India and Bulgaria share warm and friendly relations built on a historical friendship and the shared values of democracy, pluralism, and openness

His Excellency Mr. Sanjay Rana presents his credentials to the President of the Republic of Bulgaria Rumen Radev in March 2021.

An ambassador is coming to our country with serious experience as a career diplomat and an employee of the Indian Foreign Service since 1996. Before coming to our country, he was the ambassador of the Republic of India to the Republic of Azerbaijan /2015 - 2018/ He worked in the Indian missions in Damascus, Riyadh, Copenhagen, and Male. In 2019-2020, he headed the UN Policy Department dealing with issues related to the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council and other international organizations such as the Non-Aligned Movement and the Commonwealth. He recently headed the Development Partnership Administration Division, which oversees development and infrastructure projects funded by India's grant-in-aid in the immediate and extended neighbourhood.

His Excellency Mr. Sanjay Rana speaks Hindi, English, and Arabic. Deeply interested in yoga.

He is married to Mrs. Barbara Jaworska, they have two sons.

Upon his arrival in our country, he said: "It is an honor for me to represent India in Bulgaria, a country with strong and old friendly ties and close relations." Today, in the middle of his mandate, we Bulgarians can say - this is one of the most active Indian ambassadors that Sofia has seen. That's why…

- Your Excellency, the ties between our two peoples date back centuries. What are our diplomatic relations like today?

- India and Bulgaria share warm and friendly relations built on a historical friendship and the shared values of democracy, pluralism, and openness. We have regular high-level contacts as well as wide ranging bilateral cooperation in many areas. Our economic cooperation through trade and investment is expanding. We have developed a mutually beneficial and multidimensional partnership, including close cooperation in multilateral fora. I am happy to share that in the coming year, India and Bulgaria will be observing 70 years of their diplomatic relations. We also value the support of Bulgaria in the European Union for strengthening closer partnership of the group with India.

- Recently, there has been an increased interest of Indian companies in Bulgaria. What are these? What is our bilateral economic exchange?

- We see a growing interest among the Indian companies to do business in Bulgaria. Our bilateral trade in 2022-23 has grown to almost US$ 700 million which is around double of the trade in 2019. Indian businesses see Bulgaria as a potential gateway for doing business with the European market. They are attracted by its geo-locational proximity to South Asia, the efforts being taken by the Bulgarian government to build infrastructure and ramp up the connectivity across the region, and development of a business-friendly eco-system. In the last few years, I have seen the leading Indian Information technology and knowledge processing companies establishing their presence in Bulgaria using Bulgarian IT talent. Indian companies are particularly interested in emerging and innovative technologies, such as renewable energy, energy storage, electrical transport vehicles, automation, Green hydrogen, bio-technology, pharmaceuticals, agronomy and plant sciences.

- When we talk about exchanges, we usually emphasize the tourist exchange. What are your favorite places in India that you would recommend us Bulgarians to visit? And in Bulgaria? Which would be interesting to your compatriots?

- Tourism between our countries has great potential. Bulgaria is becoming popular among Indian tourists for its variety of attractions which are easily accessible, like coastal resorts and mountains. At the same time, there are many Bulgarian tourists who have started coming to India after the Covid. Many of them go to the main tourist destinations like Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra, also known as the Golden Triangle, or places in western India like Goa and Mumbai. There are others who opt for specialized tourism destinations such as Ayurvedic retreats in Kerala in the south or Yoga centres in the hills in North India. I think India has something special to offer to everyone according to their tastes and choices.

- In August, at the Ministry of Education and Science (MES) you met with Minister Galin Tsokov and it became clear that Bulgaria and India are preparing two cooperation agreements - in the field of education and culture and in the field of science and technology. When will they be signed and what do they envisage?

