Wales first minister visits India to strengthen ‘close collaboration’

Government initiative encompasses art and culture apart from education and health

Jas Pal Badyal, Paul Boyle, Mark
Drakeford,Vikram Doraiswami, Andy Sellars and Santosh Singh

Amit Roy

THE First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, was at the Indian High Commission in London last Thursday (29) to announce that 2024 would be a year of close collaboration between his country and India.

“Wales in India”, his government said in a formal statement, “is a 12-month series of events celebrating the links between the two countries, especially across art and culture, education, health, business and human rights”.

To make the launch special, there was a musical interlude, with Isabel Harries from Wales playing the harp and Jnanesh Kamath performing on the tabla.

The Indian community in Wales (a country of three million) numbers 25,000 to 30,000 – of whom several dozen were present at the launch, led by Raj Aggarwal, India’s honorary consul based in Cardiff.

Drakeford went out of his way to recognise the contribution of the Indian community: “We are so well served in Wales by the rich Indian community, who we are lucky enough to have attracted to come and make their futures out of our future and who every single day contribute to the richness of our society and help us to craft that confident, outwardlooking Wales.”

He said “Wales in India” was being simultaneously launched in Mumbai by his health and social services minister, Baroness Eluned Morgan, who would also go on to visit Kerala.

Isabel Harries, Raj Aggarwal and Jnanesh Kamat

This is “because we already have a relationship with the government of Kerala state. We’ve already welcomed nurses and doctors [from Kerala] to work in our health service and, in return, give them specialist experience”.

Drakeford announced: “I’m very pleased this afternoon to be able to announce that our first trade mission to India since 2016 will happen in May.

There will be a very rich series of trade and investment conferences where innovators come together to explore further opportunities.”

He said the two sides will be “exploring connections across areas such as life sciences, engineering, cybersecurity, education and much more. We will establish an Indo-Welsh Conclave, a standing group where people with an interest in these shared areas of expertise will come together to build on the deeprooted connections.”

Over the next 12 months, “we will have a very rich programme of events to make the Wales in India year the success we want to be. It has started already,” he added.

“We’ve already had one of Wales’s poet laureates (Nia Morais) centre stage at the Kolkata Literature Festival, which is one of the great literature festivals of the world.”

Drakeford said that Indian students who attend Cardiff, Swansea and the other nine universities in Wales return home as “the some of the finest ambassadors we have”.

The Wales in India programme wasn’t just for 12 months, but “an investment in long-term relationships, that long journey that we have been on together for so many years,” he promised.

The Indian high commissioner, Vikram Doraiswami, went on to outline “three or four quick ideas” for mutual collaboration.

These included “the opportunity for us to get together and partner to create, build and design the next generation of semiconductors that will power innovation in India”.

Given that “India is today one of the most digital nations on earth”, the high commissioner also spoke about cybersecurity and cyber defence.

Since the Indian pharma company Wockhardt “is present in your borders, there are opportunities for us to produce at scale for global markets”.

“The rise of India’s aviation industry has an immediate knock-on effect for Wales in terms of the production of wings for Airbus aircraft. We only buy 900 of them, so there’s enough wings to go around,” he quipped.

Wales could also provide such high-quality products as wool, lamb and whisky.

“The Welsh opportunity in India is huge,” Doraiswami stressed. “It isn’t just about business. It’s also about people. The Welsh have been hugely hospitable hosts to the Indian community. And in return for the warmth of the welcome they have received in Wales, they have gone out to do their best to be model citizens.”

The high commissioner picked out “our honorary consul general, Raj-ji, who serves us with great distinction” as one of them.

Nairobi-born Aggarwal came at 16 to qualify from the Welsh School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and is now a director of a community pharmacy; he has lived in Wales for 40 years and been India’s honorary consul for 10.

He said a big part of the Indian community was based in Cardiff and Swansea. “There are a lot of doctors and nurses – the Indians represent healthcare very, very strongly in Wales,” Aggarwal told Eastern Eye.

He explained, “The First Minister of Wales decided that 2024 is going to be the ‘Wales in India’ year. So, there will be a lot of activity to do with India, a lot of collaboration, a lot of partnerships and a lot of working relationships. So, basically, we will be promoting India in Wales strongly over the year.”

Present at the launch was a panel of four experts, including the distinguished chemist Prof Jas Pal Badyal, who serves as the chief scientific adviser for Wales and was recruited from the University of Durham.

As an aside, Badwal, who read Natural Sciences at King’s College, Cambridge, revealed: “Those of you who have got phones that are waterproof, I invented the technology [used in] billions of phones.”

“Having worked with hundreds of companies around the world” and many in India, he addressed the question of how to take “brilliant (theoretical) ideas into society. Healthcare is a huge challenge in India. In Wales, we’re actually doing a lot of work now in trying to set up medical isotopes and nuclear reactors, which will then provide medicines that can tackle cancer. If you think about the number of people that have cancer in India, it’s huge.”

Prof Paul Boyle, vice chancellor of Swansea University and chair of Universities Wales, “which is the organisation that brings all the nine universities in Wales together”, said that of the 140,000 Indian students in the UK, there were about 5,000 in Wales.

“Interestingly, our biggest collaborations in research are in physics and astronomy,” he said.

He added that the interaction between universities in Wales and India “is not just about teaching, but really high tech research”, “curriculum reform”, and developing “new technology systems for rural parts of India”.

Another panel member, Santosh Singh, business head UK of Wockhardt, said the two countries could collaborate on tourism (“Wales is one of the most beautiful countries”), pharmaceuticals, making batteries for electrical vehicles as well as recycling them.

He wanted “young graduates from Wales to go and study in India so that they could understand the culture better”.

The fourth expert at the launch, Dr Andy Sellars, who was recently appointed to the UK government’s semiconductor advisory panel, said: “I took about 10 UK companies out to Delhi and Bangalore. We met Infosys. And we brought a delegation of Indian companies back into the UK. We see really great opportunities to collaborate in the future of telephones, electric vehicles and semiconductors.”