Special Interview with the Indian Ambassador Pooja Kapur for Novinite.com: India and Bulgaria are Time Tested Friends
Indian Ambassador Pooja Kapur in a special interview with Novinite.com
H.E. Ms. Pooja Kapur is Ambassador of India to the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia. She joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1996 and has previously served at Indian Embassies/ High Commissions in Paris, London, Kuala Lumpur and Brussels. Ms. Kapur has held charges pertaining to India’s relationship with Western Europe, South East Asia, the United Nations and the Commonwealth at the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi, most recently heading the ASEAN Multilateral Division.
Ambassador Kapur is a published author and a frequent speaker at international conferences and events. She was the Chief Coordinator of the Delhi Dialogue for three years.
Ms. Kapur was a Chevening scholar at the University of Oxford and has a Masters in Public Administration from the Ecole Nationale d’Administration in Paris, along with a B.A. (Honours) and M.A. in Political Science from the University of Delhi. She is a university topper and recipient of several academic scholarships and awards.
Your Excellency, you have been based in Bulgaria since 2017 and will complete your tenure at the end of February. Would you tell us a little more about the India - Bulgaria bilateral relations?
Ambassador Kapur: India and Bulgaria are time tested friends. While the official relationship dates back to 1954, our people-to-people contacts go back to ancient times. The relationship transitioned smoothly with Bulgaria's democratic transition. Political dialogue has been sustained by close contacts between our leaders in the past and has been reinvigorated in the last three years through exchange of a series of high-profile visits, starting with the Hon’ble President of India Mr. Ram Nath Kovind paying a State Visit in September 2018, followed by the visit of our then External Affairs Minister Mrs. Sushma Swaraj in February 2019.
The Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic and Demographic Policy, H.E. Ms. Mariyana Nikolova, led a high-profile delegation to India in November 2019, along with H.E. Mr. Velik Zanchev, Deputy Minister of Transport, Information Technology and Communications and H.E. Mr. Lyuben Kanchev, Deputy Minister of Tourism, as also a high-powered business delegation.
Trade and investment are on an upward trajectory. Indian companies are active in Bulgaria in the ICT, entertainment, renewable energy, agriculture and food processing sectors while Bulgarian companies have a presence in India in IT, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and bio-toilets. Cooperation in the defence sector is also gathering momentum with Bulgarian companies like Arsenal entering into joint ventures with Indian companies. In the field of Science & Technology, at least 16 projects are currently under implementation.
Indian culture also enjoys considerable popularity in Bulgaria, as is evident in the growing popularity of Yoga and International Day of Yoga celebrations, Ayurveda, Indian movies, TV serials, music, etc. Our relationship has been marked by extensive cultural interactions. Till the Covid-19 pandemic intervened, tourism in either direction was growing in double digits annually. The number of Indian tourists to Bulgaria has increased with several Indian films being shot here. It is also heartening to see the popularity of Mahatma Gandhi in Bulgaria, with his statues being installed in South Park, Sofia and at the entrance of the Sea Garden in Varna.
Do you find any difference between Bulgaria, as you saw it several years ago, and Bulgaria nowadays? If yes, what is the difference?
Ambassador Kapur: I think Bulgaria hasn’t changed in my time here but my perception of it has – I find it more beautiful and more welcoming over time, and I discover new treasures everyday.
What about Indian investors, do they demonstrate interest in Bulgaria? Who are the largest investors so far?
Ambassador Kapur: Indian investors are certainly interested in doing business in Bulgaria. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Invest Bulgaria Agency and Invest India during the President of India’s visit here in September 2018 to further encourage investors.
Numerous business delegations have been visiting Bulgaria regularly with their visits being facilitated by the Embassy of India in collaboration with the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the Indian Bulgarian Business Chamber, the Balkan Indian Business Association, etc. There are especially good prospects for investments in the fields of new technologies and IT including AI, block chain, big data, etc, as also in light electricals, automotives, agri-foods, hospitality, skill development, etc.
Sutherland Global Services owns business centres in Sofia and Varna while EXL Services have a BPO Centre in Sofia. India’s cinema operator CineGrand Pvt Ltd. has opened theatres in several malls. ElderPharmaceuticals based in Mumbai started the manufacture of products in its Bulgarian subsidiary Elder Bio-meda AD to sell to the EU market. In the field of agriculture & food processing, Namdhari Seeds owns hundreds of acres of agricultural land near Plovdiv and grows fruits, vegetables and seeds for export to European markets while Dairy Valley produces Indian dairy-based delicacies in Sliven for export to the rest of the continent. Pawan Ltd. produces wind power related equipment, etc.
In your opinion, where is it easier to do business, in Bulgaria or in India?
Ambassador Kapur: I rate both India as well as Bulgaria as being highly investor friendly countries.
India ranks 63rd out of 190 countries in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Index, having climbed up the ranking rapidly in the past 5 years. The excellent financial and other incentives offered by the Government of India under flagship programmes like “Aatmanirbhar Bharat”, “Make in India”, etc. have attracted new investors to venture into India in greater numbers and those already there to boost their presence even further. Big tech companies like Google, Apple and Facebook have all enhanced investments into India during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The EU is India's largest trading partner, accounting for €80 billion worth of trade in goods in 2019 or 11.1% of total Indian trade, on par with the USA and ahead of China. Indian companies have invested over €50 billion in Europe since 2000.