- India and Bulgaria have an agreement for Cultural cooperation since 1963 under which bilateral programme of cooperation in the field of education, arts and culture are agreed and implemented by the two sides. Similarly, we have an Agreement for cooperation for Science and Technology with a specific programme of cooperation which includes projects where researchers of two countries cooperate. The two sides are discussing and preparing the Programme of Cooperation for the coming years which we hope would further enhance our collaboration and partnership in these areas.

Both our countries have shown clear commitments with regard to meeting their respective climate goals. We have embarked on far-reaching initiatives in renewable energy, mobility, ethanol blended fuels and green hydrogen. In line with our commitment to collective action for global good, India has invited Bulgaria to consider joining two international initiatives to foster strong international cooperation through action and solutions-oriented coalitions, namely, the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and the Coalition of Disaster Resilience Infrastructure (CDRI).

- On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the "Indology" major at the Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" in October, a three-day national conference was held under the title "Narrating India: traditions, attitudes and directions". You attended the opening. What do you think about the development of lndology in Bulgaria?

- I am glad that you mentioned the 40th anniversary of the "Indology" Department of the Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" which was observed during October- November 2023 with a conference under the theme of "Narrating India: traditions, attitudes and directions". This underlined the deep tradition in Bulgaria, especially in the Sofia University of serious and knowledgeable scholarship on India, its culture, and languages, including Sanskrit. The commendable efforts put forward by the Indology Department and the East-West Indological Foundation in translating books from Bulgarian as well as Indian languages are truly noteworthy.

We are delighted to see the Hindi Chair from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations at the Indology Department of the Sofia University. The Bulgarian studies in Delhi University are also attracting many students who are taught by a Bulgarian teacher. We want to expand this cooperation to more greater exchanges between our institutions of Higher education.

- Could you please tell us about the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program which offers opportunities for professionals from many countries, including Bulgaria, to participate in training courses in India.

- The Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program offers opportunities for professionals from our partner countries, including Bulgaria, to attend fully funded training courses at the leading institutions in India. This is an important medium for sharing technical know-how, expertise and best practices. As the programme is fully funded by the Indian government, it provides for training expenses as well as living expenses and travel to India. Many Bulgarian professionals from government agencies and ministries have taken part in ITEC courses over the years.

- India's space research program which recently achieved a historic achievement with the successful landing of the Chandrayaan-3 rover on the lunar surface. Where is your country headed in terms of space?

- As you know, with the landing of "Chandrayaan-3" rover on the southern side of the Moon on 23rd August 2023, India became the fourth country to successfully land a spacecraft on the Moon surface. India had sent its first Moon mission in 2008 as Chandrayaan-1 which went on an orbit around the moon and did some experiments without landing such as looking for water on the moon. Interestingly, one of the radiation measuring instruments on board Chandrayan-1 was produced in collaboration with Bulgarian space scientists. Three years ago, Chandrayaan-2 attempted to land a lander vehicle on the moon, which crash landed at the last stage of the landing procedure.

Besides Moon-landing, India’s space programme has been successful on many other fronts. Over the course of several decades, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) developed a robust set of satellites for weather forecasting, remote sensing and communications. It has developed reliable independent launchers that are capable of launching complex satellites and heavy payloads in space. Besides low cost missions to the Moon and even to Mars, India is working towards manned missions, having its own space station and sending astronauts into space. India is also developing its space industry by opening this area for private companies. India has recently joined the Artemis accord which is a global Moon project involving several countries around the world planning long term missions to the Moon. India recently launched its Solar satellite, Aditya which would work as a solar observatory and study phenomena like the Sun's magnetic activity.

- India held the Presidency of the G-20 Group of leading economies during 2023 and successfully hosted the G-20 Summit in September 2023 at a difficult time. How would you comment on this success?

