Vice President of India Hamid Ansari visited Armenia and Poland from 25 to 28 April 2017. It was the first visit of Vice President Hamid Ansari to both Armenia and Poland.1 The Minister of State for Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises, Giriraj Singh, and a four-member multiparty delegation of MPs from both houses of the Parliament of India accompanied the Vice President. They held wide ranging meetings with the Presidents, Prime Ministers, and other high level officials from the two countries. The visit has reinforced India’s commitment for interaction at the top political levels. Underlining the economic and cultural engagement of the two countries with India, the Vice President addressed the business leaders in Warsaw and held meeting with Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians in Yerevan. He also interacted with the young generation in both the countries by delivering lectures at Yerevan and Warsaw universities.
India, Armenia and Poland are passing through varying stages of social, political and economic transitions. In the era of globalization and increasing inter-dependence, societies under transition need multilevel and multifaceted engagements. The three countries are reaching out in their respective regions and beyond seeking greater cooperation for mutual benefit. Armenia is important for India’s regional economic diplomacy and connectivity with Eurasia and Eastern Europe, while Poland’s significance is more in terms of its economic capabilities, affordable market, its capability to cater production and services in the European region, geographical location in Central-Eastern Europe and EU membership.
For Armenia and Poland, India is a strong emerging economy with high consumption and absorbing capacity for the services and goods produced in the two countries. Indian middle class provides for a big market to be tapped for goods and tourism. Besides, India is also a gateway to South Asia for the two countries. The strengthening of democratic values and promotion of scientific virtues have been facilitating research & innovation in the three countries, which contribute in spurring economic growth and social empowerment in the region and beyond. India being a leader in the low-cost and high quality medicine, space and information technology areas is seen as a potential and committed partner for future growth.
Visit to Armenia
Armenia became independent following the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in December 1991. It was the second visit by a Vice President of India to Armenia, with which India shares close and diversified cultural and historical ties. In October 2005, Vice President and Speaker of Rajya Sabha (upper house) of the Parliament Bhairon Singh Sekhavat had visited Armenia.2 There have been multiple visits by the President and other dignitaries of Armenia to India. The year 2017 is significant as both India and Armenia are commemorating the 25th year of establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The Vice President’s visit has been termed as a ‘landmark’3 in bilateral relations. Vice President Hamid Ansari held meetings with President Serzh Sargsyan, Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan and Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian. Three documents were signed between the two countries. India will help Armenia to build a satellite, assist in the field of remote sensing data and train Armenian scientists.4 Nonetheless, despite smooth political relations and cultural bonding, economic engagement between the two sides has been below potential.
Armenia is a landlocked country in the Caucasus having Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey as its neighbours. Apart from lack of direct surface connectivity, the relatively small economy with about US $ 10.5 billion GDP (2015) and 3 million population (2015)5 might have been other reasons for lower trade between the two countries. The problem is further compounded when there is no direct flight connectivity between India and Armenia.
Nevertheless, this should change now. The International North South Transport Corridor (INTSC) is expected to become operational in the near future.6 India, Iran and Armenia are among its members. Operationalization of the route will make it possible to send goods from South Asia to Europe through a short and secure route. It almost takes more than a month from the Mumbai port of India to send goods to Moscow and European areas of Russia by sea. The INSTC shortens the transportation time to about 15 days. Moreover, the INSTC route is more feasible as it is 30 per cent cheaper than the sea route.7 With increased connectivity, Armenia, from being a landlocked country has the potential to emerge as a land bridge as it is located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.
India has assisted Armenia in IT related projects and shared its experience in agriculture, defence, health, science & technology. As part of capacity building, India has established a ‘Center of Excellence’ with the Param Super Computer and a tele-medicine project in Armenia.8 There are regular consultations as well as inter-governmental meetings between the two countries on various sectors, particularly agriculture, science & technology and commerce and trade. Bilateral trade in goods has been around US$ 37 million in 2015-16. However, as Armenia is getting more integrated with the regional initiatives and programmes as well as through connectivity corridors, including air and rail/road, prospects of greater and fruitful cooperation between India and Armenia are getting bright.
