India won't cut Thailand adrift: Ambassador

opinion August 19, 2014 01:00

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Indian Ambassador to Thailand Harsh Vardhan Shringla speaks to Nation Multimedia Group chairman Suthichai Yoon about the deepening ties between the two nations, Indian politics and how India reacted to the recent Thai military coup. Excerpts:

Suthichai: Ambassador Shringla, how has India changed since you got a new prime minister?
Shringla: I would say the change is very, very perceptible. You have been to Bombay recently and seen the buoyancy that is there. The mood is one of optimism. For the first time we have a government that has been elected with an overwhelming majority, which means that after 30 years, we have a government which enjoys an absolute majority in parliament, which is I think the mandate people have given to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi … for development, good governance and stability.
They felt that coalition governments had their limitations and could not take decisions that they wanted to take in the national interest, and that you needed to vote in someone who could enjoy a mandate which should deliver on the aspirations of the people of India, particularly the younger people. Because we have to remember that India is a country of younger people. Over 60 per cent of our population [is] below 35 years of age; 150 million – or almost one-fourth of the entire electorate – voted for the first time ever.
These are the people who will determine the future of the country. 
What attracted the young people to Modi?
The important thing was they wanted someone who had a proven competence on delivering inclusive growth, on stability, on development. In other words, meeting the aspirations of young people. Economic aspirations, the aspiration for stability, the aspiration for India to take its rightful place at the centre of the international stage. 
All of these are manifestations of the success the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] enjoyed in the last election.
Does the huge loss suffered by the Congress Party signal the end of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty in politics?
Well, in politics there are no “ends”. There are only new beginnings. Congress was in power for 10 years and people felt a need for change. But [the election result] also reflected a trend in India – of people tired of governments that are ineffective.
What is Prime Minister Modi’s attitude or policy towards Asean? It doesn’t seem clear yet.
I think it is clear. The BJP manifesto talks about strong ties with the Asean, and they have not mentioned too many other regions.
You have to recall that it was in the previous BJP government that India established a partnership of summit meetings with Asean.
I can tell you that there’s a strong priority for India’s “Look East Policy”.
Any clear plan so far to strengthen relations with Asean?
We’re working on a wide range of issues. The free trade agreement is one of them. We’re also looking at enhanced cooperation in all fields. The [August 8-10] Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting in Nay Pyi Taw … will prepare the groundwork for our engagement with Asean in a much more major way.
And for Thai-Indian relations in particular, what is your main concern or mission?
I would say that this is a relationship that offers very few concerns. The advantage we enjoy is that we have centuries of cooperation in terms of history, civilisation, spirituality, which very few countries enjoy. There’s a lot of things we are doing and can do together. And, certainly, we look at Thailand as a very, very important interlocutor and partner within Asean.
What has been the Indian government’s reaction to the coup in Thailand, officially 
and unofficially?
After the military coup we released a statement indicating that, as a close and friendly neighbour, we expressed the hope that Thailand would resolve its political issues as soon as possible and restore normalcy in keeping with the spirit of democracy, rule of law and will of the people of the country. But we also understand that the relationship between the two neighbouring countries is one that requires constant communication.
We have tried to take a line that is more understanding of your internal situation and your effort to resolve your situation. We cannot allow our relationship to go into free-fall for the period in which you have this political transition.
So your position differs from that of the West – the United States and Europe, which have been critical and have downgraded relationships, especially military cooperation. Do India-Thailand relations remain the same?
I do not want to comment on the relationships between Thailand and other partners. All I can say is that as you come closer in geographical terms to any other country there are other realities that have to be taken into account. We share a long maritime border with Thailand. We are also geographically in close proximity to Thailand.
Therefore we have a different reality to keep in mind than many other countries. We have to compare [our stance] more with other countries within the Asean [region] and see whether it is consistent or not. 
From what we understand, what you are going through today is a transition process, but it will ultimately lead to the restoration of full democracy.
Have you met the National Council for Peace and Order leadership?
[General Prayuth Chan-ocha] was kind enough to offer me a meeting. We were able to go through the entire gamut of the cooperation that India and Thailand enjoy.
The full interview was aired on Nation TV’s Timeline programme on August 17.