Holland first met India in 1568. That year an adventurer named Dirk Gerritsz
Pomp, nicknamed Dirk China, had reached Goa—a town now famous for its
beaches and resorts—on India's west coast. No Dutch person is known to have set
foot in India prior to him. In 2015, another significant meeting took place when Dutch
Prime Minister Mark Rutte visited India and met Prime Minister Narendra
Modi to take the two countries' relationship forward. By then the two countries had
known each other for almost 450 years.
Over this period the engagement has been deep and far reaching. It began with
the the Dutch East India Company, called VOC in short, whose
intrepid sailors and merchants reached India at the turn of the 17th
century. The VOC was the world’s first multinational and its 'business development
executives’ came to Asia in search of the lucrative trade in spices, a legendary
trail of maritime commerce which relayed all the way from Indonesia to Europe,
via India, Arabia and the African continent. In India, the VOC found pepper and
textiles, and prospered through both. By the time its business had run its course,
over a period that spanned 200 years, a lasting Dutch legacy had been created
on the subcontinent. Today it is apparent in numerous fortresses, graveyards,
mansions and temples that dot the extensive Indian coastline, as well as sites in
the hinterland. Much more of that historic Dutch-Indian narrative nestles in
kilometres of written records and illustrations left by the VOC and other Dutch who
travelled in India.
A hundred-and-fifty years passed. In 1947 India emerged as an independent
nation after the exit of the British, and both countries recognised the beginning of a
new phase of an old relationship. India looked towards the Netherlands for
aid and cooperation during its nation building era, while large corporates
from the latter like Philips and Shell—now household names in India—conducted
business in the stable democracy.
In 1975, the independence of another nation on the other side of the globe added
another facet to the Indo-Dutch relationship. This was Suriname ,
till then a South American Dutch territory. Ethnic Indians, who came to Suriname as
contract labour in the 19th century, form the largest part of the country’s population.
Upon Suriname’s independence many of them migrated to Holland. Today, they
number well above 150,000.
In the 1990s the Indian economy liberalised and the relationship
shifted up a gear. Both countries gained. Dutch expertise in various spheres like
agriculture and water was welcomed in India, and the Dutch found new opportunities
to benefit from therein.
The millennium turned and relations evolved further. The world was
globalising fast and investment became a two-way traffic. Ambitious
Indian companies were looking outward for conducive environments
where they could set up bases and enhance their growth, whether it be through
marketing or research and development. The Netherlands was a natural
choice. The country was (is) the international gateway into Europe,
business friendly, culturally open, and of course, a fountainhead of
advanced technologies. (Not many outside the Netherlands would be aware
that Dutch companies or individuals have been behind some of the technologies and
products that have revolutionised the modern world—for example, CDs, DVDs, WiFi
and Bluetooth.) By 2016 more than 170 Indian companies, including all the
IT majors, had establishments in the Netherlands.
On the other hand Dutch companies continued to enter India, introducing
technologies, establishing outsourcing centres and marketing offices. Currently
over 220 business entities from Holland have a presence in India.
The bonds continue to be built. In business, while trade and investment
continues, companies of both countries are coming together to form
value chains in order to achieve global competitiveness. The last two decades
have seen a huge rise in Indian students going abroad in pursuit of quality
education. Whereas the USA and other English speaking countries have traditionally
been the favoured destinations, increasing awareness of the availability of highquality
education in Dutch universities in English at a much cheaper cost
has resulted in the Netherlands becoming a serious option. People of Indian
origin (including Indo-Surinamese) in the Netherlands number about 2,20,000,
which is second only to the UK in Europe. This Indo-Dutch community, while retaining
its cultural traditions, is comfortably integrated into the Dutch way of
life, and is well respected for its economic and social contributions to the country.
Numerous Indo-Dutch organisations are active in fostering ties between the
The first Indo-Dutch treaty was signed in 1604 between Admiral Steven
van der Hagen of the VOC and the Zamorin (ruler) of Kozhikode, on India’s Malabar
coast. Amongst other matters, it declared “eternal friendship, as long as the sun
moon are in the sky.” Four hundred years later the two celestial bodies referred
to in the treaty show no signs of disappearing from the sky.