His Excellency Mr Ranjan Mathai - Ambassador of India in France
18 August 2007
Few months after his appointment and few days before the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the indepedance of India, Son Excellence Mr Rajan Mathai has accepted to meet Shriya for an exclusive interview.
Son Excellence M. Rajan Mathai
IEL: Pranam! Could you please first introduce yourself to our readers?
S.E. Mr Mathai: Hello Shriya! Well, I’ve been working for the diplomatic service for 33 years. I worked as an Ambassador in Israel, Qatar and in Indian Embassies of many other countries.
I was appointed in France in January and presented my credential to Mr Chirac in February.
IEL: So you arrived in France few months ago. What are your first impressions?
S.E Mr Mathai: I think that France is a fascinating country, it’s for me a great honour to work here.
I arrived at a time where everybody was focused on the election. Now it’s over and there is a new government to work this.
France is a politically important country. It’s one of India important trading partners.
There are strong relations in the field of culture, sciences and technology, and education.
In all these fields, France and India are real partners.
IEL: Have you already defined the bilateral projects you are going to support?
S.E. Mr Mathai: There are 3 main projects:
The most important one will be to develop the political relationship. We are hoping to keep up the pace of close contact between our leaders.
There is also the plan to double the trade exchange between India and France by 2009.
It’s a major task but I’m going to support it very strongly.
In the field of culture, we would like to increase the number of tourists going to India and to make the process of issuing visas smoother.
We are planning to outsource the collecting of applications to an external company.
Tourists will then be able to apply from a number of cities and with easier timings.
Then the Embassy will only have to manage the issuing of visa. I hope it will become easier and more productive for the people who want to visit India.
IEL: Do you think that the Indian culture is enough promoted in France?
S.E. Mr Mathai: I’ve been to many countries and I can tell you that the respect for India’s culture is very strong in France. In 5-6 months, I’ve noticed 5 great events:
At the Grand Palais, the Gupta’s sculptures have received a huge crowd and the exhibition had to be extended.
In March, we were country of honour at the Salon du Livre and the Prime Minister came to inaugurate the pavillon dedicated to India. It has been a great opportunity for the authors to meet the French public.
In Cannes, at the Cinema du Monde, there were screening of some less known Indian movies of high quality
In April, there was at the Jardin d’Acclimation in Paris a very nice popular festival of Indian cultures.
In June, in Chantilly’s Hippodrome, for the “Prix de Diane / HermÃ¨s”, a rajasthani village has been created and Indian cavalrymen riders came to participate in this event which was a great success.
So whatever we talk about the highest level of cultural understanding or popular culture, we are doing quite well in France.
IEL: Some associations work for the developpement of the Indian culture in France. With Inde en ligne, Radio Nimbooda and the Shah Rukh Fans (French fanclub about Shah Rukh Khan) have several cultural projects that would need some official support.
Does the Embassy and its cultural office have the ability to do that and help them?
S.E. Mr Mathai: I’m not familiar with this fan-club but I heard that when Shah Rukh Khan came to Paris last year, there were lots of people who gathered to see him. I find this encouraging and I’m sure our Cultural wing would be happy to help in whatever way they can those associations.
IEL: I have, by the way, 2 questions from the fan club:
1. It seems that Shah Rukh Khan will receive his decoration of the Legion D’Honneur at the French Embassy in India. Why not in France at the Indian Embassy?
S.E. Mr Mathai : Simple answer: the Indian Embassy is a territory of India. This award being a French award it should be done at the French Embassy in India.
Or it could be in France, but this question is then for the French government!
2.The MusÃ©e Grevin will inaugurate Shah Rukh Khan statue next year, will the Embassy support this event?
S.E. Mr Mathai: Of course, the MusÃ©e GrÃ©vin is a prestigious location and if there is the statue of an Indian person, we’ll be happy to be associated and to assist in any way we can.
I met Mr Khan in London when he came to the Nehru Centre - our cultural centre in London- to promote one of his films. Apart from being an outstanding actor, he is really brilliant. I found him very unassuming and friendly. It was a really great experience.
IEL: There are lots of people with Indian origins in our overseas territories, they are proud of their roots and promote their cultural heritage. Do you plan to visit them like one of your predecessors did?
S.E. Mr Mathai: I’d like to have the opportunity to go there. I’ve already met people of Indian origins in Cayenne: I was there for the launch of an Indian satellite and I had the opportunity to talk with them and was interested by their history.
IEL: Those people can’t apply for the PIO (People of Indian Origin) card because their ancestors came from India 150 years ago.
Therefore, they are quite often the 5th or 6th generation of Indian native people. Moreover, it is almost impossible to find official proof of their indian origins. Is the Indian government aware of this and will there be more flexible conditions?
S.E. Mr Mathai: When I’ll meet people who have this particular problem, I will see in what way we can help them and will give my recommendation to the Indian Government.
However the basic issue is that the rules are defined by the law and the Constitution of India. This one defined a PIO as a person whose parents or grand-parents were born in India. Maybe, it could not go beyond this.
But I will convey the sentiment of these people to the Authorities of India
IEL: It seems that there are more qualified resources in the South of India rather than in the North of India, maybe due to migration abroad.
Now, it’s easier to find this kind of labour in the South but soon, it could be like in the North and India would lose all the qualified labour. What is done to avoid this?
S.E. Mr Mathai: First thing, the development of higher skilled resources has noticed more in the South: Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Kerala. But due to the development of great schools and universities all over the country, there is not really a big difference between the South and the North.
Second thing, India has always allowed and encouraged people to go, study or work abroad. Our theory is that it’s not a “brain drain” but a “brain bank” because given the connection with the family, the culture, they come back on their own or contribute in some way in the development of the country.
Third thing, we have now the opportunity to be a provider of resources because we have a young population which is very dynamic if it has the opportunity and proper training to compete. And this is on what we are working in India.
In terms of salary, a study done in IT sector shows that India has reached a level where salaries are not so different if you compare the purchasing power of India and Western countries. Many skilled workers think it’s easier to stay in India now.
IEL: After the election of Mrs Pratibha Patil as President of India, Sonia Gandhi said:
"This is a special moment for us women, and not men, that for the first time in 60 years of Independence a woman has been elected to the office of President of India.”
Do you think that having women in politics will help to change mentality and improve the conditions of Indian women?
S.E. Mr Mathai: I think it’s very important to have more women in the political arena in India and it’s a matter of great pride to have a President who was elected as the first women President.
We are very happy also to see that at the grass roots level, in what we call the Panchayat and we have all over India millions of Panchayat, one third are women.
This is a very encouraging development and the participation of women in politics will first of all improve politics and definitely improve the condition of women.
IEL: Thanks a lot for your answers and your time!
S.E. Mr Mathai: Thank you!
Interview realised by Shriya on 09/08/07 at the Indian Embassy in Paris.
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