India and Armenia share cultural affinity since historical times. Thomas Cana is considered to be the first Armenian to land on the Malabar cost in 780 AD.9 The Vice President in his speech referred to the medieval Indian mystic Sarmad, of Armenian origin, who influenced Indian political thinking during the freedom struggle.10 'Azdarar' has been the first ever Armenian language journal to be published anywhere in the world. The journal was published in Madras (Chennai) in 179411. Currently, Indian films and food are popular among the Armenian people. Armenia has welcomed Indian film producers to shoot movies in the country.
Armenia is reaching out and joining regional economic integration initiatives to achieve higher growth rate. The country has become a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and has benefited from its EEU membership. President Serzh Sargsyan attending the session of the Eurasian Supreme Economic Council in April 2017 at Bishkek said that turnover with the EEU countries grew by more than 15 per cent, and the export of Armenian goods to Eurasian market grew by 65 per cent. There has also been increase in trade with third countries.12 India is in process to start negotiation on Free Trade Area with the EEU and a deeper economic interaction with Armenia may facilitate in early conclusion of the talks.
Armenia is also a dialogue partner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). India has long been associated with the SCO and it is expected to join the organization as a full member at the 2017 Summit at Astana, Kazakhstan. The SCO provides another multilateral platform for cooperation between the two countries. It can also be effective in tackling the menace of terrorism. During the visit, India and Armenia stressed that there cannot be double standards in dealing with terrorism. The Vice President stated that the international community should speak in one voice against terrorism.13
Industrial production system, technological revolution, faster communications and demographic aspirations have the potential to shape the contours of future global engagement. In his speech at the Yerevan University, Vice President noted, “some of the newer technologies that would impact on human progress relate to energy, cyber technology, robotics, artificial intelligence, quantum mechanics, gene-editing and space exploration.” He further added, “all of these have geopolitical implications in the future.” Both India and Armenia are in the process of transformation and development. Vice President said that ‘individuals, societies, and the global community as a collective, need to re-think the parameters of their future.’ Although Armenia is landlocked and India is geographically at a distance, the evolving technologies are geography neutral and breaking the barriers. Innovations and applications, for example 3D printing, can have transforming impact on commercial and industrial interface. Research and innovation have further brightened the prospects of proliferating the uses of new and clean energy. The Vice President noted the growing affordability and applicability of solar energy. The new and renewable sources of energy would have not only transformative impact on the global development process but also can alter the contemporary geopolitical dynamics of resource diplomacy.
Highlighting the significance of education amid technology induced changes, the Vice President suggested to make societies future ready to ‘take advantage of the advances in technology’. He emphasised investment in educating the people, building consumer economies and democratic institutions.
Visit to Poland
India shares long and diversified relationship with Poland. The engagement was further evolved in the medieval period as many Polish writers, military persons and religious scholars travelled to India. Literary engagement between two countries has been very productive to the knowledge on India in Europe. The relationship remained vibrant during 19th and 20th centuries as Poland was India’s significant economic and defence partner. In the decade of 1990, India and Poland were preoccupied with their domestic political and economic priorities. India had initiated the much needed economic reforms, while Poland was undergoing political and economic transitions. Naturally, domestic political and economic stability was the priority of the two countries. After successfully sailing through the transition process, they explored the possibilities of diversifying their engagement in the post-Cold War world scenario. India’s orientation was to seek more foreign investment and greater engagement with technologically advanced countries. Poland, on the other hand, had focussed on acceding to the EU and NATO. In the 21st century, Poland recognises the growing significance of the Asia-Pacific region in the world. Therefore, the country moved to enhance relations with the major Asian economies, particularly China, India, Japan and South Korea.14 Over the years, India has registered remarkable economic growth rate and technological progress and it is looking for potential areas of commercial engagements, including in Eastern Europe.
