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Strong legacy of shared cooperation
“On the medical front, we are exploring whether premier Indian private hospitals can set up their chains in Kuwait or enter into arrangements with private hospitals in Kuwait to manage their hospitals. We had a significant investment seminar recently in which the representative of the Apollo group participated. He told me of the interest on the Kuwaiti side in such collaboration. The second thing is how Indian medicines can be made available in Kuwait much more costeffectively. Ironically, Indian medication, many of which are US FDA-approved, is not available in Kuwait. The Embassy is working on this. The third issue is of immense opportunities available in India for medical and wellness treatment. This would not only be much more cost-effective but of a world-class standard.“
When you have the largest expatriate community in a country with almost 22% of its total population, there is bound to be some issues. However, what is most important is the respect and trust that the Indian community enjoys among Kuwaitis and in the country. On issues facing the community, we are in constant touch with authorities to resolve such cases to prevent them from becoming irritants in our otherwise excellent bilateral relations. Some of the issues relate to, e.g. family visas as of now, accreditation issues of Indian professionals, particularly engineers etc. I hope to see their resolution soon.
Kuwait’s relationship with the Indian subcontinent goes back far into history. In the excavations held on Failaka, the island colonised by the Greeks, seals from Indus Valley were discovered, showing strong trade links between the regions. Fast forward a few hundred centuries, and these economic ties strengthened with Kuwait becoming a pearling and trading nation. The relationship became rich, textured and nuanced with cultural influence in terms of food, spices, language, music etc. With the discovery of oil, the ties became closer still, with Indians forming a large portion of the workforce who worked shoulder to shoulder with Kuwaitis to build the nation.
Dr Adarsh Swaika, Ambassador of India, is a career diplomat who joined the foreign service in 2002. Dr Swaika has a PhD in Chemistry from Delhi University. His overseas postings include Russia, Bulgaria, China and Bangladesh. Before his posting in Kuwait, the ambassador was Joint Secretary (Eurasia) responsible for bilateral relations with Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia and the Caucasian region. Kuwait is Ambassador Swaika’s first posting in the Middle East. Not only is he looking forward to learning more about the region’s complexities, but he is also eager to strengthen and improve bilateral ties and mutual cooperation between Kuwait and its traditional ally, India. He has engaged in proactive dialogue with various stakeholders and interlocutors. Here, with Arab Times, he speaks about his journey as a diplomat, shares his experiences of different cultures and the strong legacy of shared cooperation and collaboration between India and Kuwait that he is determined to build on.
Arab Times: You have a PhD in Chemistry. You could have gone in for research or academia, but you chose the Foreign Service. Why did you become a diplomat, and was the process difficult? Ambassador
Dr Swaika: I was clear in my mind that I wanted to become a civil servant. At the same time, given the uncertainties involved in qualifying for civil services, which includes many factors, I had the option of pursuing my PhD in Chemistry. My PhD supervisor was kind enough to give me that flexibility to prepare for the Civil services and, at the same time, continue with my PhD. The option to choose Foreign Service came when one had to give preferences at the time of applying for it. And I went with what my peers were doing, significantly less aware of the nature of the work of various civil services. I was not much aware of Foreign Service at that time apart from the fact that you serve outside the country.
Arab Times: How do you recall your early years as a diplomat?
Ambassador Dr Swaika: The early days are the formative years where you start from the lowest ladder of the service and observe your seniors, particularly the Ambassadors, as to how they conduct the art and business of diplomacy. In Indian Foreign Service, one of the first things you must do is learn a Foreign language in one of the countries where that language is spoken. Then you are posted in that country or somewhere else to start your diplomatic job. In my case, I did the Russian language in Moscow and then moved to Bulgaria. I was lucky to be in Moscow under two previous Foreign Secretaries, one of whom is considered the most accomplished diplomat of our time.
Arab Times: You spent your early years as a diplomat in Moscow, Sophia and China – three countries where Communism played or still plays an important role. All three countries had ideological similarities. How similar or different were the experiences in these three places?
Ambassador Dr Swaika: While the ideological leanings were similar, each country was different in its own way. Moscow and Beijing were large capital cities and had their own dynamics. Sofia was comparatively smaller but a naturally beautiful city. The language was a barrier in all these cities though after learning some Russian, my stint in Sofia was better. On the work front, I had different roles in these three countries, and they therefore shaped my worldview of these countries as well.
Arab Times: And then you were the High Commissioner in Bangladesh from 2016-2019. That must have been a different experience.
Ambassador Dr Swaika: I was not the High Commissioner but the Dy High Commissioner. That was a totally different experience. It also struck a chord with the Bangladeshis since I am domiciled in West Bengal. It was a work, work and workplace. And that kept one busy. The nature and content of the work was also very relevant, given the number of mechanisms, issues, interest and historical legacy between our two countries. You could see your work translated into tangible outcomes.
Arab Times: The Middle East is a new region for you. What have the initial months been like?