Bulgaria lies at the cross-roads between Europe, Asia and Africa. Its strategic geographical location gives it access not only to European markets but also beyond. Bulgaria is seen as an attractive foreign investment destination due to its committed and skilled workforce, low overhead costs for doing business, competitive wage and tax rates, and openness to international trade and investment with free access to EU markets.
Do Bulgarian companies get in touch with you in order to discover more about the business environment in India? Is there a website or information pool where companies may find the necessary data?
Ambassador Kapur: Yes, we are regularly contacted by Bulgarian companies to discuss business opportunities in India and seek advice on the business environment. The Commercial Wing of the Embassy responds to numerous business-related queries daily. Apart from the Embassy of India website (https://www.indembsofia.gov.in/), I would recommend the following sites for companies interested in business related information about India:
- Indian Trade Portal
- Ministry of Commerce & Industry
- Ministry of Corporate Affairs
- Invest India
- Indian Bulgarian Business Chamber
Starting from 2020, the whole world has been in a totally different situation. What changes have occurred in India during the pandemic?
Ambassador Kapur: There is no denying that the Covid pandemic has impacted all countries around the world and India is no exception. I believe that the Covid-19 pandemic has presented us with extraordinary challenges and that every facet of our national life has been affected by the complexities and difficulties of the situation.
Nonetheless, India’s sui generis public health response to the pandemic, summoning the strengths of its massive administrative machinery, abundant human resources and technical prowess to supplement its healthcare system has earned global appreciation and resulted in lower incidence and mortality rates and higher recovery rates. Moreover, India has emerged as the pharmacy of the world and the producer of choice for vaccines. As the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi recently said, the pandemic has affected several things but not the aspirations of 1.3 billion Indians!
India is planning to vaccinate a total of 300 million people by June 2021. You call this “the largest vaccination programme in the world”; besides, India has donated over 5 million vaccine doses to the neighbouring states. How did India cope with this situation, how did you manage to organize everything so well?
Ambassador Kapur: India’s pharmaceutical sector has had a long and distinguished history in innovating and distributing life-saving medicines at the most affordable prices around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that India can not only innovate but also rapidly distribute time-critical drugs to every part of the globe that needs it.
India supplies affordable and low-cost generic drugs to millions of people across the globe and has come to be known as ‘pharmacy of the world’. It produces 60% of the world's vaccines and accounts for 70% of the WHO's procurement. Two vaccines are currently under production in India, viz the Oxford-AstraZeneca-SerumInstitutvaccine Covishield and Covaxin developed entirely indigenously by Bharat Biotech. In addition, there are 7 Covid-19 vaccine candidates in different phases of development. India is happy to provide vaccines to friendly countries under the Vaccine Maitri Programme.
It has not only gifted millions of doses of COVID vaccines to its neighboring and other countries such as Bhutan, Maldvies, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Seychelles Oman and Bahrain, but also undertaken commercial exports to dozens of countries including Brazil, Argentina, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Canada, Mongolia, etc. Further, we have cleared the supply of 10 million doses to Africa and 1 million to UN health workers under GAVI’s COVAX facility.
You will return to India at the end of February. What is the first thing you will do upon arrival?
Ambassador Kapur: I am going as Ambassador of India to the Kingdom of Denmark but will go to India first. On arrival I will visit my family (parents and siblings) who I haven’t seen for over a year and miss immensely, and then spoil myself with some delicious Indian food and shopping!
Will you miss Bulgaria?
Ambassador Kapur: Of course! Immensely.
Did you have time to get to know our country? Is there any place that impressed you the most?
Ambassador Kapur: I did indeed. Places which have particularly impressed me are the enchanting Rila Monastery with its calming vibrations, the old world charm of Plovdiv Old Town, the grandeur of the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, the rugged beauty of Cape Kaliakra and the modern city vibe of Varna Sea Garden, to name my top five.
What would you say about Bulgarians? Do we have anything in common with Indians or the differences are more than the similarities?
Ambassador Kapur: Bulgarians and Indians have several surprising things in common. Bulgarians are European but some of their cultural traits and values remind me of those of Asia. For instance, you pay a great deal of attention to family values, you are concerned about the education of children, especially in the fields of maths and science, which are also typically Indian traits.
A Foreign Ministry colleague told me that Bulgarian music is the only one in Europe which has an uneven beat, just like Indian music. These are just some of the wonderful similarities that I have discovered here between our peoples. Research has also revealed similarities between the ancient Indian script Brahmi and the ancient Bulgarian script Glagolitsa. The great Bulgarian Revolutionary Rakovski went to the extent of declaring that the forefathers of Bulgarians belonged originally to India!
What will you take along with you from Bulgaria to India?
Ambassador Kapur: Bulgarian rose oil, rose tea, rose water and toiletries, some embroideries, artworks, and many many beautiful memories.
Is there anything you wanted to share but didn‘t have the chance? What would be your final message/wishes to our readers?
Ambassador Kapur: To Bulgaia and all Bulgarians: Thank you, Blagodariya vi, Dhanyawad, for all your love, affection, respect, support and collaboration over the last 3.5 years. I will miss you immensely but will always carry a piece of Bulgaria in my heart!
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