India and Mongolia – The Spiritual Neighbours
Amb Anil Trigunayat, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Ironically, when one thinks of Mongolia the utter winter, cold climate, distance and exotic nature claim the mind-space. This is one country where Indians are loved probably due to the Buddhist connection and Himalayan heritage of the Mongolian people. The warmth and hospitality that the Mongolians extend is simply amazing. Greeting of sain-bai-noo reverberates the beauty of close proximity, simplicity and infectious loving smiles envelop you whenever you meet and interact with them. They have China and Russia as neighbours and were virtually a satellite state of the then Soviet Union. Disintegration of the Soviet Union gave way to the most peaceful demonstrations in below -30 degrees in 1990s and eventual shift to democracy. An aspirational people with a profound history who are equally spiritual. Although James Baker III, the then US Secretary of State (1992) called US a close ‘neighbour’ of Mongolia, the fact is that over time India has become their real strategic and spiritual neighbour. The Gangajal (holy water of the river Ganges) has been taken to the Ganganoor Lake by the monks for ensuring spiritual reunion.

In 1990, India took an exceptional decision to appoint Rinpoche Kushok Bakula as the Indian Ambassador to Mongolia which changed the complex of the bilateral relationship. He embarked on a spiritual recovery of Mongolia’s glorious Buddhist past that had been relegated to the communist politocology of seven decades. Gandan Monastery atop the hill in Ulanbaatar was the clarion call to the Mongols who suffered religious hardships during the early years of transition from Soviet style of polity to a democratic pattern of governance. During this period, India reached out a great deal to Mongolia with Lines of Credit, almost unlimited capacity building scholarships, cultural cooperation and above all the presence of Ambassador Bakula and his efforts to revive monasteries in far off corners of Mongolia. This gave the much needed spiritual succor and solace to the Mongols. He was virtually revered as a living God. I remember the British and American Ambassadors telling me that “India had done a coup of sorts here by posting Bakula Rinpoche”. Not only India extended unlimited Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) scholarships to Mongolia from a mere two slots a year but the noted Indian jurist Jagdish Bhagwati helped draft their constitution. Currently, over 150 scholarships are available to Mongolia - consequently one could witness several India trained officials and experts in different domain of administration and industry.

India and Mongolia embarked on a journey of ever enhancing cooperation and becoming strategic partners during the 2015 visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi (first ever by an Indian PM). He had also announced a $1 billion line of credit for the development of infrastructure in Mongolia. An oil refinery project under this is currently underway. Additional Line of credit of US$ 236 million for the ongoing petrochemical refinery project which will assist in Mongolia ensuring its energy security. Cooperation in information technology is yet another area where Mongolia is keen to develop cooperation and expertise. India had agreed to set up a Centre of Excellence in Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT) and Outsourcing for which a grant or a line of credit of US$ 20 million was announced during the visit of President Pratibha Patil in 2011. Perhaps the construction has begun. In fact the projects, if and when announced during the high-level visits eschewing the sound bites, must have a prescribed time line rather than stretching way beyond.

Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga, a Sambo wrestling Champion and Judo lover, has been invited by Rashtrapati ji to pay a State visit to India from September 19-23, 2019. He is currently leading a high level delegation comprising of senior officials and businessmen with a rich itinerary and interactions. Although trade and investments are way below the potential, the fact that President Battulga and delegation participated in the India –Mongolia Business Forum is a step in the right direction. Mongolia also hopes to be a hub for some Indian companies and would like to benefit from rural communication and technologies to connect its sparsely located population. Solar energy is abundant and cooperation is solicited, as India has emerged as the leader by way of International Solar Alliance and her very own ambitious alternate and renewable energy projects. Mongolia’s mining sector including copper and uranium hold exceptional cooperation possibilities. The requisite institutional mechanisms have been in pace and perhaps need some gear shifting. Defence, space, nuclear energy and creating all-encompassing security structures are other areas where lot can be done together in a geo strategic sense. As such ‘Joint India-Mongolia military exercises ‘Nomad Elephant’ are held annually. It was held in Ulaanbaatar last year. In the area of cooperatives, India has the capacity to share its expertise for the vastly dispersed farmers and milkmen in Mongolia.

President Battulga had also met PM Modi only recently on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as well as that of the 5th Far Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok earlier this month, that shows that existing warmth at the highest level. PM Modi tweeted “Engaging with a cherished spiritual friend and developmental partner. Held talks with Mr. Khaltmaagiin Battulga, the President of Mongolia. We reviewed the full range of bilateral ties and deliberated on ways to enhance cooperation for the mutual benefit of our people”, which continued during this visit, with President, Vice President and Prime Minister holding detailed discussions with their Mongolian guest. India also agreed to help in mitigating the high pollution levels in the capital city Ulaanbaatar.

Almost all the Lok sabha Speakers, at least three Vice Presidents and two Presidents visited Mongolia since we established diplomatic relations in 1955. PM Modi was the first PM to visit Ulaanbaatar on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations. It is instructive to note that India had championed the inclusion of Mongolia in the United Nation and the Non-Aligned Movement. Mongolia has supported India’s candidatures for international organisations as well as for a well-deserved permanent seat at the expanded United Nation Security Council (UNSC). The two countries along with Bhutan had moved UN for the recognition of Bangladesh and hence the political synergy is quite clearly evident and can be further built upon for the mutual benefit. Several Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) have been signed in the area of disaster management, cultural exchanges, animal health and dairy as well as for peaceful uses of outer space.

Last year, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the champion of autonomy of Ladakh, the Saint Ambassador Rinpoche Bakula, whose quest for enriching bilateral ties, and his monastery in Mongolia, always beckon for peace, development and progress of our spiritual bonding and the nations. Given its location and India’s complementary matrix of objectives in the region visit of President Battulga will just do that and more in a strategic domain of partnership.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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