Away from the glare of big-ticket diplomatic blitz, India’s growing global stature got a thumbs-up when External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid became the first foreign minister from an Asian country to address Hungarian ambassadors in the Central European country, the birthplace of iconic Indian artist Amrita Sher-Gil and home to erudite Indologists.
Khurshid’s July 14-16 visit to Budapest marked India’s accelerated drive to forge multi-faceted relations with Hungary, a better-performing economy in the eurozone which is vigorously pursuing its “go global” foreign policy, that includes forging closer political and economic ties with rising Asian powers like India.
The wide-ranging discussions between the foreign ministers of India and Hungary have set the stage for the visit of Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban to India in October this year.
The two countries may not have figured very high on each other’s foreign policy radar screen, but the changing dynamic in Central Europe is propelling the region to look afresh at India’s growing international stature and its proven prowess in knowledge industries and IT.
Announcing the Hungarian Prime Minister’s visit, Mr Khurshid said in Budapest that the trip is going to set “a new milestone in our bilateral ties.” “Several new agreements are likely to be signed further strengthening our bilateral cooperation,” he said, adding that a warm welcome awaited Prime Minister Orban in India.
Amid rapid economic forays by China into Central Europe, India has sought to leverage its traditionally strong ties with the region and has upped its diplomacy. Indian investments in Hungary have surged to $1.5 billion, and Budapest is hungry for more.
Trade diplomacy will be increasingly in focus as the two countries scale up their relations across the spectrum. A Free Trade Area agreement (FTA), which is being negotiated, could prove to be a game-changer. Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs Janos Martonyi has placed Hungary’s desire to deepen its relations with India in the larger context of the country’s go global policy. “In the last 20 years, Hungary was absorbed by the region; our basic objective was to integrate with the Western alliance… now it is time to look beyond our regional borders,” said Mr Martonyi in an interview to the Hindu, an Indian daily, recently.
“Hungary is in a new phase and has a new approach; it has a new priority for foreign policy. In the present stage of trade and investment, India now has tremendous potential. Trade should be much more, given the size of India and the export potential and capacity of Hungary,” he said.
The deep-rooted cultural affinities are reflected in the popularity of yoga, ayurveda and Indian dance and music in Hungary. The cadences of Hindi language have also found a large group of eager learners. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) has been sending for the last two decades a Visiting Professor of Hindi to the Department of Indo-European Studies, ELTE University, one of the few universities in the world which has included Sanskrit a regular subject of study more than a century ago. Two scholarship are given every year to Hungarian nationals to learn Hindi at the Central Institute of Hindi in Agra.
Above all, Hungary has carved a niche for nurturing Indian philosophy, culture and spiritual thought – a legacy that has been kept alive by generations of eminent Hungarian Indologists like Csoma de Korosi, Aurel Stein, Elizabeth Sass Brunner and Elizabeth Brunner.
The admiration is mutual. When sage-poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore visited Hungary in 1926, he was entranced by the beauty of the country and its people. “I have seen almost all the countries of the world but I saw nowhere such a beautiful harmony of the sky and the water than that I had the privilege to enjoy on the shore of Balaton, filling my soul with rapture,” Tagore wrote.
Hungarians still recall with a tinge of gratitude how India intervened with Soviet Union in the 1956 uprising and saved the life of Dr. Arpad Goncz, who subsequently served as Hungary’s president from 1990 to 2000.
With such deep cultural underpinnings and a sense of solidarity, India-Hungary relations are poised to prosper. Juggling trade and Tagore may be the way to go in these market-driven times.
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