By K.N. Pandita
President Pratibha Patil is on an official visit to some European countries. The visit is to further strengthen economic and cultural relations with the countries she is visiting. By and large, India has good relations with European countries including members of the European Union. The President has been given right protocol wherever she went.
Her Swiss visit has been of much significance. Switzerland is an important country to the Europe and the world. Its importance lies in two things; first its neutrality that has been recognized by all European countries and the world at large.
Secondly, Switzerland has a unique political structure with Cantons almost autonomous yet federated into the Swiss Federation. The functioning of the Swiss Federation is a class by itself. People of Switzerland owe as much allegiance to their respective Cantons as to the Federation. Cantonal structure of Switzerland has been necessitated by linguistic, cultural and historical facts. There is German speaking population to the east and north, Italian speaking population to the south and French speaking population to the west. The borders are soft and passage to the adjacent towns is hassle free. So are the trade and commerce free and brisk. We in India are also a people of multi-lingual, multi-ethnic and multi-religious composition. But unfortunately we have not got integrated into national mainstream as the Swiss people have. Therefore we shall need to learn more from Swiss experiment of how unity in diversity can be forged in real sense.
President Patil’s visit to Lausanne University in Switzerland and the deliberations there carry historical significance. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the University and the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) according to which Lausanne University would be establishing Tagore Chair for studies in Indology at that University. To begin with Hindi language teaching will kick start the programme. It has to be remembered that the country and the world are celebrating 150th anniversary of India’s great intellectual, poet, philosopher, painter and saint Rabindranath Tagore this year. In this connection a bust of Tagore installed at Lausanne University was unveiled by President Patil amid thunderous applause by the Swiss audience. Unveiling it the President said that the bronze bust of the Nobel laureate at the university was not only a tribute to him but also a symbol of close ties between India and Switzerland. She said that the Indian Nobel laureate was in essence a messenger of peace and the Indian nation believed in and firmly stood by international peace.
On the occasion of President’s visit to Switzerland, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed that will pave the way for greater cooperation between the two countries’ tax authorities. The agreement, dealing with the creation of a useful forum for exchange of views on financial and macro-economic issues, was signed by the officials of two sides in the presence of President Pratibha Patil and her Swiss counterpart Micheline Calmy-Rey. This comes close on the heels of the signing of an amending protocol to the Double Taxation (Avoidance) Agreement (DTAA). The MoU will facilitate dialogue between the tax authorities of two countries. In a statement to the press, President Patil said: “We noted that the amending protocol to the Double Taxation (Avoidance) Agreement would provide a framework for exchange of tax related information”. The aim of these agreements essentially is enhancement of the frequency, as well as the quality of our interaction in areas such as economic and commercial cooperation, scientific ties, educational exchanges and people-to-people contacts. It reflects economic, financial and fiscal cooperation between India and Switzerland. It has to be remembered that India was rocked in previous months about undeclared money stashed by the Indians in Swiss banks where, according to Swiss laws, it remains secure. The Swiss Government said in a statement that the financial dialogue under the MoU will allow the Swiss and Indian authorities to establish regular and privileged contacts in financial sector to identify common interests. “With the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, the Federal Department of Finance (FDF) and India’s Ministry of Finance have laid the foundations for fostering financial dialogue between the two countries”.
The President is also reported to have discussed with her Swiss counterpart the “important issue” of the reform of the United Nations, including the expansion of the Security Council. India believes that unless the Security Council is restructured to reflect the contemporary realities, its ability to react effectively to many emerging collective security challenges would be hampered. Earlier, speaking to the Swiss delegation in the Parliament building, the President thanked the Swiss Confederation for supporting India’s candidature for a non-permanent seat in the Council for 2011-12, and hoped that it would be able to support India’s aspirations for a permanent seat as well. Switzerland is a very important country for the UN because most of the UN offices like WHO, ILO, Red Cross, Human Rights Council etc. are located in Geneva.