- India did really well in chairing the G-20 Group during a turbulent period and successfully organized the New Delhi G20 Summit, held on 9-10 September 2023. Over 200 meetings and events related to G-20 were organized in 60 cities. The vision of Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi was instrumental in setting out various aspects of the theme of "One Earth, One Family, One Future". Under his leadership, broad sections of Indian society were engaged in the G20 programmes and activities which made the Indian G20 Presidency uniquely people-centric. The outcomes of the G-20 Summit were transformational and would contribute to the reshaping of the global order in the decades ahead. In particular, the focus on realizing Sustainable Development Goals, in reforming international financial institutions, in establishing digital public infrastructure, in promoting a green development pact and encouraging women-led development were noteworthy. It is remarkable that India was able to create consensus on crucial issues in the "New Delhi Declaration" at a time of sharp divisions at the international levels. A unique aspect of India’s Presidency was the holding of the "Voice of the Global South" Summit. India’s initiative led to the African Union being accepted as a permanent member of the G20.

- You commemorated the 154th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and the UN International Day of Non-Violence on October 2, 2023 through a virtual narrative "Mahatma Gandhi's Transformational Leadership - An Inspiration for World Peace" by Dr. Shobhana Radhakrishna. With the conflicts that have broken out in the world, do you believe that there will ever be even one day of peace on our planet? Gaza?

- Gandhiji's message for the way leading to peace continues to be as relevant as ever. Even in the darkest of the times, he had counselled following the twin principles of "truth and nonviolence" and dealing with each-other with compassion and empathy and eschewing hatred. The current situation in Gaza has once again underscored the need for immediate resumption of direct and meaningful dialogue between the two sides. I must mention that India has unequivocal position against terrorism. We have also made it clear that the innocent civilians need to be protected from the humanitarian crisis resulting from the conflict. We have always supported a negotiated two state solution to the Israel Palestine issue leading to the establishment of a sovereign independent and viable state of Palestine living within secure and recognized borders, side by side in peace with Israel.

- During the last G20 summit, the sign in front of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi read 'Bharat'. Is this a sign that the country will be officially renamed?

- This matter has recently attracted a lot of attention in the international media but there is nothing new in it. According to our Constitution, my country has two names; it is called "Bharat", which is a relatively older name, as well as India. When we use "Bharat", there is no change of the name of the country as such. It is just that at a big event like the G20 summit in India, our overseas friends also get to see how we talk and share among ourselves.

- You are deeply involved in yoga. Many Bulgarians practice it, it is something like a special bond between our peoples. How do you explain the interest in it from such a geographically distant and sparsely populated European nation?

- Yoga might have originated in India but it is a shared heritage of all those who practice it. Yoga takes a holistic approach to well-being at various levels- physical, mental, and spiritual. The COVID pandemic has shown us how useful yoga and Ayurveda could be in protecting our physical health, mental well-being and spiritual wellness. Yoga also helps us in managing stress which has unfortunately become endemic to our modern lives. Thus, I am not surprised to see immense interest in Bulgaria towards yoga and Ayurveda. The International Day of Yoga is celebrated with great enthusiasm in Sofia and more than 40 other cities across Bulgaria. I am very happy to see immense interest among the Bulgarian people of all ages in various aspects of Indian culture, among them yoga and Ayurveda.

- You are in the middle of your term in our country, you have already gotten to know us better. How are Bulgarians and Indians alike?

- I am highly impressed by the rich civilizational and cultural heritage of Bulgaria and the deep contribution Bulgarian people have made to the shared human heritage through their involvement in development of language, script, music, and arts. Besides being inheritors of old civilizations, Indians and Bulgarians share many similarities in how we relate to the world, such as our peaceful nature, our tolerance for diversity and respect for others. No wonder there is a special bond between us. Our friendship has matured over the years and grown in various areas of cooperation and collaboration for mutual benefit of the people of both countries. We are excited that in the coming year, India and Bulgaria will be celebrating 70 years of their diplomatic relations. We plan to use this occasion to take our cooperation to even greater heights through increased exchange of political visits, further business engagement, cultural performances and more people to people exchanges.

The photos were provided by the Embassy of the Republic of India to the Republic of Bulgaria.

Above: H. E. Mr. Sanjay Rana, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of India to the Republic of Bulgaria