New Momentum in India-Latvia Relations

Edgars Rinkevics and S Jaishankar

The official visit of the Foreign Minister of Latvia Edgars Rinkevics to India carries forward the recent momentum in India’s bilateral relations with Latvia. In September 2016, India’s Minister of Information Technology and Law and Justice, Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad had visited Latvia. The Prime Minister of Latvia made a historic first visit to India in November 2017. India’s Vice President Mr. M Venkaiah Naidu travelled to Latvia in August 2019.

India’s relations with Latvia go back a hundred years. On 22 September 1921, Latvia became an independent member of the League of Nations. As an original founder-member of the League since 10 January 1920, India supported Latvia’s membership of the world’s first multilateral organization.

Educational and cultural cooperation was an area where India and Latvia developed initial contacts in the League. Latvia’s National Committee for Intellectual Cooperation was established in the University of Riga in 1923 with the help of the Latvian Foreign Ministry. India, represented by Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who became the second President of India, was a member of the League’s International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation during the 1930s. The Committee played a big role in establishing the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) in Paris in 1946.

On 13 January 2019, the Foreign Minister of Latvia released a book at the Latvian Embassy in New Delhi by Professor Sadhana Naithani of JNU on “Folklore in Baltic History”. This important work tells the story of Baltic folk songs and their impact on independence movements.

The strong awareness of India’s success in using non-violence to attain her independence under Mahatma Gandhi has resonated in Latvia. India welcomed the re-emergence of independent Latvia in 1991 through a non-violent independence movement. The Latvian Foreign Minister Rinkevics began his official visit by laying a wreath at Rajghat, Gandhiji’s Samadhi.

This history provides the basis for the new emphasis on strengthening cooperation between India and Latvia today. The University of Riga presently hosts about 1500 Indian students studying in medical and technical courses. The University has opened a Centre for Indian Studies and Culture since 2013. The Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Baltic Studies department, and the Dev Sanskriti University in Haridwar, which publishes the “International Journal of Indo-Baltic Culture and Studies”, are natural partners for developing bilateral educational cooperation.

Today, Latvia is among the nations around the Baltic Sea which have prioritized the use of digital technology for empowerment of their citizens and for accelerating socio-economic development. India with her Digital India programme shares this priority. There is scope for cooperation between Latvia and India in the digital sphere, including in imparting skills for employment, especially for women, in the digital economy.

In March 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi articulated India’s maritime interests in the Indian Ocean within the ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’ (SAGAR) policy. With its strong maritime tradition, including in the port management of Riga; Latvia is a viable partner for India’s maritime strategy for securing and developing the Indian Ocean. In turn, this will provide an impetus for greater maritime connectivity between India and Latvia, including through the International North-South Transport Corridor linking the European Union with India.

In June 2020, India is expected to be elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the two-year term (2021-22), while Latvia has announced her candidature for becoming a non-permanent member of the UNSC in 2026-27. Both countries share a commitment to effective and equitable multilateralism. This can only happen through reform of the UN Security Council, with greater transparency in the Council’s working procedures and abolishing the veto privilege of the five permanent members.

The prospects for India and Latvia to meet this objective will succeed through reformed multilateralism, based on the principle of international cooperation. The first opportunity to do so will be at the United Nations, which commemorates its 75th anniversary on 21 September 2020.

New Delhi | PBNS Bureau