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H.E. Narinder Chauhan, Ambassador of India to Serbia

Traditional Closeness, Despite Geographical Distance

India is today a major economic, military, technological and space power. India is an open market for Serbia in modern technologies, the ICT sector, energy, agriculture and biomedicine, while the entrance ticket is education and language skills. Investors from India also want to invest in this area in Serbia, and those who are already here are the best example for all potential investors

Good mutual understanding is of the utmost importance to successful bilateral cooperation between the two countries, and that is most effectively realised through dynamic contact between businesspeople, but also political, cultural and diplomatic leaders. When it comes to cooperation between India and Serbia, the committee for economic cooperation between the two countries provides a major contribution to strengthening bilateral links.

H.E. Narinder Chauhan, Ambassador of India to Serbia, is certainly among the welcome guests of all important gatherings of the diplomatic corps in Serbia. Always adorned in the colourful costumes of her country, Ambassador Chauhan works tirelessly to unite the people of the two countries which, despite the geographical distance, have cultivated friendly relations for decades.

The extent to which she does not want to talk about herself is only matched by her desire to use every moment to promote India – from the country’s past to its present. She finds the ambassadorial role she performs a challenge, while she considers diplomacy to be, first and foremost, about creating friendships between peoples and nations.

She enjoys all aspects of her job, which encompasses public, economic and cultural diplomacy, as well as political and strategic dimensions. And confirming that she has proved successful in her role are the new economic and cultural ties between Serbia and India, as well as upcoming projects.

You are one of the few women heading diplomatic missions in Serbia. From your perspective, how would you define the field of diplomacy generally, and the challenges you face on a daily basis?

– Diplomacy is all about making friends and influencing people. Therefore, what you see me do is but one aspect of diplomacy, which goes by the rubric of ‘public diplomacy’ and that connects me with civil society, schools, universities, cultural institutions, libraries etc. Indian culture is popular in Serbia and I have exerted efforts to build bridges through cultural manifestations, whether performance arts, exhibitions, tourism, books, photography etc.

There is still another aspect of our job, i.e. economic diplomacy, which is becoming an increasingly important part of our portfolio. India is today a major economic, military, technological and space power. Here, media such as CorD play an important role in projecting India’s evolving policies, as well as how India can make itself relevant to Serbia and where Serbia can contribute to the Indian economy. There is still a third dimension that is not so visible, the political and strategic aspect of diplomacy, which undoubtedly lies at the core of relations between nations. I have enjoyed working on all of these aspects in a wholesome manner.

Our past history provides a very good foundation on which to build upon the present day relationship. There are no outstanding issues. Serbia is a transition economy and india is an emerging economy that is recording the highest rate of growth spurred by domestic demand

What do you think is the most important aspect in terms of Serbia and India cooperating more closely in the future?

– Our past history provides a very good foundation on which to build the present-day relationship. There are no outstanding issues. There is no historical baggage. In fact, the baggage is only positive. Serbia is in transition and India is an emerging economy that is recording the highest rate of growth spurred by domestic demand.

Serbia has a very important role to play in new economic projects in India, including Digital India, the Smart City project, Make in India etc. Serbia has a young, technically qualified, English-speaking population that is largely employed in the services sector, which contributes the bulk of GDP in both India and Serbia, where the ICT sector also plays an important role.

We are in the advanced stages of negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding on ICT. Tech Mahindra is the online mentor to ICT Hub, Belgrade. The Embassy Group, which operates in India’s Silicon Valley, Bangalore, has invested about 15 million euros to create a state-of-the-art IT Park in Inđija, near Belgrade. 

H.E. NARINDER CHAUHAN

This is also the first Gold LEED certificated building in the Western Balkan region.

Several Serbian executives are visiting India regularly to provide tech support to Indian companies, which is a very positive sign. One Indian company has invested in the Car-Go start-up, which aims to provide urban transportation solutions in Belgrade. Another important sector is agriculture and biomedicine, where there is a history of cooperation that needs to be revived.

Indian agricultural and irrigation machinery companies such as TAFE, Mahindra, Sonalika and Jain irrigation enjoy a fine reputation here and elsewhere in the Balkans. Happily, Yoga, Ayurveda and Homeopathy are recognised in Serbian law, and we will soon open an Ayurveda Information Centre at the Embassy, in order to guide practitioners in the right direction. These alternative therapies can bring immense health benefits to our Serbian friends. Himalaya Herbal is well represented in Serbia as are other Indian drug companies.

Political relations between Serbia and India have a long tradition and a stronghold in the Non-Aligned Movement, while the leaders of our two countries have close personal relations. How would you assess current bilateral relations between Serbia and India, and what do you think should be the next step in their development?

– Despite the breakup of Yugoslavia, our political relations continue to be exceptional, marked by a long tradition of mutual support on issues of core interest. This is amply demonstrated on the floor of many international organisations.

We represent a sixth of humanity, speaking different languages, practicing different religions, wearing different kinds of clothes and eating different kinds of foods

It is a matter of immense satisfaction that Serbia also supports India’s international role. India sees Serbia as a reliable partner. We are aiming at exchange of political level visits.

What should Serbia do in order to increase its export to India or attract Indian investors, and in which areas could that be done?

– I think we need to do a joint economic survey on how we can boost bilateral trade. Obviously Serbia needs to export more to India and to identify which agricultural products and industrial goods would meet the requirements of the Indian market, apart from the defence sector and vice versa. Biomedicine is another area where there is a history of excellent cooperation through Torlak Laboratories, which helped India eradicate polio.

