Spain and India Ties That Bind

National Day Special By Nitin Rawat

Cultural exchange is also an important component of India-Spain bilateral relations. ICCR sponsors cultural troupe visits in various parts of Spain and offers five scholarships to Spanish students every year to study in India

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Spain? Is it the scenes of raging bulls chasing three Bollywood hunks in the much-appreciated movie Zindagi Na Banegi Dobara (ZNMG)? Or is it how superstar Shah Rukh Khan addresses his lady love as ‘Señorita’, played by Kajol, in the biggest Hindi blockbuster Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge? It doesn’t really matter. In reality, we are closer to Spain than we think.

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (Hindi for ‘You Only Live Once’) is said to be the first Bollywood film that was mostly shot in Spain. The movie played a vital role for Spain’s image in India. The film is a coming-of-age comedy-drama in which three Indian friends visit Spain for the bachelor trip. The high points in the film such as the Tomatina festival and San Fermin Bull Run, grabbed the attention of the audience, so did the song Senorita with its bilingual lyrics that are a mixture of Hindi and Spanish, sung by the Flamenco star Maria del Mar Fernandez. The Bollywood blockbuster was also the first foreign film to receive financial support from Turespaña (official tourism organisation to promote Spain’s image abroad) with the aim of promoting Spain as a tourist destination in India.

The pleasant climate of the Spanish Mediterranean coastline, diverse landscapes, vibrant culture and historical architecture, have made Spain's international tourist industry among the largest in the world. In the last five decades, international tourism in Spain has grown to become the second largest in the world in terms of spending, worth approximately €40 billion that was about 5 percent of its GDP in 2006.

For the Spanish brand, tourism is a key factor. Due to the movie’s impact, Spain received 70,000 Indian tourists in 2013. The movie has now been included as a case study for a course in marketing management in Spain that shows Spain as a product and how the film has boosted the country's tourism by 65 percent. The World Tourism Organization says India will account for around 50 million outbound visitors by 2020.

According to a study carried out by the European Commission, Spain missed out on 24,000 Indian tourists in 2012 due to difficulties in visa processes. In February 2015, Spanish Minister of State for Commerce, Jaime Garcia-Legaz met with Indian Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju in New Delhi with a proposal to support an initiative by Air India to open the air route between the two nations.

Cultural exchange is also an important component of India-Spain bilateral relations. ICCR sponsors cultural troupe visits in various parts of Spain and offers five scholarships to Spanish students every year to study in India. Casa de la India was founded in 2003 as a platform for the promotion of the India and Spain relationship in the field of culture, education, cooperation and enterprise.

Moreover, a statue of Mahatma Gandhi was unveiled in Madrid by Her Majesty Queen Sofia of Spain in October 2013. This was the third statue of Mahatma Gandhi to be installed in Spain.

The appeal of the Spanish language as a valuable foreign language, other than English, is growing every year. The inauguration of the official headquarters of the Institute of Cervantes in New Delhi in 2009 provides an excellent opportunity to channel this.

A symbolic indication of the growing importance of Spanish is that, it was the first foreign language into which the website of the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was translated. The historical trajectories of the two countries have roots that go deep in the past, owing to the fact both have inherited a major culture heritage with a significant Muslim influence.

Spanish music, gastronomy, fashion and other artistic endeavours are more and more appreciated in India. Indians are great admirers of Flamenco. In the city of Jodhpur, one of the foremost tourist destinations in India, a Flamenco festival has been held since 2014 featuring a line-up of A-list Spanish and Indian artists.

Spanish people are very fond of sports and especially Football. The Spanish football clubs such as Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have been carrying out projects in India to raise more awareness of the sport, especially among children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Spanish National Football team won three tournaments in a row; UEFA European Championship in 2008, FIFA World Cup in 2010, and UEFA European Championship in 2012. The Indian Super League was created in 2014 and the winner of the first session of this new competition was Atletico de Kolkata, a team twinned with Atletico de Madrid which bestowed its name and image to the team from India’s city. Another sport in which Spain leads is tennis. Rafael Nadal is the Spanish professional tennis player who has won 14 Grand Slams for his country.

