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India-Mongolia: The spiritual neighbours embark on an enhancing journey

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By Ambassador Anil Trigunayat

Ironically when one thinks of Mongolia the utter winter, cold climate, distance and exotic nature claim the mind space. But this is one country where India and the Indians are simply loved. Perhaps, due to the Buddhist connection and Himalayan heritage of the Mongolian people. Warmth and hospitality of Mongols are simply amazing. Sainbainoo reverberates the beauty of close proximity, simplicity and infectious loving smiles envelop you whenever you meet and interact with them. They have two large neighbours in China and Russia and were virtually a satellite state of the then Soviet Union. The disintegration of the Soviet Union gave way to the most peaceful demonstrations in below -30 degrees in the 1990s and the eventual shift to democracy. Mongolians are aspirational people with a profound history who are equally spiritual. Although James Baker III the then US Secretary of State (1992) called themselves the third neighbour of Mongolia the fact is that over time India has become their real strategic and spiritual neighbour.

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 as he embarked on a spiritual recovery of Mongolia's glorious Buddhist past that had been relegated to the communist politology of seven decades. Gandan Monastery atop the hill in Ulaanbaatar was the sole symbol of a clarion call to the Mongols who suffered hardships during the early years of transition from Soviet style of the 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 gave the much needed spiritual succour 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 ITEC scholarships to Mongolia from a mere two slots a year but the noted Indian jurist Jagdish Bhagwati helped draft their constitution.

India and Mongolia embarked on a journey of ever enhancing cooperation and becoming strategic partners during 2015 visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi( first ever by an Indian PM). He had also announced a $1 bn line of credit for the development of infrastructure in Mongolia. The oil refinery project under this is currently underway. IT cooperation is yet another area where Mongolia is keen to develop expertise. India had agreed to set up a Centre of Excellence in ICT and Outsourcing for which a grant or a line of credit of US$ 20 million was announced during the visit of President Pratibha Patil in 2011. Perhaps the construction has begun. In fact, projects, if and when announced during the high-level visits eschewing the sound bytes must have a prescribed timeline rather than stretching way beyond.

Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga, a Sambo Wrestling Champion and Judo lover has been invited by President Ram Nath Kovind to pay a State visit to India from September 19-23. He is currently leading a high-level delegation comprising of senior officials and businessmen with a rich itinerary and interactions. Although trade and investment are way below potential that 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 technologies to connect its sparsely located population . Solar energy is abundant and cooperation is solicited especially 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 and security are other areas where a lot can be done together in a geostrategic sense. As such "Joint India-Mongolia military exercises "Nomad Elephant " are held annually and the last was held in Ulan Bator last year. In the area of cooperatives, India has the capacity to share its expertise for the vastly dispersed farmers and milkmen in Mongolia.

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President Battulga had also met PM Modi only recently on the sidelines of 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." India agreed to help in mitigating the high pollution levels in the capital city Ulaanbaatar. As such almost all 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 UN and Non-Aligned Movement. Mongolia has supported India's candidatures for international organizations as well as for a well deserved permanent seat at the expanded 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. Last year, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of 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. Visit of President Battulga will just do that and more in a strategic domain of partnership given its location and India's complementary matrix of objectives in the region.