India can learn a lot from how Trinidad & Tobago is a fusion of ethnicities and religions work so beautifully. So said India’s newly-appointed high commissioner to Port-of-Spain, HIS EXCELLENCY GAURI SHANKAR GUPTA, a career diplomat who has served in several other countries. The diplomat, an author in his own right, also said T&T’s crime situation was not unique, even though India had perhaps the lowest per capita crime rate in the world.
Q: Your Excellency, most diplomats, especially heads of missions, are briefed before embarking on their posting. What were you told about T&T?
A: (Crossed legs, seated on his couch at his Victoria Avenue, Port-of-Spain, office on Thursday afternoon) What they told me was that it is a wonderful place, it is a country that is most important in the Caribbean region, a country that was described as a fusion of ethnicities, and this is what I found when I came here.
If we should get to the hard news first, were you told about our crime situation?
No. Not at all. It was not told to me there, but I discovered a little bit after I came here that there were cases of murders, robberies, but these things do happen in all countries (frowning) around the world. I was told that the Government is trying very hard to control the crimes and the rate was comparatively down, I was told yesterday. I think it is very important for the country’s prosperity for the crime rate not to be very high.
Is it your view, sir, that India has anything to offer us by way of curbing our crime rate?
You see, if you look at India, we would say we have one of the lowest crime rates in the world per capita. We are a country of 1.2 billion people, we have crimes, I don’t deny that, but very few when it comes to where people are actually killed or murdered. There are some pickpockets and stabbings which are happening in each big city of the world but in terms of per capita, they are much lower.
This really goes to the Indian ethos which says we have a theory of karma that you will reap the harvest of what you do, so people don’t want to do too many bad things. If they do, they will have to reap the harvest the next time around.
Do you believe, Your Excellency, that we are reaping our karma now in terms of the crime situation?
I am sure some people here believe in karma, but the ethos of this country has evolved from the fusion of various cultures and ethnic groups, so it is not one single thread which has come in the case of India, which comes from the Vedic civilisation. One thread. But here it has come from Africa, India, America, Latin America, from Europe, so some people here may believe in it, some may not.
I don’t know how much you have gleaned about our crime challenge in the short time you have been here, but is there anything we are not doing which could put a dent in our situation?
(Slightly rubbing his chin) I think education and social engagement are the two important things to curb the crime; education plays a very important role and so does the behaviour of the society. How does the society engage the criminal elements to convert them to good people, and this is the task of both the Government and the NGOs.
There is the school of thought which says poverty is the main factor in the activities of the criminally minded. Do you buy into that?
I don’t think there is a direct, proportionate relationship between the two. There could be some relationship, but it is not direct and proportionate.
If we should get to your assignment in Port-of-Spain, what can we expect by way of trade between our both countries?
Ok. (Adjusting his glasses) Trade between T&T and India is comparatively small. It is in the range of a hundred million dollars, which is not very substantial, but I think the potential is much larger.
How can we tap into that potential?
That’s what I wanted to mention…One important area is energy, where you have the resources natural gas and petroleum, we need those products in our country. I think it is one area where we can do some collaboration. Some Indian companies came here in the past and wanted to negotiate some long-term contracts, but it did not work out. But we will continue that effort, and I hope that we will reach some agreement on that.
Why this specific matter did not work out?
You know these are commercial considerations on both sides, so I don’t want to go into the precise details of those negotiations. I am sure things will be better in the future. Then we have IT cooperation and, in fact, we are discussing certain proposals which are in the pipe…
I don’t want to give you the precise details, but things will work out very soon. It can bring in Indian investment, Indian knowledge to benefit Trinidad and Tobago in this field. There are also some proposals for collaboration in the film and music sectors. You have highly developed music traditions in this country including the tradition of films as well. Some Indian companies are considering serious proposals, and if things work out well that can become a reality. These are some of the areas we can work tougher.
What about the financial sector?
Of course, things can work out there as well. You are well placed to be the financial hub in the Caribbean and even linking the North and South Americas. Then a direct shipment of goods; For example, we are very strong in clothing, so I am looking at these possibilities to boost our trading relationship.
Your Excellency, as you spoke about clothing, your immediate predecessor said that your countrymen were bringing inferior stuff here from India.
I don’t want to say anything on that because India exports quality clothing all over the world. The largest and best-branded stores buy Indian goods. If things work out we will be happy to collaborate with stores in T&T.
In terms of culture, things are working quite well to begin with. We have the Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Cultural Cooperation in Chaguanas, we also have cultural troops coming here from India. Next year we intend to do a cultural festival of India in Port-of-Spain, and we are in touch with the Culture Ministry on that matter.
Have you heard of the chutney genre?
(Eyes lit up with a big smile) Yes. I would say it is a fusion of music between our two countries. It has become very popular in India, it is a great Trinidadian contribution to our music world.
Are you aware that there are certain Indo Trinis who object to some aspects of the chutney such as gyrating or, as we Trini call it, wining?
(Laughs) I don’t think we have that variety yet, but we have the fusion of the two music which is being used in Bollywood films. Chutney is also an Indian word, you know, which basically means a mix of many spices.
Mr Raphael, if I can mention this, I think one area which India can learn tremendously from you is how the fusion of ethnicities and religions each work in your country so beautifully. This is one area where not only Indian but many other countries in the world can learn. You are a small country with a great fusion of all ethnicities, nationalities, so there are many areas we can work to strengthen our ties.
India has been criticised by some more industrialised countries for allegedly producing inferior medications. Is this a fair criticism?
Not at all. Our pharmaceutical industry is one of the best and the cheapest in the world. Some of these accusations are because they are posing a competition to big pharmaceutical companies in the world. We have been able to provide very cheap medication for Aids, for cancer, for other diseases which is not particularly liked by these large companies so, therefore, the accusations are based on the competition they are receiving from India.
Mr Gupta, on the ongoing unsettled situation between India and Pakistan, do you think there would be peace between both countries in your lifetime?
I think so because things are improving slowly. We already have composite dialogue process in place, but there are some periodic incidents of terrorism promoted by our neighbours. I hope our neighbours will understand that terrorism is not the answer to the problems.
Finally, Your Excellency, whenever I happen to see images of India it always strikes me that you cannot tell an Indian from India and an Indo-Trini…that’s before they open their mouth. Has that been your experience?
(Laughs) I agree with you, without opening their mouth sometimes it is difficult to say it is an Indian from India. We see that to some extent in Mexico, as a lot of Mexicans look like Indians and unless they speak you won’t realise if they are Indian or not.
Finally Sir, what legacy do you hope to leave at the end of your posting in Port-of-Spain?
(Chuckling) I don’t want to say I want to leave any legacy, but I will do my best to promote relations between both countries.
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