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Speech by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh at India Today Conclave, New Delhi

February 25, 2005

Mr. Aroon Purie, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here with you this evening at this conclave, which has now become such an integral part of the calendar of Delhi.

At the outset, I would like to congratulate you both for the original initiative behind the India Today Conclave, and for persevering with this event. This Conclave facilitates a dialogue between civil society and representatives of Government and between Indian and foreign scholars, thinkers, academics and leaders. I welcome such opportunities because the real strength of our democracy lies in our ability to conduct such a dialogue on a continuing basis. The test of the vibrancy and resilience of a democracy is not just the ability to conduct elections and convene legislatures. It lies in a society’s ability to communicate with itself and with the outside world through civilized modes of interaction. We are, like any real democracy, an argumentative society. The right to disagree and the freedom to debate is a hallmark of such societies. I therefore value these opportunities where contending and contentious ideas can be considered in a calm manner.

I also congratulate the India Today Group on its emergence as the world’s window on India. However, I do believe that with your global reach, your organization should increasingly seek to become India’s window to the world as well. For this, it is essential that leading media organizations must invest in Indian correspondents overseas to offer your readers an Indian perspective on international affairs. For India to be more meaningfully engaged with the world, we need an informed Indian view of world events and an Indian perspective on global trends.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the nine months that our Government has been in office, I have frequently spoken about our agenda and priorities in office. I sincerely believe that our people voted for the United Progressive Alliance because they wanted government to adhere more closely to the fundamental principles of our Republic. Our Nation was built on the foundations of a deep and abiding commitment to the values of liberal, social democracy. Pluralism, secularism, multi-culturalism and the principles of equity, social justice and the rule of law are core values of our civilization and the bedrock of our Republic.

Many in India and abroad who have admired this legacy of our freedom struggle were deeply concerned by the emergence in recent years of communalism and majoritarianism in our body politic. If these insidious trends had not been checked, India would not have been the India that our freedom fighters had sought to create. There are bound to be voices of intolerance and extremism at the margins of any free society, and a democracy must learn to deal with such fringe groups, albeit within the framework of the rule of law. However, the central tendency of any modern and civilized society today can only be towards pluralism. We must build an inclusive polity and a caring society.

If there is an "idea of India” by which India should be defined, it is the idea of an inclusive, open, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual society. I believe that this is the dominant trend of political evolution of all societies in the 21st century. Therefore, we have an obligation to history and mankind to show that pluralism works. India must show that democracy can deliver development and empower the marginalized. Liberal democracy is the natural order of political organization in today’s world. All alternate systems, authoritarian and majoritarian in varying degrees, are an aberration.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

While all democratic societies do face internal challenges for a variety of reasons, the particular advantage of democracies lies in their ability to handle such situations with maturity. Our own experience has shown us that democratic methods yield the most enduring solutions to the most intractable problems. Authoritarian responses cannot solve the real problems of the people or make life worth living. They merely contain the fall-out often for very limited periods of time; and with possible negative consequences that make the remedy worse than the disease. In the particular context of the turbulence in our neighbourhood, it is a matter of particular pride for us to have received this week the President of the youngest democracy in our region. I refer to President Karzai of Afghanistan, who has shown great courage in sowing the seeds of democracy. We are confident that the friendly people of Afghanistan will reap the fruits of this political evolution, in their long-awaited tryst with peace.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

If our commitment to remain an open society is one of the pillars of our nationhood, the other is our commitment to remain an open economy. An economy that guarantees the freedom of enterprise, respects individual creativity, and at the same time mobilizes public investment for social infrastructure and the development of human capabilities. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to suggest that these are the principles to which all countries will increasingly want to adhere. In relating to the world, we must never lose sight of this vital aspect of our Nationhood.

Just as developed industrial economies enabled "Economies in Transition” to graduate into open economies, developed democracies should also assist "Societies in Transition” to become open societies. I believe India’s policies towards the world have been shaped by this commitment to the core values of our Nationhood. We should be proud to identify with those who defend the values of liberal democracy and secularism across the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Over the past decade and more, the debate in this country on the nature of our interaction with the world, with our wider Asian neighbourhood and with Major Powers, has also been shaped by the sweeping changes in our economic policy. The initiatives we took in the early 1990s towards economic liberalization have not only altered the nature of our interaction with the world, but have also shaped global perceptions of India. Indeed, they have shaped more than mere perceptions. They have also altered the manner in which other nations, big and small, relate with us. Today, there is a greater willingness internationally to work with India and build relationships of mutual benefit and mutual inter-dependence. This augurs well for our development and security.

The steps that successive governments have taken since 1991 have helped to finally remove what development planners used to refer to in the 1960s and 1970s as the "external constraint” on growth. Indian industry and our professionals have demonstrated to the world their ability to step out with confidence from a highly protected environment into a mercilessly competitive one. We do have a vast unfinished agenda of social and economic reform and development, as outlined in our National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP), and our Government’s highest priority will be to implement this. Doing so will further enable us to deal with the challenges of globalization.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I submit to you for your consideration the idea that the global environment has never been more conducive for India’s economic development than it is today. The world wants India to do well. However, we recognize that our real challenges are at home. It is for this reason that the NCMP places such great emphasis on increasing investment in infrastructure, agriculture, health and education, urban renewal and the knowledge economy. Having ensured that there is today no external constraint on growth, we must now ensure that there remain no internal constraints to development. That is what the NCMP aims to achieve.

