by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)
Bárbara Reis, Editor-in-chief of the Portuguese magazine Publico asked me to comment on Portugal PM António Costa’s ongoing trip to India. Here are the questions and answers. [The full interview on the Public website is here]
Q: How would you describe India-Portugal bilateral relation, in particular compared with other European countries?
I’d put Portugal as the fourth most important country in Europe for India along with Netherlands. The first spot goes to Britain because of historical links and strong contemporary economic ties. Moreover, like other Asian members of the commonwealth, India too sees Europe through Britain. Germany and France are the other two European nations with which India has strategic partnerships. Then comes India’s partnerships with Netherlands and Portugal, both of which have substantially large Indian communities.
Q: Is Costa’s visit relevant for India? In what way?
Costa’s visit is very significant for three reasons:
One, it comes at a time when India’s traditional connect in the European Union — Britain, is on its way out. Thus, India needs other partnerships to help navigate the complex mechanisms of the EU. As it stands, the EU is not looked upon as a credible strategic actor internationally. Apart from matters of trade and investment, emerging Asian countries like India prefer to interact directly with the member-states of the EU and vice-versa. This is where India-Portugal relations in general and this visit in particular become significant.
Two, India needs to partner with Portugal not just to access the EU, but also to link it with other Lusophone countries in Africa, Asia, and South America. Costa’s visit can give impetus to these partnerships as well.
Three, Costa will be visiting Gujarat, Goa, and Karnataka. It is not very common for the leader of another country to go out of the capital New Delhi. This visit can hence be utilised to establish links directly with these states, all three of which are amongst the economically better performing regions of India.
Q: PM António Costa’s father was an Indian from Goa. How does that fact play in Indian internal and external politics?
Not directly. But Mr Costa’s visit can be used to give impetus to Goa as a foreign policy actor, not only with respect to Portugal but also to other Lusophone nations. Traditionally, foreign policy has been seen to be the sole responsibility of the union government. But over the last decade, many states have started engaging with other countries directly, mostly for economic diplomacy. In this context, Goa is an important state because it is the richest state in India in per capita terms and also because a sizeable number of Goans reside outside India. Thus, riding on Costa’s Goan connections, the Goa—Portugal partnership can be made the first success story for this new paradigm of foreign policy in India.
Q: What could Portugal do to improve and strengthen the bilateral relation with India?
Portugal can help in three ways:
One, open up its doors to Indians for education. India has a shortage of world-class universities. Portugal can provide scholarships, especially in the social sciences stream.
Two, to establish stronger cultural links, Portugal can start short-term fellowship programmes for Indians on the lines of the US State department’s fellowships. This can involve not just Goa, but other Lusophone nations of the world.
Three, the Portuguese language in Goa has declined steadily over the years. It would help if Portugal could boost the Centro de Língua Portuguesa in Goa and tie-up with other schools and colleges for this purpose.
Q: Do you agree that Goa is being underestimated by both countries? Meaning, could Goa be the center of a new triangular type of diplomatic relations? Triangles like India-Mozambique-Portugal? Or India-Portugal and any of the other Portuguese speaking countries?
Definitely. The idea that states are important partners in India’s foreign policy is gaining ground now. States too see themselves as important players and are ready to engage other countries for establishing mutually beneficial economic relations. Many state departments now have NRI departments that interact with nations having large diasporas from their state. Goa can become the crucial link between India and all Lusophone nations. Goa should consider having a permanent trade representation in all Lusophone nations to accelerate the bidirectional flow of investments.
Also read: My colleague Anupam Manur’s article in Mint on the investment opportunities for India in Portugal.