Ambassador Dr Swaika: Yes, this is a new region for me. I have yet to work in this region, both on the ground and back at Headquarters. But I am aware of this region’s enormous strategic importance for us, and I am happy to be here. The initial months have been highly satisfying. I can rejoice in the goodwill that Kuwaitis have for India and Indians in particular. I have been able to meet most sections of the large Indian community and make my calls on the Ministers and other authorities. Arab Times: Kuwait has many centuries of relationship with India. How has this relationship changed over the years?
Ambassador Dr Swaika: The history of the India-Kuwait relationship is one of close friendship, trade and people-to-people contact since the early 18th century. India has been a natural trading partner of Kuwait, and until 1961, Indian Rupee was the legal tender in Kuwait. Until the discovery and development of oil, Kuwait’s economy revolved around its fine harbour and maritime activities, which included shipbuilding, pearl diving, fishing and voyages to India on wooden dhows carrying dates, Arabian horses and pearls that were traded for wood, cereals, clothes and spices. These age-old ties still feed the current people-to-people contacts, be it cultural, business, trade or other links. But what has changed in the last few decades is the exposure of Kuwait to Western and other Asian markets. Similarly, there has been a lot of transformation in India, both internally and externally. The time has come now to reconnect the age-old bonds between a country with Vision 2035 and the fastest major economy in the world.
Arab Times: Kuwait has a large Indian population with its share of complex problems. What are the significant issues you are dealing with?
Ambassador Dr Swaika: When you have the largest expatriate community in a country with almost 22% of its total population, there is bound to be some issues, as is natural even in a family. However, what is most important is the respect and trust that the Indian community enjoys among Kuwaitis and in the country. And this a sentiment I have come across in my meetings at the highest level down to the commoner. On issues facing the community, we are in constant touch with authorities to resolve such cases to prevent them from becoming irritants in our otherwise excellent bilateral relations. Some of the issues relate to, e.g. family visas as of now, accreditation issues of Indian professionals, particularly engineers etc. I hope to see their resolution soon.
Arab Times: During the pandemic, India and Kuwait have cooperated closely in diverse areas. In 2021, India sent a medical team to Kuwait to supplement the Government of Kuwait’s efforts. Later, Kuwait received 200,000 doses of the Oxford vaccine from India in their fight against Covid. How is the issue of collaboration on the medical front progressing between the two countries?
Ambassador Dr Swaika: Yes, indeed. What we did together to fight the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of assistance and collaboration was genuinely remarkable. This has set the bar of bilateral cooperation very high. This demonstration of shared solidarity has brought us closer. On the medical front, we are exploring whether premier Indian private hospitals can set up their chains in Kuwait or enter into arrangements with private hospitals in Kuwait to manage their hospitals. We had a significant investment seminar recently in which the representative of the Apollo group participated. He told me of the interest on the Kuwaiti side in such collaboration. The second thing is how Indian medicines can be made available in Kuwait much more cost-effectively. Ironically, Indian medication, many of which are US FDAapproved, is not available in Kuwait. The Embassy is working on this. The third issue is of immense opportunities available in India for medical and wellness treatment. This would not only be much more cost-effective but of a world-class standard.
Arab Times: One can see you actively reach out to Kuwaitis in various sectors. How productive has your interaction with the local people been?
Ambassador Dr Swaika: That is my single-minded pursuit because ideas can come to fruition when there is a meeting of minds on both sides. It would be best if you had both hands to clap. And I must admit that my Kuwaiti interlocutors have been very receptive to our new ideas and proposals for collaboration. It might take some time to bring these to fruition, but I remain optimistic.
Arab Times: Cultural Diplomacy and more incredible people-to-people engagement effectively create understanding between civilisations. This year, the Indian Embassy organised the Festival of India. Please tell us about the event and its success.
Ambassador Dr Swaika: One of the first forays in the early part of my current assignment was on the cultural side. Not only did we get a good Festival of India event showcasing different genres of Indian dance, music and folk dance, but the good turn-outs for the events from both Kuwaitis and Indians also showed the interest and success of the event. We had three different genres of troupes – Classical Fusion, Qawwali and Rajasthani Folk dance, that performed during the Festival of India in March this year. The packed audience at both the Salmiya Theatre and Yarmoukh is indicative of the popularity of Indian culture in Kuwait.
Arab Times: India and Kuwait have a long history of friendship rooted in trade and commerce. Kuwait is India’s sixth-largest crude oil supplier. India is Kuwait’s fourth commercial partner, with the value of trade exchanges amounting to USD 2.362 billion. Kuwait’s sovereign wealth fund is estimated to have invested $2 billion in India since 2017, taking the total investment in the country to $5 billion. Do you see any improvement in trade and commerce?