The Vice President’s visit to Poland was an important step forward in deepening the relationship between the two countries. During the visit, he held meetings with Polish President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Beato Szydlo. They discussed issues of mutual importance ranging from political, economic, defence, food processing, energy to education to tap the economic advantages for shared growth. The Vice President also addressed the business leaders and academia to further enrich the economic and cultural relations. During the visit, an agreement on expanding cooperation in agriculture was also signed.15
Poland’s efforts to join regional integration initiatives, including with the EU, have created vibrant economic framework for engagement. The country is also engaged in other sub-regional cooperation initiatives such as Visegrad Group and the Three Sea Initiative. Poland is the EU’s sixth most populous country and biggest economy of Central Europe. The country is registering strong economic growth16 and forecast to be one of fastest growing economies in the EU. It is the only member state in the EU, which registered positive growth throughout the period of financial crisis. India sees Poland’s economic success also as an opportunity in the regional as well as global contexts and describes itself as a ‘natural partner’ of Poland for expanding its economic inter-linkages and investment.17
Overall, India-Poland economic relations have registered good growth in recent years. The bilateral trade reached to US $ 2,763 million in 2016 from US $ 1,050 million in 2009.18 During the Vice President’s visit, economic and business engagements figured prominently. Vice President and Polish Prime Minister participated in the Indo-Polish Business Summit in Warsaw. At the Summit, Vice President termed India a ‘natural destination’ for Polish markets and business opportunities beyond Europe.19 Polish Prime Minister Szydlo said, ‘India was one of the top five markets on Poland’s radar.’20
In recent years, India and Poland have taken initiatives to enhance economic relations and considerable increase in business interactions has been registered. Poland has shown its interest in ‘Make in India’ programme. The Vice President underscored Poland’s strength in railways and defence sector and said that India would be willing to utilize the capabilities in promoting manufacturing in the country.21 Both the countries have targeted to achieve US $ five billion trade by 2018.22 To harness the economic potential available in India and the region, Poland is giving incentives to Polish companies to establish and increase their business presence in India through its ‘GoIndia’ programme announced in 2015.23
Indian companies also see substantial potential in Poland, which is centrally and strategically located in the European continent. Total Indian investment has reached US $ 3 billion in Poland, making India a ‘major’ investor in the country.24 Political stability, long term policy clarity and consistent economic growth and integration with the EU market are among other probable reasons for increasing business interests in Poland. The country is an attractive economic destination because of its closeness to major regional European markets and lower operational costs in comparison to Western European economic hubs. On the other hand, Polish economy of US $ 477 billion (World Bank 2015)25 has made US $ 600 million investment in Indian economy. About 30 Polish companies are operating in India in the fields of hygiene products, electric vehicles and waste to energy generation.26 Polish companies have shown interest in investing in clean mining technologies, food processing and green energy projects. They also want to explore collaboration in aerospace sector.27
The Vice President said that Goods and Services Tax reform is to make India a unified market and with ‘increasing transparency’ and ‘liberalised investment climate’ in the country, there is ‘smooth flow of FDI in sectors like defence, railways, civil aviation and pharmaceuticals’.28 Promoting defence manufacturing in India is one of the main of objectives of ‘Make in India’ programme and Poland has advance defence technology and capability. The country has unique advantage of accessing the defence know-how of the former USSR and now NATO. India has traditionally been a large buyer of Soviet arms and equipment and currently it is diversifying purchases including from Western suppliers. Poland can increase defence cooperation with India in manufacturing as well as servicing and maintenance. The Vice President suggested that ‘Make in India’ provides an opportunity to Poland to move from ‘seller’ to become ‘India based seller’, which will be advantageous to it.29
Coal comprises a prime element in India-Poland energy cooperation. Poland produces high quality of coking coal at affordable price. India is a developing economy and making substantial investment in infrastructure which necessitates greater imports of coking coal. Poland is a valuable partner as it is one of largest coking coal exporters. In further widening the coal partnership, Poland has proposed to set up a 2.7 million tonne per annum (mtpa) coking coal plant in India.30 The country also has advanced clean coal technology, which can useful in mitigating climate change. India needs energy at affordable cost and most of the country’s electricity is generated through coal based thermal power plants. Poland can also share technology in the mining and processing of copper and silver with India.
