CHENNAI, India—Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has welcomed the proposal of former Indian ambassador Gopalkrishna Gandhi to expand people-to-people exchanges between the Philippines and India as a way to strengthen bilateral ties between the two countries.
The former ambassador said these exchanges should engage the youth of India and the Philippines, by encouraging them to participate in dialogues with academic leaders and artists who will promote the arts, culture, literature and philosophy of their respective countries.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century whose major contribution to society was his philosophy of non-violent resistance, which he had practiced to lead India in its path toward independence against the British Rule, and later, inspire movements for civil rights and freedom across the globe.
Dominguez had consulted Gandhi on how India and the Philippines could better enhance their bilateral ties in line with President Duterte’s recalibration of the country’s foreign policy towards Asia.
“The pendulum is swinging back where India and China will become or are already well on their way to becoming the engines of growth in this world. And we want to ask your advice on how we can improve our relations with India,” Dominguez told Gandhi during their meeting.
“We want to find a way of becoming closer and having more cooperation between us not only in business but through people-to-people (interactions),” he said.
In response, Gandhi said that there should be a “meeting of the young minds of the two countries” by involving them in in-depth discussions about the affairs of the state but with more focus on the social and philosophical aspects.
“Business, like water, has a way of finding its level. It cannot be kept back or pushed beyond its own dynamics. But I think on people-to people context, (the opposite) is true,” Gandhi said.
He said that Dominguez’s visit to Chennai, where he spoke before the MS Swaminathan Foundation about how the Philippines is fulfilling its vision of making growth sustainable and inclusive for its people, is the kind of dialogue that is needed to engage the youth in constructive discussions.
“The speakers need not necessarily be young. They can be but they need not be. But they should address the young. And I think it’s very important that they speak to that generation,” Gandhi said, given that the majority of the populations of both India and the Philippines are young.
Gandhi said that while “agenda and strategy” are for generals and business leaders, in the case of speaking to young minds, there should be a genuine interest as well as sincerity and candidness in presenting to them the solutions to the problems plaguing society.
He suggested a “university-based collaboration” between the two countries focusing on the exchange of knowledge on history, literature and philosophy as well as social studies and the humanities.
Gandhi is currently a Professor of Political Science, History, and Indian Civilizations at Ashoka University. He used to be the Indian ambassador to Norway and Iceland and was a former governor of the Indian state of West Bengal. He also served as officer of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and had written a novel and a play.
In seeking Gandhi’s advice, Dominguez noted that India and the Philippines have a lot in common, among them, a young and dynamic workforce that will continue to sustain the rapid economic growth of both countries into the future.
Dominguez and Gandhi met during the former’s visit to the headquarters of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) here.
The MSSRF is a not-for-profit trust founded by Professor M.S. Swaminathan with proceeds from the First World Food Prize that he received in 1987. It aims to accelerate use of modern science and technology for agricultural and rural development to improve lives and livelihoods of communities.
At the time he received the First World Food Prize, M.S. Swaminathan was the director-general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) based in Los Baños, Laguna. He headed the IRRI from 1982 to 1988.
Dominguez, who was appointed by then-President Corazon Aquino as Minister of Agriculture and Food in 1986, and Dr. Swaminathan, worked closely to establish the Rice Production Enhancement Program, which immensely helped Filipino farmers and the country attain almost 100 percent rice self-sufficiency in 1988.
Dominguez told Gandhi that Dr. Swaminathan inspired him in three ways, one of which was in setting up the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PRRI), which continues to this day to develop high-yielding and cost-reducing technologies to improve the competitiveness of Filipino farmers and the country’s rice industry.
It was also Dr. Swaminathan who inspired Dominguez to set up the Foundation for Development through Education with his family and friends in Davao City.
The finance chief said the foundation, which provides full college scholarships to students from the Islamic community and indigenous peoples’ groups, has benefited around 100 students in the last 18 years.
The appointment of Dr. Bruce Tolentino, an agricultural economist and former IRRI deputy director-general, to the Monetary Board upon Dominguez’s recommendation was also inspired by Dr. Swaminathan.
Dominguez told Gandhi that for the first time in Philippine history, an agricultural economist now sits on the highest monetary policy-making body of the country, which is only appropriate as he believes that finance and monetary policy should be formulated with rural development in mind.