The new Indian ambassador to Hungary, Malay Mishra, who took up this post in September, describes his initial reaction to his new posting in the previous issue of Diplomacy & Trade. In the interview, he also talks about his objectives here.
My first impression has been that the Hungarian people are culturally vibrant. Budapest is like a big cultural village where you have an abundance of museums, exhibitions, art centers, various cultural manifestations,” Malay Mishra says in the previous issue of Diplomacy & Trade.
“My second impression is that you are very diverse ethnically. That is because many races have passed through Hungary in the past centuries, some of them even ruled Hungary, making an impact through their interaction with the local people of their time. This diversity is a very good thing, a strength for Hungarians to come from this kind of background see the world in a very mature way,” he adds.
“My third impression, insofar as India is concerned, is that there is a great deal of depth and genuine understanding about India among the Hungarian people. I have already met a few scholars, Indologists who have looked at various aspects of Indian culture, civilization, language, drama and music. I was happy to find this connection between Hungary and India.”
For a more diverse trade basket
When asked about his objectives as ambassador, Malay Mishra says “it is better to set goals a little later, like in three to six months, because I want to assess the situation first.” Still, as of now, he has some observations. “One is that our trade levels are low. They have declined in the recent years. In 2011, bilateral trade barely exceeded USD 800 million. A year later, it dropped by USD 200 million, which was due to Hungarian exports – mainly that of mobile phones – falling significantly. I believe we can rectify this imbalance in the Hungarian trade basket by introducing other products. In other words, I would like to see this basket be further diversified.”
The Ambassador notes that today’s trade is quite different from that of decades ago, it is much more IT and science based. “That is because Hungary is very advanced scientifically. We have, in fact, a scientific agreement mutually funded by the two countries and this funding is going to be doubled during the Hungarian Prime Minister’s visit to India in October. In addition, we should look for opportunities in other areas like pharmaceuticals, traditional medicine, chemicals and machinery.” He adds that he will first need a market survey but he would like to promote cooperation in the field of gems and jewelry, a field where India is very strong. “Our gold and even silver jewelry are much acclaimed in many parts of the world. This is one area that has not been touched insofar as Hungary is concerned.”
Prime Ministerial visit
“The three main pillars of the visit will be economic, scientific and defense cooperation. We feel this visit is very important for both sides to improve relations to a qualitatively higher level. For the Hungarian side, the main focus is on trade and investment, attracting more Indian investments into Hungary and looking at India as an important partner in the Hungarian government’s policy of Eastern opening. In that context, I think, there are many deliverables that can come out of this visit,” that is how Ambassador Mishra reflects on the official visit to India by Viktor Orbán scheduled for the middle of October. “There is a cultural exchange program to be signed, also one on sports exchange, the extension of the scientific research fund I mentioned and two programs in the defense sector. The two sides would also like to see direct air connectivity,” he adds. For him, he says, it is even more important to go beyond the visit and make sure that there is a follow-up to all the agreements so that they would not remain only on paper and go into oblivion. He believes both sides should strive to see that these agreements are not forgotten and also to explore other areas they can both benefit from in the future.
In his opinion, these new areas of cooperation should definitely include agriculture and defense. “India is one of the largest agro-producing countries in the world. It is the No. 1 producer of certain cereals, of eggs, of milk, the world’s second largest vegetable producer. Still, we need to improve production and that requires high-level technology, for instance, from Hungary. Also, we need assistance in food-processing technology and that of water management from Hungary,” he points out.
As for defense, “we had cooperation in this field from the 1970s until the change of the political system in Hungary at the end of the 1980s. Now, we would like to again work together in this area.”
“Hungary is in an advantageous geographical position. It is located right in the middle of Europe, at the crossroads of various trade routes and investment opportunities and it is a very integrant member of the European Union. This gives the advantage that once an Indian company comes here it will have access to the markets of the EU countries. These days, most Indian companies opt for joint partnerships, joint ventures, which gives them a kind of added strength of having a partner with local experience,” the Ambassador points out, adding that the Embassy also helps with a publication on doing business in Hungary, distributed to existing and future investors.
Malay Mishra has served Indian diplomacy for over three decades in different positions and in different countries. He says “the more I serve my government, my nation, the more I feel humbled. The more I feel that I need to start things again and learn like a student. I keep my eyes and ears open. I don’t feel that I’m mature enough to say anything except that some years of experience have come by I have spent close to three and a half decades in the diplomatic service and Hungary is my 9th country to serve. Each country has its plus points and minus points. My attitude has always been to pick up on the plus points. That is the way we grow in ourselves.”
He has learned to take a country on its own merits. “You do not generalize, you do not judge the country as if it is like any other country. Every country is unique, every country’s society is unique and therefore, you have to start in every country with a very clean mind. That is what I have learned and in Hungary, I am going to do the same. I start with a clean slate. The more we can learn, the more we can produce; the more we can give to our bilateral relations.”
He is of the opinion that a diplomat comes to serve not only his country but also the country where he or she is posted. “I’m going to use my decades-long experience in the best possible way. Following the prime ministerial visit, we will come back with fresh ideas we can build on.”
“In all of the missions I have joined as head of mission, I have established a magazine, a regular publication. I will do the same here,” Ambassador Mishra says. It will be a bimonthly magazine, an important means to promote the activities of the Embassy, as well as the various aspects of Indo-Hungarian relations – some pages in English, some in Hindi and some in Hungarian, covering topics of culture, architecture, tourism, art, cinema, science and technology as well as other topics that interest our Hungarian readership. The publication’s name will be ‘Amrit’, which means nectar but also evokes the name of the Indo-Hungarian poet, Amrita Sher-Gil whose birth centenary is celebrated this year.
Besides the magazine, the Embassy wishes to utilize the cultural center located next to the embassy building since 2011. “We are going to revamp many of the activities; we are going to intensify the teaching of our dance and music classes. We offer yoga classes, and we have several visiting artists performing here. We would like to have more exchanges between Indian and Hungarian artists. In terms of disseminating information on our website, we have an extensive list of people who are the friends of India, friends of the Embassy whom we inform of our activities. These are our various vehicles of promoting our activities and reaching out to Hungarian society. So, I’m setting my vision very, very high,” the Ambassador stresses.
Speaking of his hobby he says he likes amateur photography. “Hungary is a good field for photography. Wherever I go, I take my camera with me and use it very deliberately and we post some of these photos on the embassy website. This is also part of our narrative, we can say, the Ambassador’s travels.” The Ambassador’s photos will also appear in the Amrit magazine. He wishes to make work at the Embassy very open and transparent.
“I feel greatly benefited to be in Hungary. We have a significant background of good relations. Looking at history, Hungary has been very dear to Indians, so has India to Hungary. Having that as background, you can only go forward. That is my goal, to take things forward,” Ambassador Malay Mishra concludes.