this remarkable jubilee today, we reaffirm commitment to our friendship with India, to the principles of constructive cooperation and innovative strategic partnership with your great country. Russia is determined to strengthen and develop bilateral relations with India in the years to come, rejoicing at the growth of international authority and influence of our staunch ally, influence of our staunch ally, the rise of this global power-in-the-making.

     I am convinced that the upcoming visit of the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to India next December will give a new tremendous impetus to fostering our mutually beneficial interaction, first of all, in the field of innovations, promoting effective solution to the tasks of accelerated economic and social development of our countries.

     Undoubtedly, the Russian Consulate General in Mumbai is to make its own considerable contribution to achieving these goals.

     Let me extend to my colleagues warmest wishes for great success in all their endeavors and undertakings.

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