NEW DELHI: Serving in New Delhi was a profoundly enriching experience as the Malaysia-India relationship is a multifaceted one with tremendous scope for growth, Malaysia’s outgoing envoy said.
Malaysian High Commissioner Datuk Hidayat Abdul Hamid said his more than five years in India exposed him to many fascinating social, cultural, and political ideas.
“India is an astonishingly diverse country with a rich history and geographical variety. During my travels to different parts of the country, I learned a lot about various cultures, communities and traditions,” he told Bernama in an interview during which he reflected on his work and public engagements and offered tips to Malaysian companies on how to profit from the opportunities India offers.
“Malaysians often have misconceptions about India and tend to look at it from a south Indian perspective. The north of India is completely different in languages, food, society, history and heritage. Even southern Indian states are not alike although they have some commonalities,” he said.
“India’s diversity, even without counting the remote tribal areas and the Northeast region, is amazing and can be considered its biggest strength,” he added.
Apart from the famous Taj Mahal, among his favorite monuments are the fortress-palace complex of Fatehpur Sikri, the city near Agra built by Emperor Akbar, the 16th-century ruler, and Amer Fort in the state of Rajasthan.
Hidayat recalled gazing awestruck at the Buland Darwaza (Victory Gateway), which rises to a height of 54 metres from the ground level and is rated as one of the most majestic pieces of Mughal architecture.
“India is comparable with the world’s best historical destinations,” he said.
Hidayat, who served as Malaysia’s ambassador to Kazakhstan before arriving in the Indian capital in March 2017, said he is keen to encourage more travel as a way to build stronger Malaysia-India people-to-people contacts.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, India received about 300,000 Malaysian tourists a year and the number of Indian visitors to Malaysia was 735,000 in 2019.
“Considering that Malaysia’s population is only 32 million, the number of Malaysians visiting India is huge. We want to attract more Indian tourists to Malaysia and hope that travel will pick up,” Hidayat said.
Business and trade relations between the two countries have seen significant expansion in recent years, helped by the Malaysia-India and ASEAN-India free trade agreements.
The High Commissioner said Malaysian companies have not fully utilised these agreements and the business opportunities India offers.
“They have not utilised the services of Malaysian diplomatic missions and trade agencies. It’s only when something goes wrong, they seek government help,” he said.
Talking about India’s current business climate, Hidayat said attractive opportunities exist for Malaysian companies to participate in local manufacturing ventures under the “Make in India” initiative as well as bid for infrastructure projects in areas such as highways, ports, airports, metro rail and transport services.
Technical training and education can be another potential area for Malaysian companies to look at, he said, citing the example of a training programme being conducted by Malaysian pilots for a new Indian airline.
Malaysia’s historical links with the southern Indian region can be leveraged further to promote business relations.
“Chennai is a booming city and we have close cultural, business and travel connections with Tamil Nadu. These linkages can be used for growing Malaysia’s relations with southern India,” Hidayat said.
“Malaysian companies operating in India have been very supportive of our activities and contributed to the promotion of bilateral relations. Their valuable feedback has helped us in official negotiations and advising other companies and investors about India’s business environment,” he said.
Hidayat said one of the reasons why some Malaysian companies earn disappointment in India is their inadequate due diligence before entering the market and they were not careful about the fine print of contracts.
“Malaysians sometimes take contract details lightly, while their Indian partners are particular about every clause. This can lead to unpleasant experiences,” he said.
About the major challenging situations during his stay, the envoy recounted the evacuation of stranded Malaysians following the suspension of flights in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
Malaysians were stuck in various places across India, making it a logistical nightmare to gather them in one place amid domestic travel and other restrictions imposed to contain the pandemic.
“We had to deal with the authorities at different levels in various states, ministries and immigration as well as coordinate with the airlines in Malaysia. We are grateful to many individuals and groups in India who extended help during our evacuation efforts,” the high commissioner said.
That experience further reinforced the need for Malaysian citizens to register themselves with Malaysian diplomatic missions.
“It is for their own convenience and safety. Registering with the diplomatic missions becomes even more important if they live outside the main cities in a large country like India,” he said.
Hidayat described the India-Asean Commemorative Summit of January 2018 as a major diplomatic event during his tenure.
The regular exchange of business and official delegations was disrupted due to COVID-19 but activities and events are picking up since the resumption of regular flights between India and Malaysia.
Hidayat mentioned the recent visits of Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin, Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Noraini Ahmad and Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah as a sign that high-level bilateral engagements are growing.
“The Malaysia-India relationship is a truly multifaceted one. We are important economic partners, our cultural relations are deep-rooted, we have mutual military visits and joint exercises, and our two-way travel keeps growing,” he said.