India and the Netherlands have long historical relations going back to the 17th century. In 1947 after India’s Independence, official relations were established between both countries. The economic relations grew steadily in the 1970s and 1980s; but really took off after the liberalisation of the Indian economy in the 1990s. There has been a growing intensification of the bilateral relations at the political, economic, and socio-cultural levels which is evident by the scaling up of the political relations on both sides by the high profile visits’. In 2006 Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende visited India. There have been three visits at the Prime Ministerial level in the last four years between both countries. In May 2018, the Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte lead the largest business delegation to India that signalled the growing economic engagement between both countries.
The Dutch royal couple King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima were on a 5 day visit to India. This was King Willem-Alexander’s first state visit to India following his ascension to the throne in 2013. A trained pilot, he flew the plane to India himself and is a co-pilot on many KLM flights. The Netherlands has a constitutional monarchy and in the past, Queen Beatrix, the mother of the current King visited India in 2007.
Welcoming the Royal couple at the State Banquet, President Ram Nath Kovind emphasised that economic partnership is the key pillar of the India-Netherlands relations. This is supported by the fact that over 100 Dutch companies are working in India. In addition, The Hague has been supportive of India’s claim for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council and in the various export control regimes. President Kovind said that based on strong historic ties, the two sides “have created a partnership driven by innovation, investment and technology”. He further added that “Smart Solutions, Smart Cities, green energy, start-ups and new-age products are bringing us together and that India is excited to share and learn from Netherlands on river rejuvenation”.
King Willem Alexander quoted from Prime Minister Nehru’s speech from his first visit to the Netherlands in 1957, stating ‘All of us live on each other’s doorstep.’ He said that “The Netherlands is delighted that India is joining with the European Union to defend a world order based on broad collaboration and international law”. He also commended India’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The Netherlands is the 5th largest investor and 4th largest trading partner within the European Union with India. The visit of the Royal couple coincided with the 25th Technology Summit organised by the Department of Science & Technology and Confederation of Indian Industry, which was a conference cum exposition and Netherlands was the partner country. The focus areas for the Summit were water, agri/food and health. With push towards Young Entrepreneurs, the Summit provided a great opportunity for 15 Indian and Dutch start-ups to pitch for their innovative ideas to a varied section of corporate, government and other stakeholders and knowledge institutions. Inaugurating the Summit, King Willem Alexander said, “Innovation is about co-creation. Innovation is about bringing together international knowledge and expertise to help tackle social issues that affect us all.
At the socio- cultural level, the Indian diaspora in the Netherlands is around 235,000 and is the largest in Europe after Britain. On 15th October, the Royal couple interacted at the historic Safdarjung’s Tomb with a select group of 50 Indian Alumni who had studied in the Netherlands. As the gateway to Europe, Holland is increasingly attracting more Indian students given its affordable low cost English medium higher education.
In Mumbai, the royals met the Dutch community and also inaugurated an exhibition celebrating 400 years of shared heritage titled ‘Indo-Dutch Connections in the Age of Rembrandt’. Their visit concluded in Kerala where they also went to the Dutch palace at Mattancherry. This visit by the Royal couple will further strengthen the growing India-Netherlands relations.
Script: Prof. Ummu Salma Bava,Chairperson & Jean Monnet Chair, Centre For European Studies
Jawaharlal Nehru University