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September 17, 2014
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How a big country also thinks small

Amarendra Khatua, Indian Ambassador to Argentina.
By Michael Soltys / Senior Editor

India marks Independence Day with new PM, new approach to Argentina

Never underestimate the local is perhaps the core of Indian Ambassador Amarendra Khatua’s message for today’s 67th anniversary of “freedom at midnight” — if the new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s success in running the western state of Gujerat (Mahatma Gandhi’s birthplace) was a key factor in winning the entire country’s confidence in this year’s landslide, Khatua prioritizes in his own mission a regional action plan more detailed and ambitious than most embassies.

Since Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) originated out of Hindu nationalism, the Herald started by asking if Modi could be compared to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, triumphant last Sunday — i.e. a mix of religious ideology and business pragmatism. In neither respect, replied Khatua. There is no religion in Modi’s platform other than working with all Indians within the reality of a Hindu majority — otherwise he would never have won so many votes among youth, the middle class and even in Muslim areas. And social inclusion is Modi’s key watchword rather than being market-friendly or development at any cost — “globalization with an Indian face” (even though he also shuns populism).

Did Modi’s BJP win the election or did the outgoing Congress lose it, the Herald then asked. Khatua considered that the Modi landslide was a vote against coalition government rather than Congress or any party in particular — coalition government was a recipe for populist, indecisive rule with no economic leadership or strategy.

As for the outgoing government’s scandals, Modi’s three-term record in Gujerat also helped because his efficient and clean administration had banished corruption there.

Modi (the first prime minister not born under British rule after 67 years of independence) is the right man for the new India, Khatua concluded.

An India whose eternal verities remain essentially unchanged apart from the central fact of the emergence of a middle class 400 million strong, plus a huge and wealthy diaspora in North America, the Middle East and elsewhere (which still leaves 700 million poor — the focus for the new government).

Turning to his own job, Khatua describes Indo-Argentine relations as flourishing. The bilateral trade volume actually increased US$300 million last year at a time when 80 countries were reporting falling numbers — a merchandise trade of US$2 bi-llion dollars which increases to three with services. India’s investment stake here is also US$3 billion with US$200 million invested in the last year in the manufacture of motorcycles and tractors.

Predictably enough, agriculture, pharmaceuticals and information technology are dominant sectors — but India is also Argentina’s leading supplier of hair dyes! Apart from soy, India even buys an annual million tons of crude oil from Argentina to refine.

Regional action plan

Khatua’s regional action plan takes various forms, including close university co-operation.

Every year four provincial governors are sent out to India along with PyME small and medium-sized companies, mayors and local leaders (this year the target is eight governors) — each delegation goes to New Delhi and a different Indian province with which they are twinned.

These visits produce results, Khatua insists. Thus it is no accident that the motorcycles are being produced in Santa Fe province after its Governor Antonio Bonfatti went to India.

Nor that there is lively pharmaceuticals and silo bag trade between San Luis and Tamil Nadu after Governor Claudio Poggi’s trip to Chennai (Madras). Meanwhile INVAP has secured an isotope contract in India.

New offices to be opened

But Khatua’s outreach beyond the capital does not always go to remote provinces — his Embassy has close ties with various Greater Buenos Aires districts such as Almirante Brown and Lanús (where offices are to be opened).

In October there will be a major business conclave for Latin America in New Delhi, bringing over 300 businessmen from the region, including many Argentines.

The following month comes the highlight of the year, the India Festival (more ambitious than ever this year with 70 events and going out to the provinces as far afield as Jujuy) but that is another story to be told much closer to the event.

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