Ambassador of Spain to India Gustavo Manuel de Aristegui y San Roman speaks about the recent killing of a soldier in London,doing business with India and Spain’s dominance in football. This session was moderated by Assistant Editor Shubhajit Roy
Shubhajit Roy: Our guest today is not just a diplomat. He started out as a lawyer,joined the Spanish foreign service and has been a member of the Spanish parliament thrice. He is also an academic who has written several bookshis area of expertise is Islam and radicalism.
My country is going through a very rough patch economically and with the social tragedies attached to the economic hardship. We have the highest unemployment in Europe. But we have a thriving industry. The helicopter was invented in Spain so was the submarine. We are still one of the worlds best and leading conventional submarine producers. We are the only country in the world that produces aircraft carriers for navies that are not their own. We are hoping to partner India in defence.
Spain is especially good in infrastructure: we have one of the biggest networks of freeways in Europe and the biggest network of high-speed trains in Europe. Our economy is almost as large as the Indian economy and we are only 49 million inhabitants. We had a real-estate bubble that burst badly but unlike the American bubble that went from bottom upwards,ours went from above downwards…
And because salaries in Spain have come down,we have become a more competitive nation. Now 80,000 young Spaniards leave Spain every year. These are highly trained and qualified,many going to Germany,some coming to India,mostly to Bangalore and setting up companies.
Spain has two companies that have 100 per cent Spanish technology that are capable of producing high-speed trains. These two companies are starting investments in India. CAF has already started building a factory in Uttar Pradesh where it intends to produce its wonderful commuter trains and metro systems. The train that links Indira Gandhi International Airport to central Delhi is a Spanish train.
In infrastructure,the biggest company in the world in management of toll highways is SpanishAbertis. They want to come to India. They are watching how the National Highway Authority of India treats concessionaires,because PPPs are not working too well right now. It is a pity because India badly needs infrastructure and half of that investment needs to come through PPPs. We are very good at waste management and water treatmentagain,two things that are extremely important to India.
Shubhajit Roy: On the recent incident in London where a British soldier was killed,how do you connect this incident to what you have been writing and talking about on jihad?
The thesis of the first book I wrote is that Islamism is the worst enemy of Islam,that if you analyse Islamism and if you analyse Islam,Islamists are not real Muslims. The manipulation of a religion for political purposes is not the purpose of religion. We must never confuse Islamism with Islam. We are going to see the development of new kinds of terrorism. We have seen mega terrorism9/11 in USA,3/11 in Spain,Mali,Mumbai, etc. You will have the traditional terrorist attacks but you will see individual attacks,be it by cells that are organised or by individuals who have been radicalised in the local madrasa or on the Internet. These are going to be the lone wolves. That happened in Boston,recently,and now in London. In Mumbai,it was mega terrorism. These guys were not just guys who blew themselves up. They were shooting and killing in cold blood for many days. It will happen,unfortunately,more and more. We have to train our security forces for new kinds of new terrorism. We are facing different types of terrorism: the mega terrorism,classic terrorism like car bombs,suicide bombings,etc. Then there will be battle-hardened,highly trained terrorists who operate in cities and in battlefields like in Mali or Nigeria. And then you will see the lone wolves radicalised by the Internet. These guys have a very dangerous and very effective way of radicalising people. In jihadist terrorism,they dont trust everybody. So you cant just go into your local,radical madrasa and say hey,I want to be a jihadi. You go to them,they test you. They see if you really are what you claim to be and then they brainwash you. If you are trustworthy,they will give you a code to enter a password protected website. There you have material and chats. We accessed some chats in the past in Spain. In one of those chats,they discovered death threats against me. I was police protected for 15 years until I came here. So you will see a lot of individually targeted attacks.
Shubhajit Roy: You have been on the al-Qaeda hit list. Did you lose sleep over it?
I am married to a Muslim. I respect Islam greatly. But jihadists are not Muslims. They are monsters and they use the name of Islam. al-Qaeda is the most hideous organisation on the face of the earth and anybody who calls himself a jihadist is not a Muslim,he is not abiding by any rule of Islam.
Ravish Tiwari: Does India need to correct certain things to attract Spains expertise/investments,to leverage Spanish experience to our advantage?
Many countries and many companies are coming to India to invest. We went from 40 Spanish companies in India to over 200 in just seven years. Indias five-year plan says a trillion dollars need to be invested in infrastructure in the next five years,which means $200 billion a yearthat is a $100 billion in engineering,procurement and construction and a $100 billion in PPPs. PPPs are not working. In the last tender for toll highways,nobody made bids. That is a bad sign. Companies are looking at the Indian market but they want the red tape and the difficulties to be resolved. I have spoken to everyone in this government and that is very much their thinking. They want India to be business-friendly and investor-friendly. This is not about selling India to foreigners,this is about creating wealth for Indians,this is about partnering with Indians because most of the projects are 50-50 Indian-foreign collaborations. If you can cut travel time from Agra to Delhi from eight hours to three,it is a huge improvement for Indians and for tourism which is also needed. India only receives 7.5 million tourists. It is totally inexplicable that you dont have 10 times the numbers you have. But you need to improve infrastructure. You have done it in the airport system. When you make that leap forward with railroad stations and metro systems,highways and ports,then you will be there,everything else will come automatically. I am absolutely sure that the solution is on its way. There is some news that probably in 3-4 months,a new regulatory body for PPPs and infrastructure is going to be created. That is a much needed move.