India and Poland have close cultural and long literary relations, which have the potential to further deepen India-Poland economic interactions and people-to-people contacts. Long before India’s independence, a Chair of Sanskrit was established by the Jagiellonian University of Krakow in 1893. India and its culture enjoy goodwill among Polish people and they fondly remember Maharaja Jam Saheb Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja of Nawanagar, currently in the state of Gujarat in India. The Maharaja had welcomed and taken care of more than 1,000 Polish refugees, mainly children, who had escaped the depredations of World War II. The Maharaja’s kindness and generosity was honoured by the Polish Parliament, which unanimously passed a resolution in March 2016 commemorating his 50th death anniversary.31 Indian dances and Bollywood films are popular in the country and Yoga has been received well by Poles. In recent years, Poland has emerged a favourable destination for shooting Indian movies. Films have greatly promoted tourism as the visit of Indian tourists to Spain doubled in a year after the release of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara in 2011.32
Poland is a favourable destination for Indian students to pursue professional courses, particularly medicine. During the visit, cooperation in the education sector was identified as an important area of engagement. There are about 2500 Indian students in different institutions of Poland. The Vice President considered the students as ‘bridgeheads’ for India-Poland future engagements.33
In view of the robust trade and increasing cultural understanding between India and Poland, there is a need to establish direct flight connectivity between the two countries. Lack of connectivity has restricted people-to-people engagement and full realization of mutual economic potential. Direct flight connectivity may also help in boosting tourism in Poland and other Central European countries. These countries have very attractive historical, cultural and natural destinations and cost is relatively low in comparison to tourist places of Western Europe. With the Schengen visa facility and excellent connectivity, a tourist can easily explore multiple destinations in Europe. On the other hand, it will further increase opportunities for Central European countries to explore Indian and South Asian tourist destinations. India has taken initiatives including e-visa to increase tourist inflow. Tourism industry provides greater employment opportunities, which will be a boon for the country with a large segment of young population. During the Vice President’s visit to Warsaw, Polish Prime Minister said that direct air links between India and Poland would commence soon, giving a further impetus to business. It is pertinent to underline the importance of information and knowledge dissemination between Poland and India, which will positively contribute to enhancing education, cultural and economic linkages.
The Vice President in his speech at the University of Warsaw attributed India’s recent economic success to new economic policies and liberalization programme, which were ‘fostered in a democratic and deliberative environment.’34 India’s GDP has increased by about nine times since 1991, reaching about US $ 2.4 trillion from US $ 273 billion in 1991. The Vice President said that the democratic framework of India has provided the required space for ‘associative activism’ and the civil society has played a role in deepening India’s democracy. He praised the restoration of democracy and spirit of democratic values in the Polish society. Apart from sustaining economic development, democracy in India has empowered the marginalized sections of society, preserved and enriched the virtues of pluralism, addressed and resolved social differences and tensions. Poland is also experiencing the virtues of democracy. Democratic success and achievements of India and Poland can become a model for the evolving democracies across the world.
Growing significance of inclusive and sustainable progress in developing societies has led to increased interaction and engagement regionally and internationally. In an inter-connected world, each country has its due contribution to make in political, economic and technological progress. Similarly, an emerging multi-polar world order warrants an increased bilateral and regional cooperation. Political synergy among India-Armenia and India-Poland can constructively contribute to the UN reform, including Security Council. India is a strong contender to the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) and it is seeking access to advanced technologies by joining the Group, which will be beneficial to a large section of the world population. Poland has extended support for India’s candidature to NSG membership. A multilateral approach and global cooperation is warranted to effectively deal with menace of international terrorism. The proposed Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) would be a crucial step forward in taking a legal measure to fight against terror. India, Poland and Armenia can enhance their cooperation at the global forum to tackle the threat of terrorism.