The Indian community forms a considerable percentage of the immigrant population of Spain. Among the Asian communities, the Indian Diaspora is the third-largest group after Chinese and Pakistanis. The earlier Indian settlers were Sindhis who came from the subcontinent at the end of the 19th century and settled in the Canary Islands.

Political Relations

The relations between India and Spain have been coordinal since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1956.

Spain’s modern history is marked by the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 and the 36-year rule of General Francisco Franco. After the death of Franco in 1975, Spain made the transition to a democratic state and built a successful economy with King Juan Carlos as the Head of State.

The first official visit by an Indian head of government to Spain took place with the arrival of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in Madrid in 1988. Another state visit to Spain by PM Narsimha Rao in 1992 followed. These visits were repaid by an official trip to India made by Spanish PM Felipe Gonzalez in 1993 in which various bilateral agreements were signed.

Another exchange of state visits took place. The then-President Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil travelled to Spain in April 2009, whereas King Juan Carlos I paid a state visit to India in October 2012. During the visit agreements were signed in the area of Avoidance of Taxation and the Prevention of Road Transport sector, Audio-visual co-production and Railways.

The level and frequency of official contacts has increased in recent years. Spain has an excellent opportunity to benefit from its current status as a non-permanent member of the Security Counsel of the United Nations to seek ways of understanding and cooperation with the Indian position in the arena. The head of PM Mariano Rajoy’s cabinet Jorge Morgas, travelled to New Delhi in April 2015 to establish common ground with the Minister of Railways, Suresh Prabhu, who represented his country at the G20, and planned a bilateral meeting between the two government leaders during the summit.

The visit by the Spanish Foreign Minister to India in April 2015 took place on the heels of the Nepal earthquake in which nearly 500 Spanish nationals were trapped.

The fight against terrorism is an area of shared interest for the two countries. They have been the long standing victims of terrorism, both domestically and the cross border level. In 1993, the two states signed a cooperation agreement on the fight against terrorism, repudiating this threat in all its forms and manifestations.

Another aspect of security policy is where the priorities of both states lie in their commitment to humanitarian military missions and peacekeeping. Indian is one of the world’s largest contributors to the UN peacekeeping forces.

Spain has been an international pioneer, for namely its public organ-donation system that has caught the attention of the Indian authorities. In October 2014, the then-Minister of Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan, travelled to Madrid and Barcelona to see the organ donators and transplant protocols in person.

Economic Ties

In October 2012, India and Spain signed an MOU under which they will encourage collaboration between their defence industries and exchange of personnel. The MOU was signed by the Defence Minister A. K. Antony and his Spanish counterpart Pedro Morenés Eulate

Bilateral Trade between India and Spain in 2015 (Jan-May) stood at around $3 billion. EU is one of India’s largest trading partners and Spain is India’s 7th largest trading partner in the European Union. Spain is also the 12th largest investor in India with $1.8 billion in FDI, mostly in infrastructure, renewable energy, water desalination and single brand retail. A total of 200 Spanish companies’ subsidiaries, joint ventures projects/liaison offices and purchase offices are located in India.

There are over 30 Indian companies in Spain, the most significant being in the area of IT (TCS and Tech Mahindra), energy (Avantha) and automobiles (Mahindra). The stock of Indian investment in Spain is approximately €800mn.

Given the infrastructure push that is planned in India in the area of power, road, ports, airports, telecom and the ‘Make in India’ campaign, the possibilities for cooperation are immense.

In order to give an impetus to trade and investment relations, the India-Spain Joint Economic Commission (JEC) was set up under the 1972 Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement and has since met 10 times. The 10th session of JEC was held in New Delhi ob 2nd February, 2015. There are several important fairs held in Spain in the cities of Madrid and Barcelona in which Indian companies regularly participate to promote their products and technology. The Spanish made Talgo train will run a time validation trial between Delhi-Mumbai corridor soon.

60th Anniversary of Bilateral Relations

The Spanish government working in cooperation with its Indian counterpart is seeking to give a symbolic flavour to 2016 between the two countries. To commemorate 60 years of India-Spain Diplomatic Relation in 2016, the ministers agreed to formulate a programme of activities for the year to deepen cooperation and foster closer people-to-people ties. This is to enhance the bilateral relationship, including a security policy dialogue.

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Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.