India, Mongolia to expand cooperation

A small but significant step was taken by India towards enlarging the scope of its relationship with land-locked Mongolia when President Pratibha Patil held wide-ranging talks with her counterpart, Ts. Elbegdorj, leading to the signing of three agreements between the two countries here on Thursday to expand cooperation in defence, planning and education and media exchanges.

Ms. Patil arrived here on Wednesday from Seoul, where heavy rain had begun the previous day leading to damage and death in the city. Mongolia lived up to its description as the “land of the blue skies.” She was given a magnificent ceremonial welcome in Sukhbaater Square in front of the imposing State Palace with a grand statue of Genghis Khan as its centerpiece. Mr. Elbegdorj was there to escort her to a dais before she inspected a guard of honour.

This is the first Indian presidential visit after a gap of 23 years; the last was by President R. Venkataraman. But, high-level contacts have been made regularly. It was in September 2009 that Mr. Elbegdorj travelled to India on Ms. Patil's invitation and the level of relationship was raised to one of comprehensive partnership. On Thursday Ms. Patil once again extended him an invitation to visit India.

Historical links

Mongolia has had a historically strong relationship with Russia, reinforced by geography. And with the advantage of a long border in the south with China, trade between Mongolia and these two countries has increased rapidly. India now wants to revive its old historical and cultural links – Buddhism is the glue and many people from here travel to India to visit the Buddhist shrines – but difficult logistics is a major hurdle.

Recently, a statue of Mahatma Gandhi was installed in a major public square in the capital that holds almost half of the 2.7 million population of the country. Ms. Patil's engagements included paying homage at the statue.

In the area of defence the two countries agreed to expand collaboration through increased level of joint exercises and training. In the education sector India increased the number of ICCR scholarships from 30 to 50 and a $20 million line of credit was firmed up for a joint India-Mongolia information technology programme and distance education. And another agreement was signed to help partner information sharing on planning.

The 20-minute restricted interaction between the two Presidents was held in a traditional ‘ger'– tented home like structure – within the State palace, which was followed by an hour-long delegation-level discussion. As Mr. Sanjay Singh, Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs, later told journalists, the “building blocks” of a firm and very cordial relationship already exists and “we have to construct a new edifice” on it. When Mongolia became independent, India was the first country outside the Soviet block to establish diplomatic ties with it. It is privately conceded that we made the right moves early on, but didn't quite follow these up rigorously. Three Indian companies are present here and many more want to become partners in exploration and exploitation of the many rare minerals held by the bowels of this beautiful, vast and sparsely populated land.

On Thursday, after signing the MoUs, Mongolian Prime Minister S. Batbold and several Ministers called on Ms. Patil. Later some prominent women parliamentarians and politicians, including T. Gandhi, Minister for Social Welfare, met her.

With India still awaiting the women's reservation bill, it is interesting that Mongolia has 25 per cent reservation for women in its Parliament, the State Great Hural, with a total strength of 76 MPs. Culturally and traditionally the nomadic society has respected women as child bearers who are crucial to survival in these harsh climatic conditions, with the country covered in deep snow for half the year.

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