India, Armenia and Poland’s domestic priorities and external orientations share commonalities in facilitating greater bilateral and multilateral economic and social cooperation. The Vice President’s visit to Caucasia and Central Europe reinforces the notion. The upcoming INSTC route and the recent inclusion of Armenia and Poland into India’s e-visa programme, which provides for faster and easier processing of Indian visas, have the potential to increase economic, business as well as cultural cooperation. Mainstream media still pays little attention to the developments in Caucasia and Eastern Europe. Increased information flow would be a multiplier in people to people contact and trade promotion. India’s direct flight connectivity will also boost business and tourism inter-linkages. Apart from increased economic interaction and physical connectivity, vibrant cooperation in the fields of scientific research and innovation is crucial in shaping future economic and social progress. India, Armenia and Poland may enhance their bilateral cooperation with each other and utilize the existing multilateral frameworks. The Vice President’s ‘productive’ visit has strengthened India’s bonding with both the countries and it will boost cooperation at bilateral, multilateral and global levels.
* The Authors, Research Fellows, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the Researcher and not of the Council.
1 Business Standard, "This is Ansari's first visit to both Armenia and Poland," New Delhi, 20 April 2017, http://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/vice-president-to-visit-armenia-poland-in-october-117042001531_1.html (Accessed on 8 May 2017)
3 Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, “Transcript of Media Briefing by Secretary (East) on visit of Vice President to Armenia and Poland from April 24-28, 2017,” http://mea.gov.in/media-briefings.htm?dtl/28406/Transcript_of_Media_Briefing_by_Secretary_East_on_visit_of_Vice_President_to_Armenia_and_Poland_from_April_2428_2017 (Accessed on May 1, 2017).
4 Business Standard, “India, Armenia sign three agreements,” 25 April 2017, http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/india-armenia-sign-three-agreements-117042501355_1.html (Accessed 8 May 2017)
6 Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury, “India-Eurasia Road Almost Ready, Container Dry Run Soon,” The Economic Times, April 3, 2017, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/transportation/shipping-/-transport/india-eurasia-road-almost-ready-container-dry-run-soon/articleshow/57980716.cms (Accessed on May 2, 2017).
8 Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, “Transcript of Media Briefing by Secretary (East) on visit of Vice President to Armenia and Poland from April 24-28, 2017,” http://mea.gov.in/media-briefings.htm?dtl/28406/Transcript_of_Media_Briefing_by_Secretary_East_on_visit_of_Vice_President_to_Armenia_and_Poland_from_April_2428_2017 (Accessed on May 1, 2017).
10 Vice President of India, “Remarks by Shri M. Hamid Ansari, Honourable Vice President of India at the Yerevan State University, Armenia on 26 April 2017,” 26 April 2017, http://vicepresidentofindia.nic.in/speechesinterviews/remarks-shri-m-hamid-ansari-honourable-vice-president-india-yerevan-state (Accessed 8 May 2017)
11 The Republic of Armenia, India, http://www.armenian.co.in/jointhistory.htm (Accessed 8 May 2017)
12 President of Armenia, “Session of the Eurasian Supreme Economic Council Took Place in Bishkek,” April 14, 2017, http://www.president.am/en/press-release/item/2017/04/14/President-Serzh-Sargsyan-attended-eecommision-meeting-in-Bishkek/ (Accessed on May 1, 2017).
13 Deepak Ranjan, “India, Armenia Sign Three Agreements,” PTI, April 25, 2017, http://www.ptinews.com/news/8644150_India--Armenia-sign-three-agreements (Accessed on May 6, 2017).
14 Polish Foreign Policy Priorities 2012-2016, http://www.msz.gov.pl/resource/d31571cf-d24f-4479-af09-c9a46cc85cf6:JCR (Accessed on May 1, 2017).
15 Embassy of India, Warsaw, “Vice President Of India Concludes Productive Visit To Poland,” http://www.indianembassywarsaw.in/alert_detail.php?id=15 (Accessed on May 2, 2017)
16 European Commission, “Commission Staff Working Document Country Report Poland 2017,” Brussels, February 22, 2017, https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/2017-european-semester-country-report-poland-en.pdf (Accessed on May 1, 2017)
17 Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, “Transcript of Media Briefing by Secretary (East) on visit of Vice President to Armenia and Poland from April 24-28, 2017,” http://mea.gov.in/media-briefings.htm?dtl/28406/Transcript_of_Media_Briefing_by_Secretary_East_on_visit_of_Vice_President_to_Armenia_and_Poland_from_April_2428_2017 (Accessed on May 1, 2017).
