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Portuguese Prime Minister Mr. Antonio Costa’s first bilateral visit outside Europe, after being re-elected; to India acquires great significance for a variety of reasons. Mr. Costa has till now met Prime Minister Modi on three occasions. He visited India in January 2017 when India conferred upon him the “Pravasi Bharatiya Samman” Award. Mr Costa had also addressed the ‘Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit’ in Gandhinagar.
Later in the same year the Indian Prime Minister held discussions on a wide range of issues and identified specific areas of cooperation during his visit to Portugal. Mr. Modi also hailed the contributions of the 65,000 Indians in Portugal, calling them “real ambassadors” of India. In 2018, Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu had visited Portugal.
Portugal is on the radar of Indian foreign policy-makers after decades of peripheral engagements. India has its pragmatic reasons to cultivate Portugal. As Prime Minister Costa has said, Portugal wants to be India’s gateway to Europe. Portugal has indeed been at the heart of the European integration. It joined the Euro currency in the beginning itself. It has been instrumental in a number of ways in shaping EU politics—Lisbon Treaty and the Lisbon Strategy of growth, to name a few. Portugal 2020 is a partnership agreement with the European Commission to bring together the work of five European structural and investment funds. Portugal is to benefit immensely from the smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in line with Europe 2020 strategy.
The reasons for Portugal’s new gaze falling on India are equally compelling. India’s footprint on the global stage has been growing. India’s economic growth has caught the eye of the world. India has proved that democracy and growth go together.
Both Prime Minister Modi and Mr. Costa have shown personal commitment to deepen ties between the two countries. Prime Minister Costa was in New Delhi at the invitation of the Indian Prime Minister to participate in the second meeting of the organizing committee for the celebrations of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The Portuguese Prime Minister announced the setting up of a “Gandhi Citizenship Education” Prize. Every year, the prize would inspired by Gandhiji’s thoughts and quotes. The first edition of the prize would be dedicated to animal welfare.
Both the Prime Ministers laid emphasis on strengthening relations in specific areas like defence, science and technology and trade. The two countries are also keen to diversify areas of cooperation. Education and culture are receiving utmost attention. Deeper engagements with Portugal will spur India’s trade and investment relations with other Portuguese–speaking countries (Lusophone). India has been negotiating free trade agreement with the European Union. The two sides have underlined the need for concluding the bilateral trade and investment agreement.
India had organized ‘Festival of India’ in Portugal which showcased the cultural richness and multi-faceted diversities of India including music, dance, cuisine and yoga. Happily, trade between the two countries have been showing an upward trend, though much below their potential. What is gratifying is the willingness of Indian and Portuguese companies to work together in Africa, particularly the Lusophone countries. The two countries are also exploring joint ventures in third country.
India’s ties with Portugal goes back to very old times, it was the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, who discovered the sea-route to India from Europe. He landed in Kozhikode in May 1498. Since then, spice-trade between India and Portugal started.
Modern diplomacy requires high-level political exchanges. India and Portugal have given a new momentum to bilateral relations through constant engagements in newer areas of cooperation such as space, startups, shipping, youth exchange and culture. Good foreign policy requires prudence. But it also requires boldness and imagination. India’s growing proximity and multi-faceted interactions with Portugal is the outcome of such prudence and imagination.
Script: Dr. Ash Narain Roy, Director, Institute of Social Sciences, Delhi