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Address by Shri Yashwant Sinha External Affairs Minister of India at INDIA TODAY CONCLAVE 2004, Building an Indian Century Session on “Geopolitics: What it takes to be a world power”

March 12, 2004

I am honoured and delighted to be here today.

Prime Minister Vajpayee has outlined in the inaugural speech his vision for the building of an Indian century, which I am sure, has inspired all of us. Permit me in this session to focus on the topic at hand, namely, what it takes to be a world power or in more specific terms, the emergence of India on the world stage as a major power.

Let me begin by stating that the term ‘Great Power’ or ‘Major Power’ should not be seen in its historical context but in a modern 21st century setting. In the past, a change in ‘power status’ of countries invariably occurred through wars. Any quest for power is therefore immediately identified with violence, genocide, hegemony and imperialism. We are all aware of the burning desire for world conquest with which Alexander the Great invaded Asia. The scramble for dominance amongst Western nations from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries and the terrible calamities that such pursuits brought upon the world, including on the aspirants themselves, is also well known.

It is important therefore that India distances itself from the conventional idea of power, as the ability of a nation to bend other nations to its will through coercive use of force. It is also essential to make clear at the very outset that India approaches the notion of power with an alternate vision and a deep consciousness of its responsibilities. There can be no other way for India.

India’s power capabilities are a guarantee of the freedom and security of its people who constitute one sixth of humanity. For us, power is a means of advancing the welfare of our people and a tool for preserving and consolidating the autonomy of our foreign and domestic policy. What India seeks is to bind every country and region to itself with the golden chain of mutual interest and trust. What we want is to enhance our capacity to leverage reciprocal benefits for common good. Moreover, as befits India’s history and the traditions of its post independence foreign policy, our pursuit of power is firmly anchored in an international mission aimed at eliminating the scourge of war, protecting international law, strengthening the U.N. and striving for a new deal for developing countries whose people constitute the large majority of the world.

What constitutes Power as far as the nations of the world are concerned? How does India perform in terms of various attributes of power? Academics divide power into two general categories - hard power and soft power. Hard power consists of elements such as military strength, economic resources and technological capacity. Soft power comprises culture, values, social cohesion, the quality of diplomacy and governance etc.

India’s recent achievements in terms of hard power are many. They include the development of a nuclear deterrent; military modernization; rapid economic growth with a rate expected to reach over 8 per cent this year; transition from a food deficit, aid receiving nation with limited foreign exchange reserves to a food exporter and aid giving nation with the sixth largest foreign exchange reserves in the world; major advances in areas of high technology and global recognition of India’s huge reservoir of young and world class human resources.

Traditionally, military might has been considered the most important of the various ingredients of power. The advent of the nuclear age and the rise of Japan and Germany based on their economic strength have however diluted the importance of military power in the overall calculus. Now, the use of force in naked pursuit of national interests is no longer a viable objective for moral as well as pragmatic reasons. Power in the 21st century will flow from the pores of a well-run economy. Prosperity and economic clout rather than war and aggression will be the key determinant of status in the world community.

India enjoys a critical advantage in this regard. 54% of its population is under 25 years of age. Our young are not only highly talented and ambitious but are also amongst those who save the highest, invest the largest and spend the most. As this generation ages gradually over the next few decades, savings, investment and spending will undergo a quantum jump, providing tremendous impetus to economic growth.

Friends, it has been argued by some that India’s decision to develop nuclear weapons was purely a political act aimed at enhancing its status in the world by breaking into the exclusive nuclear club. This is a fallacy. In a world where weapons of mass destruction are still to be eliminated, nuclear weapons sadly remain the ultimate guarantor of a nation’s security. It was the imposition of an imperfect non-proliferation order, evidence of which is all around us, that compelled us to make the transition from nuclear abstinence to that of a reluctant nuclear power. And, it was after we, as a nation, agonized over this issue for decades, that this Government finally took the plunge six years back.

After the tests of 1998, the first thing India did was to declare a No First Use policy and a unilateral ban on testing. It expressed willingness to enter into negotiations on an FMCT. Further, India has repeatedly reiterated its commitment to a complete and universal elimination of nuclear weapons. Despite attempts to politically isolate and economically weaken India, its response was to engage the leading nations of the world in patient dialogue. Cognizance must be taken of the fact that India is a mature nuclear power, which takes the responsibility of possessing this awesome capability very seriously.

