2020 was different in all ways. Ms Monika Kapil Mohta took office in Bern as the new Ambassador of India to Switzerland, but the Covid-crisis distanced our face-to-face interview. She graciously obliged us by virtually addressing our readers with an in-depth interview and a video message. Aradhna Sethi says, “Thank you, ambassador”
Ms Monika Kapil Mohta assumed charge as Ambassador of India to Switzerland on August 5th, 2020. Prior to her current position, she served as the Ambassador of India to Sweden & Latvia from November 2016 to July 2020 and the Ambassador of India to Poland and Lithuania from July 2011 to January 2015.
Namaste Switzerland welcomes her to Switzerland and shares her story with our readers:
Namaste Switzerland: The India diaspora here is small and varied from that in other countries where you have served as the Ambassador. How is being an Ambassador in Switzerland different and yet similar to your postings to other countries?
Monika Kapil Mohta: It has been an honour to have served as Indian Ambassador to Sweden, Latvia, Poland and Lithuania. Now, I have the honour to be the Ambassador of India to Switzerland, a country known for its beautiful mountains, and its innovative and industrious people. Switzerland, with its central location in Europe, diversity of languages, and a unique system of direct democracy, has carved out a special place for itself in Europe. With its cultural diversity, Switzerland also enjoys a stable polity. European countries in which I have served earlier, have a different history and a different national experience in post-war Europe. These are formative influences in their approach to the world in general and, in India, in particular. Yet, I see some similarities among all these countries in their fondness and love towards India. Love of Indian culture, Yoga, Ayurveda and Bollywood is a common thread I see among all these countries.
Namaste Switzerland: What are your aims and your expectations through your tenure here?
Monika Kapil Mohta: My priority is to further strengthen India-Switzerland bilateral relations. All our work at the Embassy focuses towards this end; whether it is by engaging the Swiss government, cantons, elected representatives, Swiss businesses, academia, cultural icons or community leaders. India and Switzerland enjoy excellent bilateral relations, which have been termed as a ‘Longstanding, Dynamic Partnership’. We see the depth of this relationship in the continuous high-level visits between the two countries. Despite the restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are committed to taking forward the strong momentum in the relationship through close contact and continuous engagement. Business and commercial relations between the two countries have remained energetic through online and offline engagements even during the pandemic period. A series of webinars have been held focusing on different industry sectors. As you know, Hon’ble Rashtrapatiji was on a State Visit to Switzerland in 2019, which resulted in various significant engagements and a number of agreements related to areas of mutual interest for India and Switzerland. During my tenure here, it will be important to take forward these engagements and collaborate closely with Swiss interlocutors.
In the time that I’ve spent in Switzerland so far, I see that Indian culture, Yoga and Ayurveda have a special place and acceptance in Switzerland. The Embassy continues to engage with all stakeholders to exhibit and promote the diversity and depth of India’s culture, its art forms, literature, cinema, its beautiful tourist destinations, etc. One of the major focuses and priorities for me is to have substantive engagement with the Indian diaspora and encourage the younger generation of the diaspora to understand and celebrate India. It is our endeavor to make sure that the Embassy remains a ‘Home Away from Home’. I would like to use this opportunity to call upon all Indians in Switzerland to be in touch with the Embassy, both online and offline.
Namaste Switzerland: India holds a special place in Switzerland. As you have also mentioned, there is a pull towards the cultural charm, the amazing cuisine; and an overwhelming image of a myriad of opinions, some degree of trepidation, and a fair amount of ignorance, too. As the Ambassador, would you be in a position to paint a realistic picture of India to the Swiss? How?
Monika Kapil Mohta: As I said, Switzerland has had long cultural ties with India. The people-to-people relations between the two countries are diverse, including in areas of business, academia, arts, culture, etc. Ayurveda and Yoga are two brand ambassadors of Indian culture that Swiss instantly identify with. Many Swiss have recounted to me the fond memories of their visits to India, its Ayurvedic facilities and the beautiful beaches. A large number of Swiss citizens practice Yoga and almost every village/town here has a few Yoga enthusiasts.
