Indian leader due to begin historic visit to Ireland from The Irish Times

Dublin, Ruadhán Mac Cormaic, Rahul Bedi (The Irish Times) : Indian prime minister Narendra Modi arrives in Dublin on Wednesday for the first visit to Ireland by an Indian leader in more than half a century.

Indian artist Raj Saini puts the finishing touches to a painting  of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. Photograph: Sanjeev Gupta/EPA

Indian artist Raj Saini puts the finishing touches to a painting of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. Photograph: Sanjeev Gupta/EPA

Modi is due to meet Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Government Buildings before addressing members of the Indian- Irish community.
Trade and tourism links between the two countries will be on the agenda, as will burgeoning bilateral exchanges in education.

Irish officials see Modi’s visit – only his third to a Europe, after visits last year to France and Germany – as a rare opportunity to raise Ireland’s profile in the world’s most populous democracy, where Ireland is relatively unknown.

The last such visit was by Jawalarlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister after independence, who came to Ireland in 1956.
“We hope to develop strong people-to-people and economic ties with Ireland in the years to come,” Modi said in a Facebook post this week.
Indigenous Irish exports to India were worth more than €55 million last year, up from €34 million in 2012, and 2,500 Irish people are employed by Indian companies.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan says the visit is “an honour for Ireland” and a chance to strengthen ties between the two countries.
“Despite the geographic distance between us, our histories are entwined, with strong historical links between the independence movements in both our countries. Our people-to- people links remain strong to this day,” Flanagan adds.

Ireland’s ambassador to India, Feilim McLaughlin, says Indian business was in a “globalising phase” and its companies were increasingly drawn to Ireland for its educated workforce, location and exchange rate stability.

“We’re a good option for Indian companies, particularly in pharmaceuticals, medical devices and financial services. We have a lot of Indian companies looking at Ireland as an option.”

Irish firms such as Kerry Group, CRH and Glanbia have begun to develop in India. In recent months, for example, Irish cheese has begun to appear in Indian supermarkets for the first time.

Modi’s Irish visit is part of his wider diplomatic initiative which aims principally to position India as a balancing power, strategically and economically in all geographical directions.

Since assuming office in May 2014, Modi has made 27 overseas visits, largely to neighbouring and Asian countries including China and Japan in addition to the US, France, Germany and Canada.

In the US and Canada, he held rock-star like gatherings for Indian expatriates which considerably raised his profile in both countries and back home.
“Modi is tugging at the hearts and minds of corporate [overseas] titans sitting on investable capital, because he is perceived to be walking the talk on overhauling the Indian economy” says Sreeram Chaulia, dean of the Jindal School of International Affairs in Delhi.
Modi’s “Make in India” campaign, encouraging joint ventures with overseas industrialists, is garnering serious foreign attention, thanks to India’s accelerating gross domestic product growth, he adds.

Fastest growing economy
India’s GDP rose by 7 per cent in the first quarter of 2015-16, becoming the world’s fastest growing major economy from end-2014, outpacing China.
Its vast market that includes a middle class of over 300 million with growing buying power, is also a major attraction for moribund western economies.
Popular perceptions of Ireland in India are dominated by education and literature.
Many Indian schools, including up to 60 of the best-known secondary schools, were established by Irish missionaries; in English-language schools in West Bengal, Sean O’Casey and George Bernard Shaw are on the curriculum.

“There is a very strong association between Ireland and quality education,” McLaughlin says.
Today, there are more than 30 research agreements in place between Irish colleges and Indian institutions, while more than 2,000 Indian students study at third-level here.

According to the ambassador, Irish visibility in India has been further boosted by the success of the Irish cricket team, which has a “far bigger” following in India than at home.
“The kind of recognition the team gets is extraordinary,” he adds.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, which has lobbied for a high-level Indian visit for some time, says Modi’s arrival also offers an opportunity to showcase Ireland as a holiday destination in a lucrative market of 1.25 billion people.

Some 26,000 Indian visitors are expected in Ireland this year, the inward flow having increased by 17 per cent in each of the past few years.
The market has grown thanks partly to a visa waiver scheme introduced four years ago.