To turn to soft power, India’s influence has spread far and wide since ancient times on the strength of our culture, religion and philosophy. As the land of Gandhi and as a nation that won its independence through a struggle unique in the annals of history, India has an international image that few others can claim. Similarly, our leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement, our contribution to virtually every major activity of the U.N., including over 36 peace keeping operations involving around 67,000 troops and our consistent espousal of the cause of developing countries is well recognized by the international community.

India’s track record as a democracy; the success we have achieved in welding together an extra-ordinarily large and diverse society into a nation, our fiercely independent judiciary and vibrant press also stand out in any international comparison. Moreover, yoga and Indian food, music, cinema, fashion, dance, writing etc. are all riding the high tide of globalization and winning new friends for India in far corners of the world. Needless to say, the success of our IITs and IT industry has spawned a novel stereotype of an Indian as a workaholic computer whiz kid. Ambitious forays into foreign lands by our trade and industry is also resulting in the slow but steady emergence of ‘Brand India’.

Three important aspects deserve further elaboration. Firstly, India is a unique model of democracy plus economic growth in the developing world. Further, if we can sustain current rates of economic growth, we will conclusively establish that rapid economic growth and democratic systems of governance are not alien to each other. The success of Indian democracy is important not only for its intrinsic worth but also because economic progress built on the foundation of popular participation and rule of law is likely to be much more sustainable. Moreover, as India’s developmental efforts take deeper root and we succeed in taking education, health and infrastructure to our rural areas, we will add significant new numbers to our scientific and technical work force and that in turn will impart further momentum to economic growth.

Friends, there is a silent revolution sweeping the Indian countryside. As a result of programmes such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, we can see today scores of young girls, marching early in the morning, many miles to the nearest school, in their smart uniforms even in far away villages. There can be no sight more inspiring and nothing can fill a person with greater faith in the future. More than any other factor, it is this revolution in rural development and women’s empowerment, which will catapult India to world status.

Secondly, the very fact that we are meeting here in a conclave that is discussing the building of an Indian Century and our specific focus on the question of what it takes to be a world power implies a major change in both political attitudes and objectives that the nation is setting for itself. Shifting from the self-perception of a weak developing country to that of a great power in the making constitutes a huge mental leap for India. Although Nehru saw the prospect of India becoming one of the six major power centres of the world, we somehow lost our way in the decades that followed and became limited in our political vision as well as inward looking in economic terms. This has changed. Today, the Indian Government as well as our business and industry are willing to both dream big and act bold.

And, this brings me to the third aspect, which relates to the field of diplomacy. It is my view that India’s foreign policy has never been as complete and comprehensive as it is today. Even in the heydays of non-alignment and when India, with little hard power to back it, strode tall on the world stage, we did not have today’s state of affairs, namely - good relations with virtually every country in the world.

Throughout the Cold War, we were estranged from the West in general and the U.S. in particular. Today, we enjoy a very good relationship with not only the United States but also all major Western powers. And, this has not been at the cost of our traditional friendship and strategic partnership with Russia or any other country, including our developing country partners of Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Further, we are now even thinking the unthinkable. Differences with China and Pakistan, which have festered for decades, are being addressed in a straightforward and pragmatic manner as never before. There is a new dynamic in South Asia with the signing of the SAFTA. SAARC is exploring how progress can be made towards an economic union, including a common currency. And, work has already commenced on transport and energy corridors that will criss-cross Asia with India as its hub.

The credit, ladies and gentlemen, for this extra-ordinary success goes entirely to Prime Minister Vajpayee. The Prime Minister, through his leadership and statesmanship, himself represents the different facets of India’s power.

Friends, in any discussion on a country like India emerging as a major power, it is but legitimate that we ask the question - can India afford this? Is this a conspiracy of the elite to divert attention from the realities of a poor country, teeming with problems? I have no hesitation whatsoever in responding that the Holy Grail cannot be that of India unless and until we address our domestic economic and social issues. These problems are an anchor on our ambitions and they must be conquered through conscious and determined national effort, not brushed under the carpet.

