60 Years of Indo-Polish Relations : A Personal Reflection
– By Dr Surender Bhutani
After World War II international diplomacy got momentum and many countries of the globe became more interested in understanding the other nations.The same thing happened to India and Poland when they agreed to established diplomatic relations sixty years ago, though they had recognised each other as an independent state much earlier.But it was the time of cold war when two blocs led by the USA and the erstwhile USSR were competing to influence many non-aligned countries which were not interested to escalate tension in international arena. India, indeed was a champion of tension-free world and it along with Egypt,Indonesia and erstwhile Yugoslavia had the same understanding. Unfortunately, Poland was not a free agent to choose its destiny as it was controlled by the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin.The international situation became less tense once Stalin died in 1953 and the new leadership under Nikita Khrushchev developed tremendous liking for an Indian leader Jawaharlal Nehru. Khrushchev viewed India’s non-aligned policy in a positive way and allowed Poland to develop normal state-to-state relations with India.
Here it is interesting to mention that late K.P.S. Menon who was Indian ambassador to the USSR was also concurrently accredited to Poland.It is Menon’s grandson who these days is a National Security Adviser in India and he is the main foreign policy- maker.Second, it was Sunil K. Roy who became the first charge d’ affairs in Warsaw. A few years ago it is Roy’s daughter who got married to Varun Gandhi, a great grandson of Nehru.Incidentally Varun Gandhi is an important member of parliament of the main opposition Bharitya Janata Party. On the other hand, Piotr Jaroszwicz was the first Polish Prime Minister who went to India on a state visit in 1958.His step son Ryszard Solaski was a first secretary in the Polish Embassy in Delhi in early 1980s .
Initially, there was a great hope and understanding between the leadership of the two countries. Both Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi came to Poland on two separate state visits as prime ministers. There was a sizable trade and military economic cooperation in the 1960s and 1970s. Many Air Force officers used to come to Radom for training and there was a common joke that most of Indian Air Marshals had of sweet memories of Radom’s beautiful girls.
It was during the liberation war in Bangladesh in 1971 that the star of Poland started shining magnificently in Indian skies. The total support of Poland to Indian efforts to help Bangladeshi freedom fighters to gain their independent state will always remain a golden chapter in Indo-Polish relations.During that time Indian ambassador to Poland, K. Natwar Singh established a wonderful rapport with Polish leadership and Polish people. Natwar Singh raised the profile of Indian mission in Warsaw. He got appointed a military attache. In his time the Electronic Department set up an office to enhance technological cooperation. The Shipping Corporation of India started buying ships from Poland which went one till 1983. Natwar Singh who later on became India’s foreign minister, till this day has wonderful memories of Poland. This is one of the principal reasons that he became friendly towards this writer.It is again a coincident that Natwar’s sister-in-law Parneet Kaur, who is minister of state in the foreign office, visited Poland last year on an official visit.
The love for Poland runs in the families it seems. Even this writer’s brother who was Indian ambassador to Poland from 1976 to 1979. During his tenure Edward Gierek, the First Secretary of the Polish Workers Party visited India in January 1977 and he was the chief guest at the Indian Republic Day parade. This kind of honour was given only to a Polish dignitary during those days. Then, in June 1979 Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai visited Poland. Since then no Indian prime minister has ever come to Poland for the past thirty five years.
When Poland was almost untouchable in the early 1980s because of its martial law, India became the only destination for Gen Wojiech Jaruzelski in January 1985. The Polish General impressed Indian leadership with his sincerity and earlier in 1983 he had agreed to set up a military factory near Pune to update T-55 tanks. The deal was worth Rs 320 crores and India had preferred Poland rather than the Czecho-Slovakia and the U.S.S.R.This writer’s cousin who was a colonel in the armed corps, had come to Poland to test the Polish technology and found it very sound.Second, Indian ambassador to Poland Surender K. Arora and his Polish counterpart Ryszard Fijalkowski in New Delhi, played very positive roles to convince their respective leadership to strengthen Indo-Polish relations in adverse international circumstances.
The warmth of the first 30 years was so big that it was difficult to maintain that temperature constantly. By 1990 the ground realities have changed with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the dismantling so-called socialist system in Poland.The scale of Indo-Polish cooperation went down drastically.There are two main reasons.First, Poland had become more Euro-centric which was and is very natural since the leadership in Poland wanted to join the European Union.Second, the choice of Polish ambassadors was very poor. Their diplomatic experience was almost zero as compared to India which generally sent experienced ambassadors to Poland, barring two or three wrong choices.
The most important aspect of this decade was the role of Indian diaspora in Polish economy. Some two thousand Indian came to Poland to start textile business.Mainly these Indians came to work for Dubai based companies. They made handsome profits and soon started expanding in Electronic and Indian restaurant business.With the arrival of a dynamic ambassador Anil Wadhwa in March 2004, the profile of India went up by many notches in Poland. He promoted Expo India, brought many commercial and cultural troupes and he toured practically every corner of Poland. The advent of Bollywood films also started in December 2004 when “Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham” was shown with Polish sub-titles. Suddenly, Shahrukh Khan, an Indian actor, became a household name for Polish youth. Wadhwa also promoted the translation of Urdu poetry. The works of great masters like Mirza Ghalib, Mir Taqi Mir, Firaq Gorakhpuri and many others are available in Polish language. Janusz Krzyzowski is the one person who has made unique contribution to promote Indian literature along with this writer.The other great translator is Ambassador Boguslaw Zakrzewski who has translated this writer’s English poetry into Polish in three volumes. Another achievement in Wadhwa’s tenure was the presence of Arcel Mittal Steel company in Poland. Suddenly an Indian came and bought seventy percent of Polish steel mills. Many IT companies made their offices in Poland to capture EU markets.
The establishment of the Indian Association of Poland and Gurudharwa by J.J. Singh maximised Indian presence in Poland. Later on with the creation of the Indo-Polish Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IPCCI),sky became the limit to expand Indo-Polish trade and commerce. In this context one should mention that Indians have done more to promote the interaction than the Poles, as the Polish presence is hardly visible in India. At the same time, the Polish Government adopted a harsh attitude in issuing visas to Indians. The result is obvious. Hardly any tourist comes to Poland whereas last year 66,000 Indian tourists went to Turkey.It is a question of mindset which has not changed in the last 25 years.Very soon on the other hand Poles will get visa on arrival in India. It seems there is one way street where India is keen to promote the relationship, Poland does not reciprocate.
The other big problem is whenever an Indian dignitary visits Poland, there is hardly any mention in Polish media and the Polish government does not emphasize the importance of these visits. In 2010 Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk visited India, his visit was covered by 600 TV channels and 5000 newspapers in India and there was hardly any mention of his visit in the Polish press.Tusk’s office did not have courtesy even to grant an interview to the Indian journalist based in Warsaw and same can be said about other Polish ministers.
Where Wadhwa left in July 2007, the present ambassador Monika Kapila Mohta picked up the torch in July 2011. Over the past 30 months she has presented India as a soft power to Polish people successfully. That visibility one can feel everywhere in Poland.She is a great patron of Indian culture.Under her patronage the Indian diaspora once again has regained its position.Though India has limited resources to project itself earnestly in the world, yet there is a big need to establish an Indian Cultural Centre in Poland. Hope one day, the policy-makers in India will understand the worth of this project.