To say, however, that the external constraint on growth is no longer binding is not to suggest that we are making full use of the new opportunities. There is much more we can do to draw on global savings and to tap global markets. As a developing economy we must draw on international resources to fuel our development. We should be more open to global capital flows and better prepared to take advantage of new markets for goods and services. India is wholly committed to multilateralism in trade. But we will seek the reform and democratization of multilateral institutions. At the same time, India will strengthen South-South co-operation aimed at enabling all nations of the South in regaining their rightful place in the comity of Nations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Globalization is both an opportunity and a challenge. A decade ago, who could have imagined that India would be a major software services exporter and that a new process of "brain gain”—not "brain drain”--would be created by opportunities in these sectors. However, we must ask ourselves, are we doing enough to secure this edge? The growth of our knowledge economy has opened up new markets for science and technology based products. Again, are we doing enough to encourage this process? In manufacturing too there are global opportunities that we must tap. The end of the multi-fibre agreement opens up new opportunities for trade in textiles. We must ensure that we are ready to take advantage of these openings.

We would like to make globalization a win-win game. How we deal with the challenge of globalization and how we make use of its opportunities will shape our relations with the world, and the perception of our capabilities as a nation. I do believe that this has already happened in substantial measure. Our relations with major powers, especially the United States and more recently China, have increasingly been shaped by economic factors. Who could have imagined a decade ago that China would emerge as our second largest trade partner? In the case of the U.S., an acceleration of people-to-people contact and the consequent business-to-business interaction has forged closer State-to-State relations. Shared values and growing economic links have enabled a closer strategic engagement.

Similarly, business and commerce also underpin our strategic partnership with the European Union. It must be our endeavour to ensure that economic and commercial links contribute to adding a strong and new element in our traditionally friendly relations with Russia. In fact, I believe that our strategic relationship with the Russian Federation can be greatly enriched by a greater focus on our bilateral economic relations. Even our approach to the wider Asian neighbourhood has been so influenced by economic factors. The countries of East and South-East Asia have become important economic partners for us and this has encouraged them to be more welcoming of us. Renewed cooperation in the economic field is giving a new profile to our relations with Japan, with aid and investment flows from Japan set to increase. Our concern for energy security has become an important element of our diplomacy and is shaping our relations with a range of countries across the globe, in West Asia, Central Asia, Africa and Latin America.

It is also interesting to note that the response of other countries to our national security concerns is being shaped by perceptions of business and economic opportunities. Countries that imposed sanctions on India when we declared ourselves a nuclear weapons power are building bridges with us, to utilize opportunities for mutual economic benefit. There is today growing recognition of India as a responsible nuclear power. We remain committed to our unilateral moratorium on testing, and our policy of no-first use. We reaffirm our willingness to work with the international community to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and to work towards the ultimate goal of universal nuclear disarmament.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Regrettably, however, South Asia has been slow to recognize the win-win aspect of economic cooperation. While India has a set of bilateral relationships with its neighbours that vary in both political and economic intensity, the mere lowering of tariffs and pruning of negative lists does not add up to creating relations of mutual benefit. Greater connectivity, both in transport and communication links, and through the opening up of transit routes can transform our sub-continent into a web of economic and commercial links. We can jointly create reciprocal dependencies for mutual benefit. So far this potentially benign process has been hobbled by narrow political calculations. We sincerely want to promote a sense of partnership and the vision of a common destiny in South Asia to realize the region’s latent potential.

None of us in South Asia can under-estimate the role of economic inter-dependence in international relations. The example of the European Union, ASEAN and APEC, NAFTA and other regional groups shows that the most dynamic economies of the world are creating such relationships for mutual benefit, regional security and peace. Indeed, we seek to be more closely engaged with such regional groups. Our links with each of these regions is both civilizational and contemporary, with people of Indian origin acting as a cultural bridge between our multi-cultural societies.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The idea that economic considerations play a role in shaping a Nation’s foreign policy is not new. We in India were alerted to this reality at our very birth as a Republic when Panditji first articulated his vision of Indian foreign policy in the Constituent Assembly legislature in December 1947. Panditji had said, and I quote:

"Talking of Foreign policies, the House must remember that these are not just empty struggles on a chess board. Behind them lie all manner of things. Ultimately, foreign policy is the outcome of economic policy ……….. It is well for us to say that we stand for peace and freedom and yet that does not convey much to anybody, except a pious hope. We do stand for peace and freedom ……………. Undoubtedly it has some substance, but a vague statement that we stand for peace and freedom by itself has no particular meaning, because every country is prepared to say the same thing, whether it means it or not. What then do we stand for? Well, you have to develop this argument in the economic field.”

I submit to you that India has indeed developed this argument in the economic field. Our foreign policy is of course shaped by our civilizational values and our commitment to peace and freedom. But, as Panditji said, it is equally shaped by our commitment to our economic development and to the development of all developing economies, within the framework of an open society and an open economy. It is shaped by our yearning to recover our lost space in the global economy and our economic status in the comity of Nations. It is shaped by our desire to build bridges with our neighbours and our economic partners. It is shaped by our firm and sincere commitment to a future of shared peace, freedom and development in our neighbourhood.

Such are the principles on which we should engage the world and our partners. India is destined to recover its due status in the world, but this process will be speeded up if we do what we must at home and build bridges of mutual inter-dependence with the world. I leave you with this thought as you proceed with the rest of your very interesting discussions and interactions with the distinguished speakers at your Conclave. I hope your efforts will throw more light on how we should deal with the challenges ahead.

Thank you and I wish your deliberations all success.

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