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Onboard Media Briefing by Vice President en-route Kampala to Delhi (February 23, 2017)

February 27, 2017

Shri Ashish Sharma, Under Secretary (DD): Thank you sir for joining us after the hectic day of engagements. Before we take up questions, I would request if you have some remarks.

Hon’ble Vice President of India, Shri Hamid M. Ansari: Well friends you have been witness to two days and two days of interesting visits, first to Kigali and then to most recent one here in Uganda.

In both countries that we visited there was a gap in the frequency of high level visits and the Government consciously took a decision that this gap has to be filled. Nobody from India at high level had visited Rwanda, so this was a first and it was greatly appreciated by the host government.

With Uganda our contacts are much older but there again a little gap had come in. The gap was from our side not visiting them, it was not that they didn’t visit us. They have been participating regularly in different pan-African programs, Vibrant Gujarat program and all that.

In both countries the level of discussions was extremely cordial whose details have been spell out in the two press releases that have been issued. Basically the approach from our side was that as long standing friends we are there to give them assistance in their developmental programs in those areas where they want assistance.

We have no prescription to offer. Take this or don’t take this that is not our approach. Where we can help we are there to help and it is for them to convert that into specific requests. Some of them are already in the pipeline, some others will be coming up.

Secondly, on the broader issues, India’s approach to cooperation with African countries is well known and well appreciated. One issue of concern to us and to them also is this phenomenon of terrorism and on which there was a total meeting of minds i.e. condemning terrorism in all shapes and forms.

In both places parliamentary interaction came up for discussion and the point was made that there is not enough of it and I would agree with that but that is something that when I will go back and consult with the Hon’ble Speaker of Lok Sabha to work out how best we can address this gap.

In both countries that we visited and in our own country, members of Parliament play an important role in shaping opinion and in lending support to government policies. So if the government policy is to be proactive in relations with African countries, East West North South, then it is important that this is conveyed to the public through members of parliament. And members of parliament themselves must get to know a little better.

Those who came with us on this visit or on previous visits learnt firsthand what the level of relationship between countries is and what is in the offing.So this is broadly what it is, I would consider and I think Mantriji will agree with me that we were received with exceptional warmth.

Our meeting with the President of Uganda yesterday was much more than a proforma meeting which went on and on for a long period of time followed by a lunch which he hosted, which is above protocol requirements.

So in both the countries, starting with Presidents but at other levels also i.e. Vice Presidents, Speakers of Parliaments, the cordiality was evident and we were very well received. All of you also witnessed the visit to the Genocide Museum in Kigali and it is a tribute to the determination of the people of Rwanda that they were able to overcome that heart rendering disaster and rebuild their country. Full marks to them.

In Kigali I also addressed the University students and I think that text is available with you. So all in all, from our point of view it was a good productive visit. It reinforced the long standing ties between India and these two countries. One last point which is important for India to take note of in India and that is the taking shape of the East African community.

Now the agreements have been there but the East African community is not actually taking shape as an economic community and also to some extent a political community. So many of our programs and initiative will not be purely bilateral but will have flown effects to other members of the community. That is all I have to say. Now you are welcome to ask any questions that you may have.

Question: The Ugandan Minister during the address to the Business Forum expressed concerns for the growing trade imbalance and called for an establishment of good ties between both sides. What would you like to say on that?

Hon’ble Vice President of India, Shri Hamid M. Ansari:
The trade figures make it very evident that there is a serious trade imbalance. We export a lot of things to them while their export basket is very limited. There are two ways about it. One that they increase products in their export basket which are of requirement in India.

There could be discussion on what those products can be. The other is instead of exporting a lot of finished goods from India to Uganda some Indian manufacturers could think of making local investments so that the finished goods is finished in Uganda and not in India.

Both possibilities in commercial terms are feasible and since representatives of business organizations were there, so they have taken note of it. We will go back and discuss it further but I conceded the point that the issue of trade imbalance is a valid point and it needs to be addressed.

Question:
ADB meeting is scheduled in Gujarat in May. How important it is for Indian and especially for the people of Gujarat?

Hon’ble Vice President of India, Shri Hamid M. Ansari: Well, let us see. They have got their own agenda and we would have to see what the progress of discussion in that is. I am not familiar with the precise agenda of that meeting but I am sure it has been carefully prepared and it will be productive.

Question: You met the Heads of Senate in Rwanda and also with the Speaker of Parliament in Uganda. What was the take away from that and what were the issues that came up during the meeting?

Hon’ble Vice President of India, Shri Hamid M. Ansari:
The specific point that was raised was we need more parliamentary interaction. In both the places this same point was made and I think that is a valid point as I explained earlier that we do need more parliamentary interactions but of course there are constraints on our side and there are constraints on their side. It is not that they don’t meet but they meet in big parliamentary meetings in Geneva where there is not enough interaction.

So a visit from a parliamentary delegation whether from Rwanda or from Uganda will expose them to what is happening in India, what are the areas of development and progress. That goes a long way in shaping policies. So I am personally very supportive of this but we have our own constraints, schedules and other things so this will have to be discussed in the two houses of parliament and then a view could be taken.

Question: Political intent notwithstanding, keeping our past experience in mind and after your engagement that you had for the last four days, what you think will be the biggest challenge in the coming days that India would face if you need to sustain this engagement with Africa?

Hon’ble Vice President of India, Shri Hamid M. Ansari:
Sustaining our engagements with Africa is very much a part of Government’s policy. The India-Africa summit and various other initiatives. Sometimes we forget the sheer size of Africa i.e. 54 countries. What is the total population of 54 countries? 1 billion. Some of them may be very small countries but some are big countries.

Then there are enormous possibilities of development cooperation where we can share with them our experience, our skills which are of use to them.

Africa also has enormous resources which we can look at as India’s developmental requirements come up. So all in all the focus on Africa is a critical part of our outlook to the world.

Question: Sir, you visited Jinja today which is very important from Indian side as well as from the Ugandan side as being the source of the Nile. In Rwanda the MoU was signed to start direct flight from April from Mumbai to Kigali. Was there any talks or has there been suggestions from the Ugandan side to start a flight service from India to Uganda given the huge population of Indians there?

Hon’ble Vice President of India, Shri Hamid M. Ansari:
In Uganda there is a peculiar problem which surfaced many years ago when they had acute financial difficulties and part of the package that was given to them by international lending agencies was that they must jettison some of their family silver.

They had an airline but they were told that it would help if they sell it off, so Uganda does not have a national airline. So that is point one where Rwanda has an advantage as Rwanda has a national airline and they did their homework and found that the flight to Mumbai would be economically productive.

From our side, Air India has its own limitations and priorities so on the face of it a large Indian community should make it possible for Indian public or private sector airline to fly to Entebbe but let us go and discuss with this with Ministry of Civil Aviation. I am sure that there is something which they would have to say on this but the presence of direct services will certainly be of great help.

Question: A question which is not related to the visits but to your tenure. Your tenure as the Vice President is coming to an end. What do you think as the highest and lowest point of your tenure, ten years that you have been there?

Hon’ble Vice President of India, Shri Hamid M. Ansari:
Every day is a new day. You live in this kind of responsibility so live with the challenges of the day but it has been very productive nine and half years for me. It has been a learning experience and I have enjoyed it immensely. Thank you.

Shri Ashish Sharma, Under Secretary (DD): Thank you sir. With this we conclude the press briefing.

(Concludes)

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