When it comes to the Indian economy, the Swiss realize the strength of the Indian market and workforce and appreciate India’s prowess in the field of Information Technology. However, we also see some media stories about India that do not represent the true picture of the country. The free and unbridled nature of news reports from Indian media brings the spotlight on internal criticism and turmoil, while the deserving positive stories about India get drowned in this cacophony. As Ambassador, it will be my endeavor to showcase the efforts and hard work India has done to transform itself into a modern and developing nation.
While acknowledging and drawing inspiration from our rich culture and history, India is today leaping towards world-class technology and fast-paced economic growth. Measures taken by the Government of India on the fronts of FDI policy reforms, investment facilitation and ease of doing business have resulted in increased FDI inflows into India even during the uncertainties created by COVID-19. On the ‘Ease of Doing Business Ranking’, India has jumped from the rank of 134 a few years ago to the rank of 63 this year. For the first time, this year India has also entered into the world’s Top 50 most innovative countries in WIPO’s Global Innovation Index. India has reiterated its commitment to mitigation of climate change and forging a green path to development through the International Solar Alliance. As Ambassador, I put forward the image of this New India and its ambitious people who have now solemnly resolved to build ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat’, i.e, a ‘Self Reliant India’.
Namaste Switzerland: Each year, a number of Indo-Swiss events are organised. However, there is no buzz or element of newness. While in office, do you plan on making waves and stirring up excitement with something different, portrayed differently perhaps?
Monika Kapil Mohta: In the past few years, the Embassy had reached out to all Indian diaspora and organised a large number of events to celebrate Indian culture and festivals. In 2020, however, in the light of Corona-related restrictions, large physical gatherings were not planned in the interest of the safety of all. Nevertheless, the Embassy has fashioned innovative new ways combining physical events where possible with online participation to reach out to as many as possible. The Embassy conducted various online competitions during the past few months that attracted participation from a large number of members of Indian diaspora and friends of India. I am happy to note that most of those who participated belong to the younger age segments, including enthusiastic participation from children.
The Embassy is planning various new events in online as well as physical format to take this engagement forward. I urge you all to keep watching our social media handles for exciting new events.
Namaste Switzerland: The Embassy’s programmes do not reach all Indians. Are we likely to see a change in the means to increase this reach or add an element of attraction back towards the country of origin as “Indian residents in Switzerland”?
Monika Kapil Mohta: We understand that when Indians arrive in Switzerland, they are initially focused on their day-to-day integration into the Swiss society, career and workspaces. There is a considerable effort that Indians put into mastering their new Swiss environment and then shaping their own special identity in this new home. The Embassy also tries to keep them connected with India while serving as their ‘Home Away from Home’. The various cultural events, celebrations of Indian National Days or Festivals is one way in which the embassy calls on them to celebrate our culture and history. The embassy also organises various events suitable for different age groups. There is a programme called ‘Bharat ko Janiye / Know India’ Quiz Competition, the first round of which was held on November 1, 2020. Through this programme, diaspora children get an opportunity to learn more about India, win prizes and even travel to India, if they win the competition. Such programmes are regularly conducted by the embassy to encourage engagement with India. The embassy also conducted a series of online activities with the enthusiastic participation of Indian diaspora during the Independence Day celebrations this year. A series of online quizzes, as well as many business webinars conducted recently, have been widely appreciated. The Twitter handle of the embassy is followed by more than 24,000 followers, while its Facebook page has about 15,000 followers. Our social media handles including Instagram and YouTube have helped us stay in constant touch with Indian diaspora in Switzerland, especially during the COVID-19 related lockdown. Indians in distress reached out to the embassy through social media and were able to deliver assistance and required help quickly. Before the COVID-19 related restrictions were imposed, the embassy was taking its services to the Indian diaspora in Switzerland through the Consular Services Camp in Zurich and a bi-monthly Business Information Center in Zurich. Though we have had to suspend these in response to the evolving health situation, the embassy’s endeavors to simplify service delivery and make itself a true ‘Home Away from Home’ for the Indian diaspora continues in every possible way.
With that – Namaste Switzerland concludes this interview with the lady who joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1985 and has served in several important positions in the Ministry of External Affairs and in Indian missions abroad. She is married to Dr Madhup Mohta, who is also a career diplomat and together, they have a son and a daughter.
Last but not the least, we wish Ms Mohta a happy 59th birthday on January 19th.
Disclaimer: Written in good faith, we do not undertake any financial/reputational impact or other obligations/liabilities that may arise from the content.