Ambassador Dr Swaika: This is an area of great expectations, focus and possibilities. We have seen a 95% jump yearly on the bilateral trade side. Our bilateral trade of USD 12.5 bn is an all-time high, but it is skewed towards hydrocarbon exports from Kuwait and exports of mainly food products from India. Our bilateral trade has a vast scope for diversification. There are excellent possibilities in pharmaceuticals and medical devices, automobiles and related spares, electronics goods and components, high-efficiency solar PV modules, textiles & apparel, white goods, ceramics, etc. But the main potential area of cooperation is in the field of investments from Kuwait to India because of the attractive political and financial investment climate that the country provides. On May 8, we held a high-visibility investment seminar that presented the New India growth story. We saw much interest from our Kuwaiti partners in investing in India. There are some very positive experiences sharing Kuwaiti investments in India. KIA’s investments in India are, for that matter, extraordinarily significant, and we are hopeful of further acquisitions. I can also say that your figures for KIA’s assets are a little dated, and while figures are not publicly available, they should be in double digits.
Arab Times: How strong is cooperation between the two countries on food security?
Ambassador Dr Swaika: India is crucial to Kuwait for its food security. And this was best seen during the Covid pandemic period. Many food products, fresh vegetables and fruits, dairy products, spices, tea and coffee come to Kuwait from India. You will be surprised to know that India is one of the biggest coffee suppliers to Kuwait. Even the snacks from Haldiram are available in Kuwait. Arab Times: How strong is India regarding travel and tourism options for Kuwaitis? Are you happy with the numbers, although everything is still in slow motion?
Ambassador Dr Swaika: Kuwaitis are undoubtedly fond of travel and tourism to India. Still, their world-view of India is limited to a few cities and areas, e.g. Kerala, Mumbai, Goa, Delhi, Agra etc. In terms of activities to wellness and spa, Indian tourism offers much more than that regarding both places and activity. Therefore, I could be happier with the tourism numbers. This is, again, one area of work for the Embassy.
Arab Times: How vital is medical and health tourism in the relationship between the two countries?
Ambassador Dr Swaika: This is a promising sector with tremendous potential for further growth. Today, most Kuwaitis who go for medical treatment abroad generally go at Government cost to Western countries predominantly. At the same time, India is one place which attracts people from all over the world, including the Western world and, more importantly, from its neighbourhood and extended neighbourhood, for medical treatment. This is because it provides quality health care at an affordable cost. There are chains of private hospitals specialising in different areas, e.g., Apollo, Narayana Hyudalaya, Medanta, Shankar Netralaya, Fortis, etc. Given our solid historical linkages, geographical proximity, cultural affinity, and people-to-people contacts, India should be the preferred destination for medical treatment for Kuwaitis. The Embassy is working on this with both the Kuwaiti side and the Indian hospital chains.
Arab Times: Why is it said that India has one of the fastest-growing economies?
Ambassador Dr Swaika: This is not theoretical but backed by statistics and indicators. India is one of the very few major economies that has grown over 6% consistently in the last few years and is expected to continue doing so. It is the fifth largest economy currently, third most significant in terms of purchasing power parity and is projected to be a USD 5 trillion economy by 2030. It will remain one of the major growth engines of the world.
Arab Times: Please tell us about the Made in India initiative – how successful is it?
Ambassador Dr Swaika: India’s “Make in India” initiative is becoming successful daily. The whole objective of Make in India is to position itself as a central global manufacturing hub, a bigger trader, a stronger service provider and most importantly, to make it selfreliant, which we say in Hindi as ‘AtmanirbharBharat’. The Productivity Linked Investment scheme provides financial incentives worth USD 26 bn to promote domestic production in 14 priority sectors. If I give you practical examples, there are many examples. For e.g. India today has become the hub of all international automobile manufacturing companies, be it Suzuki, Hyundai, Ford, etc., apart from Indian companies like Maruti, Tata, Mahindra etc. The recent shifting of iPhone manufacturing from China to India is another example. Similar is the case of manufacturing in various other sectors like defence, textiles, engineering goods, white goods etc
Arab Times: In recent times, business reforms, infrastructural development, and technological innovation have changed India’s commercial ecosystem – How easy will Kuwaiti investors find it to work in India?
Ambassador Dr Swaika: You are very right when you say that the commercial ecosystem of India has changed. This has been one of the priority areas of the present Government under Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to make doing business easier and simpler in India. To be frank, it has not been easy to dismantle many of the ageold colonial structures and rules, regulations and archaic laws that were continuing. Today, you have a single window clearance system for investments in India in most sectors. Most States are looking for investors by providing them incentives, tax benefits, etc. The results are, therefore, for all of us to see. India’s annual FDI inflows have doubled from USD 35 bn to USD 85 bn in the last eight years.
Arab Times: Your family is with you in Kuwait. How has the transition been for your family?
Ambassador Dr Swaika: My family has been with me since I joined Kuwait. They have adapted quickly to the new environment. Every new place will have its challenges, particularly for families in our kind of job where we keep moving to different countries almost every three years. Most challenging is for the children to adapt to the new school, new curriculum, and to have a new peer group. It is not easy, but both of my kids have done well.
By Chaitali B. Roy
Special to the Arab Times
This news has been read 4999 times!