18 Embassy of India, Warsaw, “India-Poland Relations,” http: /www.indianembassywarsaw.in/eoi.php?id=Pol_relat (Accessed on May 2, 2017)
19 Address by Shri M. Hamid Ansari, Honourable Vice President of India at Business Seminar at Ministry of Economic Development, Warsaw in Poland on April 27, 2017, http://vicepresidentofindia.nic.in/speechesinterviews/address-shri-m-hamid-ansari-honourable-vice-president-india-business-seminar (Accessed on May 2, 2017)
20 Embassy of India, Warsaw, “Vice President Of India Concludes Productive Visit To Poland,” http://www.indianembassywarsaw.in/alert_detail.php?id=15 (Accessed on May 2, 2017)
21 Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, “Press Statement by Vice President in Warsaw, Poland (April 27, 2017),”
22 “India, Poland Set Trade Target of $5 Billion by 2018,” DNA, June 16, 2015, http://www.dnaindia.com/money/report-india-poland-set-trade-target-of-5-billion-by-2018-2096140 (Accessed on May 5, 2017).
23 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Poland, Poland-India Diplomatic Relations Discussed in Warsaw, April 27, 2015, http://www.msz.gov.pl/en/news/poland_india_diplomatic_relations_discussed_in_warsaw;jsessionid=95C73C2D7095C197AFC2D821B6AA4C40.cmsap2p (Accessed on May 5, 2017).
24 Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, “Press Statement by Vice President in Warsaw, Poland (April 27, 2017),”
25 The World Bank, “Poland,” http://data.worldbank.org/country/poland (Accessed on May 2, 2017).
26 “Poland Plans Investments in Food Processing, Green Energy in India,” Business Standard, February 16, 2016, http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/poland-plans-investments-in-food-processing-green-energy-in-india-116021500110_1.html (Accessed on May 1, 2017).
28 Vice President of India, Address by Shri M. Hamid Ansari, Honourable Vice President of India at Business Seminar at Ministry of Economic Development, Warsaw in Poland on April 27, 2017, http://vicepresidentofindia.nic.in/speechesinterviews/address-shri-m-hamid-ansari-honourable-vice-president-india-business-seminar (Accessed on May 2, 2017).
29 Deepak Ranjan, “Terrorism is Pandemic and Affects Every Country: VP Ansari,” PTI, April 29, 2017, http://www.ptinews.com/news/8656052_Terrorism-is-pandemic-and-affects-every-country--VP-Ansari.html (Accessed on May 2, 2017).
30 Rakhi Majumdar, “Make in India: Poland Eyes Setting Up 2.7 Million Tonnes Per Annum Coking Coal Plant in India,” The Economic Times, February 17, 2016,
http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/51008411.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst (Accessed on May 2, 2017).
31 Embassy of India, Warsaw, “India-Poland Relations,” http: /www.indianembassywarsaw.in/eoi.php?id=Pol_relat (Accessed on May 2, 2017).
32 “Spain Courts Bollywood Productions to Attract More Indian Tourists,” the Guardian, June 19, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/19/spain-courts-bollywood-productions-to-attract-more-indian-tourists (Accessed on May 2, 2017).
33 Vice President of India, Address by Shri M. Hamid Ansari, Honourable Vice President of India at Business Seminar at Ministry of Economic Development, Warsaw in Poland on April 27, 2017, http://vicepresidentofindia.nic.in/speechesinterviews/address-shri-m-hamid-ansari-honourable-vice-president-india-business-seminar (Accessed on May 2, 2017).
34 Address by Shri M. Hamid Ansari, Honourable Vice President of India at University of Warsaw, Poland on 28 April 2017, Poland , Seven Decades of Indian Democracy, http://vicepresidentofindia.nic.in/speechesinterviews/address-shri-m-hamid-ansari-honourable-vice-president-india-university-warsaw (Accessed on May 5, 2017)