Pranab Dhal Samanta: You spoke about possible collaborations with India in defence. How do you react to the scandals and scams that come out of every deal in the defence sector? What is your view of middlemen?
India is a great democracy and it has its own institutions and courts of justice. The proof that the institutions work,despite the criticism,is that all the scams are discovered and people go to jail. One reason why this works is because the press is good. You investigate,research,find things,and write and speak about them. Thats the difference between democracy and dictatorshiptheres no secret in a democracy. As far as the defence industry is concerned,who is a middleman? A man who introduces somebody to a company. But this is human nature and human behaviour. India has the right to design its defence in a way it deems necessary. India has a quest to become as autonomous as possible in its defence industry. We dont have any hidden agenda,or vested interests. This is just a legitimate business between democracies.
Manu Pubby: What kind of partnerships are you planning to forge now in the defence sector?
We are part of a very big consortium,the EADS. We have already been selected as L1 (preferred vendor) in a very important contract for refuelling jets. That project is 47 per cent Spanish. The platform of the plane is an A330,but everything else in it is made in Spain with 100 per cent Spanish technology. The boom is the best of its kind in the world and that is why the European plane beat the American tender everywhere since this technology has been used. The Spanish designed boom is unbeatable. We are aspiring to a very important contract,which is the Avro aircraft replacement,and we have an excellent plane,the C295. Theres going to be a partnership with Indian companies,so a big part of that plane should be built in India. Most of the air traffic control systems used in India are made by Indra,the Spanish hi-tech company. Every time you take a plane in India,the air controller is using Spanish systems.
Mansij Asthana (Exims): In football,what is the secret behind Spains dominance since winning the Euros in 2008?
The reason for that is the leap in quality of Spanish football in the 90s. It was good to bring in great players from other parts of the world,which made our league so much more competitive. Now its the best in the world. There was a turning point in the late 90s when many great Spanish players started playing abroad,especially in England. I believe those players brought back something new. English football mixed with Spanish football has been a good combination. So now,we have the physical strength of the Germans,the ability and technique of the Spaniards and the depth and the game vision of the English. These three things with the recruitment of very young talents in the big clubs and nurturing them has been extremely fruitful. Players like Lionel Messi,who is Argentinian,were discovered in base football schools of the Barcelona football team. You cannot win all the championships,but Spain is always going to be up there from now on.
Ambreen Khan: You are in India at a time when its politics is very chaotic. What do you think about the chaos India is going through politically?
Indian politics is fascinating and complicated. Its complicated because it is a huge country and has hundreds of political parties. But its a democracy. If you want perfect order,then you need dictatorship. Democracies are sometimes complicated and have order issues,but I prefer that. Thats what makes India so special. You have taught the rest of the world a lot about politics. Many political theories,many important philosophical and spiritual ideas have been born here. If India had been perfectly square or ordered,how many of these wonderful ideas would have been born here? If democracy is bubbling and boiling,it is a sign of good democratic health. You cannot worry about the next generation if you are not worrying about the next election. You must know what your constituents want if you want to be in power,even if you think they are wrong.
Dilip Bobb: Brands like Mango and Zara have a big presence in Indian cities. What is your opinion on FDI in multi-brand retail?
Direct investment in multi-brand and opening the economy to certain competition is good. For example,India has a small and growing wine industry. There is no protection for that wine industry and that is one issue pending between the EU and India. But if India would open up to foreign wines,it would actually boost Indias wine industry. Thats exactly what happened to countries like Chile,Argentina and South Africa. When they opened up to foreign wine imports,competition made their wines a zillion times better and they started exporting because people want quality. Its not just about big names coming in and pushing small retailers to bankruptcy,you have to strike a good balance. In fact,normally,the big retailers,if things are done in a proper way,boost small retail.
Ravish Tiwari: Were you present at the meeting when Narendra Modi met EU envoys? What is your assessment after that meeting?
I was there,I asked questions. I think it was the natural evolution of things after his third election in a row. Respecting Indian democracy is also respecting the election of someone who has won three times in his state. It was the logical and respectable thing to do with Indian politics,democracy and institutions. It was a sovereign decision and done out of respect for Indias sovereignty.
Transcribed by Geeta Gupta and Pritha Chatterjee
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines