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Remarks by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh at the Launching of UN Democracy Fund

September 14, 2005

"I am honoured to be present here with President Bush and Secretary General Kofi Annan and other leaders at the launch of the UN Democracy Fund. This was proposed by President Bush at the UN General Assembly last year and has received widespread acclaim. Its relevance is underscored by its becoming a concrete reality in just a year’s time.

May I take this opportunity to express our solidarity with the people of New Orleans and other regions, devastated by the destructive fury of Hurricane Katrina? Mr. President, you have our sympathies and support in your efforts to bring relief and succour to the people affected by this disaster.

Excellencies, India is proud of its democratic heritage which is rooted in the country’s cultural ethos of tolerance, respect for different view points and a ready embrace of diversity. Mahatma Gandhi led us into a non-violent struggle not only to free India from colonial rule but to also ensure to our people the exercise of their democratic rights. To him it was clear that the end to colonial rule would mean very little unless the broad masses of the people of India were empowered with democracy. We were also inspired by the ideals of freedom, equality and justice that were the hallmarks of the great French and American revolutions. India’s awakening to freedom, in turn, inspired freedom movements in Asia and Africa. A whole family of independent and proud nations took their place on the world stage. India sympathized with and supported their struggle to become masters of their own destiny. For us, the democratic ideal is a common heritage of mankind. Those fortunate to enjoy its fruits have a responsibility to share its benefits with others.

As the world’s largest democracy, it is natural that India should have been among the first to welcome and support the concept of a UN Democracy Fund. We believe that democracy based on universal adult suffrage empowers the most humble citizen of our country and give him a sense of dignity. Poverty, illiteracy or socio-economic backwardness do not hinder the exercise of democracy. Quite the contrary, our experience of more than 50 years of democratic rule demonstrates how democracy is a most powerful tool to successfully overcome the challenge of development. But most of all, democracy alone gives the assurance that the developmental aspirations of the poorest citizens of our society will be taken into consideration. This above all, is the unique strength of a democratic system.

Democracy is a powerful ideal, but its successful exercise requires strong and enduring institutions, laws and procedures and the development of a parliamentary culture, whose essence is the accountability of those in authority to the ordinary citizens of the country. A strong and independent judiciary, a free press, professional civil and military establishments, constitutionally empowered institutions to safeguard the rights of minorities, of women and children and an independent electoral mechanism; these constitute the veritable nuts and bolts of democracy. There is also the critical aspect of education. The culture of democracy or the democratic temperament must be imbibed by citizens from a very early age. They must become aware of both their rights as individuals, but also their responsibilities and obligations as citizens.

Excellencies, we welcome the launch of the UN Democracy Fund, because it gives us an instrument to build the institutional and human capabilities that are necessary to underpin the successful exercise of democracy. India has been sharing its rich experience, institutional capabilities and training infrastructure with nations that share our values and beliefs and request our assistance. We are prepared to do much more, both as active participants in the Democracy Fund and in the Community of Democracies.

In this connection, I wish to announce that we will soon by establishing a virtual centre on the internet for providing information on democracy and a forum for the exchange of experience. We intend to harness new and innovative technologies, including distance learning and satellite networks, in the endeavour. We welcome partners in this initiative.

Excellencies, we live in an age of globalization which is bringing new opportunities each day in our quest to overcome the age-old challenges of poverty, ignorance and disease. If we wish to ensure that the relentless advance of globalization does not leave, in its wake, large pools of the dispossessed, then we must empower the voiceless. Only democracy can ensure that they, too, become stakeholders in a millennium of peace and prosperity that we, in the United Nations, seek to accomplish.”

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