Transcript of Special Briefing on President’s visit to Suriname and Serbia (June 02, 2023)

June 02, 2023

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Very good afternoon to all of you. Thank you for joining us for this special media briefing on the forthcoming visit of Honorable President of India to Suriname and to Serbia. To give us a sense of the visit and what we can expect, we have the privilege of having with us on the dais Shri Saurabh Kumar, Secretary (East), Shri Sanjay Verma, Secretary (West), as well as Press Secretary to the President, Shri Ajay Kumar Singh. I would also like to acknowledge the presence in the room of Additional Secretary in the Latin American Division, Shri G. V. Srinivas; Shri Arun Sahu, Joint Secretary (Central Europe) and Rajesh Uike, Joint Secretary (XPD). Sir, may I give you the floor for the opening remarks.

Shri Saurabh Kumar, Secretary East: A very good afternoon and namaskar to all our friends from the media. As Arindam said, Honorable Rashtrapati ji, Shrimati Draupadi Murmu will travel to Suriname and Serbia from 04 to 09 June 2023. I will brief about the Suriname leg of her visit. Rashtrapati ji will be in Suriname on a State visit from 4th to 6th of June at the invitation of His Excellency Chandrikapersad Santokhi, President of the Republic of Suriname. This will be her maiden visit, maiden State visit, after she assumed the office of President. The visit assumes historical significance as Rashtrapati ji will be the chief guest at the 150th anniversary celebrations of the arrival of Indians in Suriname, which would be celebrated on the 5th of June. As you are aware, slavery was abolished in Netherlands in 1863. The first Indians were brought to Suriname in 1873 to work on plantations. Between 1873 to 1916, when the indenture system was stopped, 34,000 Indians were taken to Suriname, of which around 12,000 came back and the rest remained in Suriname. Rashtrapati ji would be accompanied by Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Minister of State in Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution and Ministry of Rural Development and Shrimati Ramadevi, Member of Parliament, as well as an official delegation. During the visit, Rashtrapati ji will hold official talks with President Santokhi. She will participate in a number of activities to commemorate the arrival of Indians in Suriname and visit the sites associated with their history in that country. Rashtrapati ji will also interact with the Indian community. The visit comes within six months of President Santokhi's visit to India in January to attend the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas as a special guest of honor. You would recall that he was felicitated with the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman award in 2021. The last Presidential visit from India to Suriname was that of President Kovind in 2018.

Let me say a few things about India-Suriname bilateral relations. India- Suriname relations are warm and friendly and acquire special significance on account of Indian diaspora which is over 27% of the Suriname population. Our bilateral relations span sectors such as trade and commerce, development partnership, capacity building, agriculture and people-to-people ties. Suriname has been supportive of India in the international fora. The Indian diaspora in Suriname acts as a living bridge between the two countries. Despite the passage of time, the diaspora has preserved the customs and traditions it carried from India while adding local flavors. Let me conclude by saying that the Republic of Suriname's invitation to Rashtrapati ji to be the chief guest shows the goodwill that prevails there for India as well as India's growing influence and stature on the global stage. The visit of the President also emphasizes the importance we attach to our relations with Suriname and to Indian diaspora around the world. The visit will add a fresh momentum too and further strengthen India-Suriname bilateral ties. Thank you.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you sir. Secretary West, Sir.

