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Economy should be ‘guiding force’ to build relations with Türkiye: Ex-Indian diplomat

The “guiding force” to build relations with “manufacturing hub Türkiye” has to be economy, said a former Indian diplomat, suggesting closer cooperation between the private sectors of the two nations.

“Guiding force has to be economics,” said Vikas Swarup, 61, who retired as India’s top diplomat in charge, known as Secretary West at India’s Foreign Ministry, of managing the South Asian nation’s relations with the Middle East, including Türkiye.

Swarup spoke to Anadolu in Istanbul where he engaged in a literary discussion with Türkiye’s incumbent top diplomat in India, Firat Sunel, during an event at the recently opened Rami Library.

“Türkiye is very good in manufacturing. It has always been a manufacturing powerhouse (and) India is also trying to scale up (manufacturing). There, I see also a lot of possibilities for Turkish and Indian businessmen to work together,” he said.

“Türkiye wants to maximize its economic potential, India (also) wants to maximize (economics) and if the private sector of the two countries comes together… $12.5billion is just a start, we can take it to $25 billion or even more,” Swarup added.

The annual bilateral trade between the two nations has swelled past $12 billion.

“Let the two private sectors come together and if the political will exists on both sides, then I am sure India-Türkiye relations will prosper,” he added.

The bilateral trade was “booming” because “connectivity has increased between India and Türkiye,” said Swarup, citing direct flights between India and Türkiye as an example.

A career diplomat-turned-author, Swarup’s first diplomatic posting was in Ankara in 1987, where he got “exposed to a completely different culture … different way of working.”

“It gave me a lot of insights into how relationship is built-up,” he recalled, crediting leadership of then Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal and Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi for bilateral visits at a time when Ankara and New Delhi were “just about to rediscover each other.”

Author of three books, Swarup’s Slumdog Millionaire turned into a global hit movie.

Before retiring from the Indian Foreign Service in 2021, he served as India’s high commissioner to Canada. He is currently working on “new stories.”

Soon after he reached the Turkish capital, Swarup took a course in the Turkish language for six months in Ankara.

He recalled his “good Turkish” speaking skills at a TRT program, where other guests “could not make out whether I was Indian or Turkish … (and) that was a big compliment.”

According to him, his senior colleague Alok Singh was the first Indian diplomat to learn the Turkish language in 1976.

“The first posting is always special in a way it determines, molds your entire future … what you learn is something what you remember all through your life … So, from that point of view, Türkiye was important posting for me,” Swarup told Anadolu.

After his three-year posting ended in 1990, Swarup returned to Türkiye in 1993 “to handle the visit” of then-Indian President Shankar Dayal Sharma.

Later, he accompanied incumbent Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Türkiye in 2015 to attend a G20 summit in the Mediterranean province of Antalya.

Swarup was “closely associated” with the reciprocal trips of Ozal and Gandhi, which “allowed me a firsthand experience of what a VIP visit is and how do we handle it and how do they contribute to the development of bilateral ties between two countries.”

Swarup said India and Türkiye “are contributing to each other in many different ways.”

“Türkiye is a member of the Group of 20 (and) they are supporting India’s Group of 20 presidency,” he said, recalling India’s Operation Dost (friend) launched in the aftermath of twin earthquakes that hit Türkiye on Feb. 6 early this year.

One big connector between the two countries, said Swarup, “is that India and Türkiye are both developing countries.”

“Turkish per capita is much more than India but Türkiye is also a developing country.

“From that point of view, we see eye to eye on many international issues, on environment, on WTO (World Trade Organization), I think we have the same perspective,” said the former diplomat.

“And that is where I see a lot of opportunities for us to work together.”

Swarup said the world was “facing a problem of indebtedness … many of the poorer countries are heavily under the burden of debt for instance and India and Türkiye can work together to be their voice and help them in climate finance, debt restructuring etc.

“These are couple of areas where I see a lot of opportunities where the two can work together.”

On his literary engagement in Istanbul, Swarup said the Rami Library event was unique where two diplomat-writers and two friends “were talking to each other contributing to the cultural ties of the two countries.”

Lauding the Turkish series Dirilis Ertugrul (Resurrection Ertugrul), Swarup said: “A lot of Turkish serials are gaining international popularity.

“More Indians are exposed to Turkish literature and culture (which) will be good for both the countries,” he said.

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