H.E. NARINDER CHAUHANThe sectors for enhancement of bilateral trade include retail medicaments, metals, petroleum products, agro and agrochemical products, mobile phones, petrochemicals, personal care products, Ayurveda and herbal products etc. Intelligent production is what we are looking at doing in Serbia.

ICT and renewable energy sources are other sectors with potential for joint projects. Other potential sectors for Indian FDI can readily be identified as pharmaceutical, chemicals and fertilizers, waste management, ago and agro-processing, power, construction and infrastructure, mining and metals etc.

About 135 mid-level Serbian executives in the government, public and private sectors have benefited from our capacity-building programmes, which results in the sharing of experiences and thus an ethos of cooperation in the economic domain. Given that investment leads to trade, we would also like to see structured economic delegations from Serbia visiting India in order to familiarise themselves with the Indian market and invite Indian industry to invest in Serbia. The Joint Economic Committee can prove itself to be a potent instrument in this direction.

As an official representative of India, has diplomacy changed and enriched your personality, or has it perhaps taken more away from you?

– Every day is different. I meet different people and deal with different issues. Every day I respond to new developments. One is always reinventing oneself and in a constant process of rediscovering different aspects of one’s own personality. What is eclectic about my work is the diversity and range it offers, and there is never a dull day.

Indian TV shows are very popular in Serbia. How would you explain the popularity of India television serials in Serbia and around the world?

– It is incredible that Indian TV serials have a large fan base in Serbia. India is entering the living rooms of Serbia every day, which is such a boon. Bar the dramatic storylines, these TV serials are a mirror of Indian society, family relationships, costumes (saris), jewellery, beliefs, cuisine etc. One important element in the India story is the triumph of good over evil. This is the everlasting theme around which Indian folklore and mythology is built. Another important element is the diverse nature of Indian society, which makes it a very interesting place to be. Over and above this is the unity in diversity around which the social fabric of the Indian nation is woven.

We represent a sixth of humanity, speaking different languages, practising different religions, wearing different kinds of clothes and eating different kinds of foods. We are simultaneously an ancient civilisation and a youthful nation, with 40 per cent of the population under the age of 25 and 65 per cent under 35. There are more than 600 million women in India who are making themselves useful in every aspect of human endeavour, including in non-conventional areas, such as working as fighter pilots and astronauts.

There can be no denying that the cultural continuity which has characterised the indian civilisation has resulted in india being by far the most diverse and culturally tolerant country

There can be no denying that the cultural continuity which has characterised the Indian civilisation has resulted in India being by far the most diverse and culturally tolerant country. India has the largest number of mosques in the world (300,000) and New Delhi has the largest number of churches (271) of any capital city!

All of this, despite the fact that the country is approximately 80 per cent Hindu and is the birthplace of four major religions – the oldest being Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, while Sikhism is the youngest. Hindi is understood the length and breadth of our country and we will very soon be offering Hindi language classes in Serbia’s universities.

Serbian film director Goran Paskaljević made a film about India and you helped him to bring this complex project to fruition. How much does cultural cooperation unite peoples and nations, and do you think there are also opportunities for the further development of joint projects in other segments of culture?

– Nothing succeeds like culture when it comes to bringing two nations together. The Indian cultural manifestations we bring to Serbia are very popular and draw full houses. Our two governments have decided to renew the cultural cooperation agreement on the arts, media, sports and youth cooperation. This will lead to several projects through institution-level cooperation, including museums, archives, media, theatres, film institutes, youth organisations etc. Film shootings have already begun both ways. Very soon we should have Indian performance art experts attached to the cultural institutions of Serbia.

India participated in this year’s Belgrade Tourism Fair. What would you recommend Indian tourists see in Serbia and how can we increase tourist activities in both directions?

This year’s theme of the India Pavilion at the Belgrade Tourism Fair was Ayurveda tourism, which can be planned for the monsoon months (June to August) in the Southern part of India and the Himalayan region. India is otherwise a year-round tourism destination, including medical tourism and destination weddings. There is something for everyone in India, including adventure tourism, desert tourism, beach tourism, Himalayan tourism, spiritual tourism, touring forts and palaces etc.

We are seeing annual growth of 17 per cent in the numbers of Serbians visiting India and each one is a potential tourist. India recently provided electronic tourist visa facilities for a one-month stay for Serbians who can complete the visa application form online from the comfort of their home, submit documents online, pay online and carry the downloaded document to the designated Indian airports. They do not have to come to the Embassy, though, frankly, I would like them in our Chancery so that we can share a lot of information with them.

Online Visas for India

India recently introduced the possibility of electronic visas for all Serbian citizens who intend to visit India for up to one month. Applicants do not need to go to the embassy in Belgrade, as they can do everything online – including completing application forms and paying fees – and they don’t even need to collect their visa in person from the embassy, rather they receive an online confirmation and can go straight to the airport and onwards to India.

Ayurveda Info Centre to Open in Belgrade

We will soon open an Ayurveda Information Centre at our Embassy in Belgrade, in order to focus and train those wishing to apply to deal with this alternative medicine method that has proven to be very successful. At the recent Belgrade Tourism Fair, the focus of the India Pavilion was Ayurveda tourism, particularly in the southern part of India and the Himalayan region during the monsoon months, from June to August.

Country of Diversity and Tolerance

Did you know that India has the most mosques in the world? New Delhi is the capital city with the most churches – a total of 271. This is the country with the greatest diversity and tolerance. It is an old civilisation with the youngest population: 40 per cent under the age of 25 and 65 per cent under 35. More than 600 million women in India contribute every day to a better life and the country’s development, and among these are fighter pilots and astronauts.

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