Shri Sanjay Varma, Secretary West: Well thank you. Good afternoon. Rashtrapati ji will travel from Suriname to Serbia on 7th of June. She will be on a State visit to Serbia at the invitation of the Serbian President, Aleksandar Vučić. This is her first ever visit to Europe and this is also the first ever State visit at the level of Head of State between the two countries. As you may know, Serbia is one of the six successor states of the erstwhile country of Yugoslavia. With Yugoslavia India's had long-standing history in context of the Non-Aligned Movement and as the founding father you will also recollect that the names Tito, Nehru and Nasser are spoken in the same breath. In many ways our relations with Serbia today carry a resonance of the goodwill generated during those days. A special feature of the second leg of Rashtrapati ji's visit will be a business engagement. A 20 member business delegation will arrive separately from India for the visit and will include delegates from our three major chambers, ASSOCHAM, FICCI and CII. In terms of exchange of visits, in 2018 Vice-President, the then Vice-President of India visited Serbia. We have had exchanges at the Minister of Foreign Affairs level. We have had a Speaker visit to Serbia. We have had MOS (ML) visit Belgrade for the 60th anniversary of the Non-Aligned Movement. This visit of Rashtrapati ji meets great expectation of finally a high-level visit taking place between the two countries. In context of the present bilateral relations, it can be said that we have warm, friendly and close cooperation with Serbia. Our understanding in multilateral fora and on several issues of global importance has been similar. It was felt that bilateral relations need nurturing at the highest levels as well as a fillip in terms of our economic and commercial cooperation. I would also like to share with you some elements of the visit. Apart from the ceremonial welcome there will be a bilateral meeting with President Vučić, meeting with the Prime Minister, Miss Ana Brnabić and a call on by the Speaker of Serbian National Assembly, Mr. Vladimir Orlić. Rashtrapati ji will be addressing the Indian community and friends of India. The size of the Indian community is of course not a patch on the diaspora in Suriname. It is between 2,500 to 3,000 Indians. The presence is largely as professionals. We have some investments there. Mahindra and Mahindra is there, Taffy. We also have limited Serbian investments in India. In other words, the profile of the economic commercial relations being what it is, the focus of the visit will in many ways be encouraging business communities to explore possibilities and prospects of business opportunities and that is why the business delegation. In the business event, the Prime Minister of Serbia will also be present along with Rashtrapati ji. Rashtrapati ji will also be offering floral tributes at the bust of Mahatma Gandhi ji in Belgrade and she will also lay a wreath at the monument of the unknown hero at Mount Awala. I will rest my comments here and be happy to take questions if there are any. Thank you.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: I will open the floor for questions. Just introduce yourself and the organization that you represent.

Avinash Agarwal: Avinash Agarwal from the (Inaudible). Sir, apart from the close historical and cultural ties between India and Suriname and the presence of Indian diaspora there, can we see this visit by the Honorable President also in the context of India's recent outreach to the Global South?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: In the context of the Global South, anybody else?

Shri Saurabh Kumar, Secretary East: Yes, Avinash, of course. I think it is a part of that outreach also. You would recall that President Santokhi was one of the Head of State, Head of Government who participated in the Summit of the Global South which was undertaken by us earlier this year. So our outreach to the Global South is a continuing process and all the visits which take place to the Global South, this is a very integral element of it.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Any other questions? Yes, Ileana.

Ileana: Yes, good afternoon. Ileana, TASS News Agency. We all know what is happening now between in Kosovo and do you think it's right time for visit of the President to Serbia? And does it mean that there is no issue with safety or maybe not with safety? So, no problems because of this situation on the issue of the visit of the President of India?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: You specifically refer to Kosovo?

Ileana: Yes. And what is India's official position on this situation in Kosovo?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you. If there are no other questions, sir, I will pass that question.

Shri Sanjay Varma, Secretary West: Well, we are aware of the recent disturbances in Kosovo, which is at the extreme southern tip of Serbia. We have no reason at this point of time, as I say this, to be concerned that those incidents would have any consequence on the State visit of my President, nor have we been suggested otherwise by the host. On the matter of Kosovo, our stand has been quite clear and consistent that we do not recognize the declaration of independence by Kosovo. We however also believe that any differences need to be resolved through dialogue and we hope that the disturbances which have occurred over the last few days are resolved peacefully through talks and that there is a de-escalation of the situation. Thank you.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Sorry, you got follow up?

Ileana: This visit to Serbia was planned before all this political crisis which we see now?

Shri Sanjay Varma, Secretary West: Well, for matter of record, this has been a long-standing invitation. I won't remember exactly how long, but at least over a year, year and a half. I think because of the conflict in Ukraine, it had to be rescheduled and now we think is a conducive time for this visit to take place and so it's taking place.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much, sir. That brings us to the conclusion of this press briefing. Thank you very much Saurabh Kumar Sir, Sanjay Verma Sir, as well as to Sri Ajay Kumar as well as to the Joint Secretaries, Additional Secretaries present here. Thank you. Good afternoon. We will have the regular briefing in about 15 minutes. Thank you.


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