The State visit of the President of India Shri Ram Nath Kovind arrived in Jamaica on Sunday for a four-day State visit.
The president will hold talks with Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, and other members of the Government. He will also address a joint sitting of the Jamaican Parliament.
The president will leave for St Vincent and the Grenadines on May 18 for another State visit, and depart that country on May 21.
Before the visit, the Jamaica Observer spoke with Secretary of India’s Ministry of External Affairs Saurabh Kumar to give a perspective on the historic visit.
Q: This is the first-ever visit by an Indian president to Jamaica. Why is Jamaica so important to India?
A: Let me begin by conveying the warm wishes from the people of India to all your readers. As you rightly said, this visit by the President of India, Honourable Ram Nath Kovind to Jamaica is the first-ever, making the occasion truly historical. The visit is more special since India and Jamaica are celebrating 60 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Also, India is marking 75 years of Independence while Jamaica is completing 60 years of being a free country.
Indians have always been enchanted by Jamaica, its natural beauty, vibrant culture, and sports prowess. But more importantly, it is the fulcrum of the Caricom and one of the largest economies of the Caribbean region. Furthermore, being functioning democracies, espousing the values of freedom and equality, being exponents of south-south cooperation, and enjoying excellent government and people-to-people relations in the past, relations with Jamaica hold special significance for India.
Q: Are there any specific outcomes that you are focusing on from the visit?
A: The interactions at the highest level of governments from both sides are a testament to our friendly relations. There was also an upward trajectory in our trade and commercial ties which was hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic, of course, also provided us with the opportunity to move our commercial relations to the next level.
During this visit we will seek to explore new avenues for cooperation in the knowledge sector. This includes higher education and research in the STEM [science, technology, engineering, maths] technologies, IT/ITES and medical expertise. These will provide Jamaica with an opportunity to upgrade its technical abilities and fully harness its strategic location to become the ‘knowledge highway’ in the region. There are also plans to initiate cooperation in diplomatic personnel training, media, as well as in culture and sports.
Q: Like many other countries, Jamaica has a substantial Indian community. Is there any plan to interact with them?
A: The honourable president will attend a community reception in Kingston, where he will interact with the Indian community. It is a special feeling for all of us to visit Jamaica when the Indian community has completed more than 175 years in this country. It is a tribute to the Jamaican society that they have amalgamated the Indian community in such a way that they have not lost their distinctness while becoming resident citizens of Jamaica.
There are also a large number of Indians who have come to Jamaica in the past few decades. They are highly skilled and work as doctors, IT experts, professors, accountants, nurses, business persons, etc. They have enriched the Jamaican economy with their expertise while also carving out a good life for themselves.
Q: What are the president’s plans in Jamaica besides the official engagements with the Jamaica Government and the Indian community?
A: Besides meeting the most honourable governor general and the prime minister of jamaica, honourable president will pay homage to the Rt Excellent Marcus Garvey by visiting his memorial at the Heroes’ Park. There are lots of parallels between Garvey’s teachings and the philosophy of the heroes of modern India, like Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Ambedkar.
Honourable president will address the joint sitting of both the Houses of the Jamaican Parliament. He will also inaugurate the Ambedkar Avenue in Kingston, named after the great Indian leader and the architect of the Indian Constitution, Dr B R Ambedkar. He will also plant a sandalwood sapling in the India-Jamaica Friendship Garden at the Hope Botanical Gardens. Planting a tree carries strong symbolism, including that related to sustainability and green living.
Q: How is the COVID-19 situation in India now, and how is the vaccination drive progressing?
A: The COVID situation is well under control. The daily COVID cases have decreased substantially while the total vaccination numbers have crossed 1,900 million, which is a record in itself. In March last year, India had provided 50,000 COVID-19 vaccination doses to Jamaica, besides pharmaceutical products, to fight the pandemic. India has again started providing COVID-19 vaccine doses to friendly countries and through the COVAX facility.
Q: Is there anything else that you want to share with the people of Jamaica?
A: To the people of this beautiful country, I would like to tell [you] that you have 1.4 billion admirers back in India. We should explore each other more, visit each other more, and further strengthen our bonds of friendship.
Saurabh Kumar is a career diplomat and served as ambassador of India to Myanmar (2019-21) and Iran (2015-18), before taking up his current assignment as secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs. Feedback may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org