However, it must be noted by those who deride and mock India’s ambitions, that pursuit of power in the international community and the need to address pressing tasks at home are not exclusive of each other. Our efforts in the international and domestic fields complement and supplement each other, especially so in a globalized world. The speed with which we address our domestic challenges will add to our influence in the international community. Vice versa, the more we emerge as a power in the world, the more we will be able to contribute to the strengthening of our economy. For example, when India stands up on agriculture issues in the WTO, we fight to preserve the livelihood of millions of poor and indigent farmers. Similarly, our ability to withstand pressure from external sources, be it after the nuclear tests or on WTO issues, is a direct reflection of the overall power India enjoys in the global arena. Likewise, when India makes investments in the energy sector in Russia, Sudan, Vietnam and Myanmar, it not only enhances its presence in these countries but also increases energy flows back home, contributing in a direct manner to raising the living standards of our people.

Let me further assert. Unity and social harmony within the country is equally a sine qua non for India’s progress in the international arena. India’s biggest strength is its secular and multi cultural ethos. It is a matter of pride that India is home to every religion possible and all of them co-exist and flourish within it. The fact that India’s Muslim population is the second largest in the world and that its Christian minorities outnumber the entire population of many European countries is a badge of honour for us. To damage our heritage of tolerance and pluralism or to waver in upholding these principles is the biggest set back that can occur to our great power ambitions.

Finally, let me point out that while India has sought to change existing power equations in the global order, it has essentially been a status quo power that does not seek to upset the existing order through violent means. Even when the current order militates against India’s interests, it has striven only for gradual, peaceful and evolutionary change.

India does not resort to export of terrorism or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Of all the members of the Al Qaeda arrested so far, not one has been from India. We are not part of the NPT. But, we believe in and uphold the broader non-proliferation goals of the treaty, for its frailties and drawbacks affect us as well. We do not seek to snatch territory from others or re-write the history of our sub-continent. We criticize the developed world for its unfair economic policies. At the same time, we seek to engage the North in dialogue and to appeal to their reason and wisdom. India has repeatedly drawn attention to the undemocratic character of the permanent membership of the U.N. Security Council. But, that has never prevented us from working with the Security Council and its members in advancing the goals of the U.N. Similarly, we believe that the disproportionate dominance of a few countries in the running of international financial institutions must change. We continue, however, to effectively contribute to all activities of the IMF and the World Bank.

Friends, there is no doubt that the road ahead is long and arduous. Like all matters of international politics, the rise of India will depend not just on India’s actions but also on how the rest of the world responds to this development and the objective circumstances of the coming decades. Nevertheless, India has started a confident march in the right direction and we are determined to succeed in reaching our goal.

To sum up, India’s search for great power status is not an end in itself. It is but a means to improve the quality of life of her over one billion people. It is a pursuit anchored in the framework of India’s commitment to core universal values. As Prime Minister Vajpayee said earlier this morning, " We believe a stable equilibrium lies in a cooperative multi-polar world which accommodates the legitimate aspirations and interests of all its component poles. This is the world which India is committed to working for”.

As India emerges more and more on to the world stage, confidence, maturity and self-restraint will be the hallmark of its international behaviour. As a major power, the values that India will seek to spread in the world and the goals that we will strive to achieve will be the same values and goals that infuse its national and civilizational experience. India will always stand for democracy within and amongst countries. It will act as a pro-active agent of peace facilitating the pacific resolution of disputes. India will continue to strive for international equity and justice, particularly, in the economic field. It will be a champion of the free movement of goods, services and persons across national frontiers. We will work to build and strengthen international institutions so that they work effectively for the benefit of mankind. Be it the war against terrorism, the challenge of protecting our environment or dealing with HIV/AIDS and other pandemics, India as a major power will bring new energy and fresh initiative to international efforts. Finally, by combining democracy with economic growth and by successfully managing its pluralist society through an open, transparent and participative process, India is already setting an example to the rest of world.

To quote U.S. scholar George Perkovich from a recent article in The Washington Quarterly, "Democratically managing a society as big, populous, diverse, and culturally dynamic as India is a world historical challenge. If India can democratically lift all of its citizens to a decent quality of life without trampling on basic liberties and harming its neighbours, the Indian people will have accomplished perhaps the greatest success in human history.”

Friends, a new destiny awaits us once again. This century has begun well. Whether the world will label it the Indian century, now depends on each one of us.

Thank you.

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