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Speech by EAM at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas

January 08, 2009

His Excellency Dato’ Seri S. Samy Vellu, Guest of Honour,
Mr. Shashi Tharoor, Chairperson of this Plenary Session,
Mr. Sam Pitroda, Keynote Speaker,
Distinguished Panellists

Ladies & Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to, once again, be in your midst. Meeting and interacting with you is like an interaction with members of my family. There is so much to talk about, to share joys, to discuss concerns and more importantly, to decide how we can move forward. I have, therefore, always looked forward to meeting with the Indian diaspora and I make it a point to do so whenever I travel abroad. This annual function gives us the opportunity to look at issues with a global perspective in mind because the diaspora the world over is here for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.

There is increasing recognition of India’s growing importance in global affairs. We are mindful of the expectations this raises and of the pride that it has created among Indians, both resident and non-resident. The economic reforms that were initiated in 1991 and the various pro-active steps that have been undertaken in various other sectors have all coalesced to create the ambience for India to reach ‘the take-off’’ stage. Today, we can see a new found exuberance among Indians but this pride needs to be matched by humility as there is a long way for us to travel before we can truly achieve the swaraj that the Father of our Nation spoke of. Genuine swaraj, according to Gandhiji, was not simply freedom from oppressive colonial rule but freedom from hunger, from poverty and from deprivation. Genuine swaraj comes from genuine democracy because it leads to empowerment of the marginalized. It is for this reason that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has repeatedly emphasized that growth is only one part of the story and that the picture will only be complete when development accompanies growth. The UPA government has, accordingly, been emphatic on the need for growth to be inclusive so that the benefits of growth reach the majority of our people. Our commitment to this policy is total and complete and we have initiated a series of social and economic measures that would contribute towards greater inclusiveness.

In international meetings, as well, we have been emphatic on our insistence that the development agenda needs to be a global concern. This is the main reason why the multilateral trade negotiations under the Doha Development Round continue to remain unfinished. The position taken by India, which has the support of the developing and least developed countries, is that if development is not placed at the heart of the trade agenda, the promises of the Development Round would remain unfulfilled. India and all developing countries remain committed to the early and successful conclusion of a just and fair Development Round that takes into account the legitimate concerns of the majority of countries across the globe.

You are all persons of influence in your countries. For us, you are our ambassadors because it is through you that our voice is heard not only among civil society but also at high levels of political office in your country. I would, accordingly, urge you to take this message across to everyone: Tell them that all developing countries are fully committed to free trade but insist that it must also be fair. Tell them also that regrettably, with the global meltdown, we feel that there would be an increasing tendency among developed countries to adopt protectionist measures that would deny access to their markets for products from developing countries. In our view, protectionism is simply not the solution in tackling global recession. It is also important to bear in mind that the current global financial and economic crisis would severely and negatively impact on the vulnerable economies in developing countries. The message to the developed countries needs to be loud and clear: Unless we find a collective solution that keeps in mind the developmental concerns of the poor countries, the impact on the global economy will be devastating and long term. I am confident that if we dovetail and combine our efforts, our voice would be heard across the globe.

The fact that the diaspora can play an important role is demonstrated by the vigour and the success with which it campaigned for the India specific waiver that was granted earlier this year by the international community on the issue of civilian use of nuclear energy. I believe this was a historic achievement and one that all of us should rightly be proud of. It demonstrated the unique respect with which the international community holds India and how closely it listens to the voice of the non-resident Indian community. We are both appreciative and humbled by the gesture and would like to place on record the tremendous support that was extended to us by the Indian diaspora.

For many of you the question of identity: who are you, might bother you. You might be asking yourself the question: are you Indian or are you American or whatever might be your citizenship. Studies have shown that we can all have multiple identities:- be it as a father or as a professional or as a person of birth in another country. None of these multiple identities need to conflict with one another, especially in the case of India especially because of the universal values that India stands for.

Understandably, many ask: What is India? Quite frankly, I believe that each and everyone of us will have his or her own ‘definition’ of the idea that is India. For me, India is so much and yet, so much more! I have sought answers in her mountains and rivers, in her people, in her music and in her villages. Every time I have come out with a better understanding of India, because in each of these India thrives.

I believe firmly that India is what her people are! She is resilient, she is inspiring, she is eternal. Especially when she is mauled and savaged. Where she finds the inner strength from, I do not know. But, she does.

A little over a month ago, Mumbai was attacked. Terrorist strikes in India are not unique or new. Yet, this attack in Mumbai will stand out because of the unique nature of its operation. Unlike what happened in Kabul where the Indian embassy was targeted through a suicide bomb blast, this will remain in the annals of international terrorist attacks as unique, because of the fact that a number of terrorists not only carried out a series of murderous attacks in multiple locations but because they chose to end their lives in an extended manner and not through a suicide attack. I believe this to be the singularly unique terrorist strike since 9/11 and hence, I believe that it is important that anti-terrorist wings in all countries take cognizance of this operation and bring the perpetrators to justice. Let us not forget that terrorism knows no borders. All of us are vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

Our job has been vastly facilitated by virtue of the fact that we have one of the terrorists in physical custody. He has told us quite categorically where he comes from, where he has received military and arms training from and where his handlers are located. Unfortunately, despite this, we have seen a consistent flip-flop in the reaction of the government in Islamabad.

The recent attacks in Mumbai brought about a huge international reaction: both anger at what happened in terms of the ‘external hand’ and sorrow at the number of persons who had died. We are deeply grateful for the sympathy that poured out of all quarters, including at the level of common people. At the same time, after over a month of the operation there continues to be recalcitrance in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

In the words of the famous 16th century metaphysical poet John Donne, "no man is an island…….. every man’s death diminishes me.” When death is caused by terrorism, I say to you all, it diminishes mankind.

I speak to you today as you are members of my family. A time has come to send a message out to all our friends and well-wishers: we are grateful to you all for your words of sympathy and of encouragement, but we expect you to do much more, especially because terrorism is a global problem. As our ambassadors abroad, your words will be heard in multiple corners of the globe. I call upon all of you to join us in playing the important role of taking forward our concerns to the world stage because these are concerns that you also share. Today India stands on the threshold of historic changes through its commitment to an agenda of inclusive growth; the objective of these terrorist strikes is to shake our resolve, to turn India’s attention to other things. Let me say to you: India is capable of handling multiple challenges. Yet, let us not forget that India can succeed in her journey only if this kind of sponsored terrorism is resoundingly defeated, financially, monetarily, militarily and politically.

Thank you.

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