Bio-Profile :
Mr. Inder Kr. Gujral

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Mrs. Shiela Gujral

Excerpts from the book "A Foreign Policy for India"

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Article for the special issue of internationa social sciences
journal "The world summit on Social Development making
a difference in the New Millennium

I. K. GUJRAL

 

Disturbing Omens in the World Economy Towards finding
a response
Good Governance
and the Rule of Law
Human Development as a basic requirement The Indian
Experience

 

The 1995 Copenhagen Summit was a turning point in the world’s perceptions regarding development. For a long time the thinkers and political leaders had not assigned the needed attention to what is now being called, "development with a human face". For the first time, the international community focused on making material improvements in important but often neglected areas of social concern, such as education, literacy, the rights of women, the condition of the poorest, amongst various other things. Even though the WSSD stood out for its bold commitment to eradicate poverty and eliminate hunger at the earliest possible, it was not linked with the needed emphasis on democracy. I am happy that Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen is focusing on it. I do recognise the importance of the substantive contributions that were made at Copenhagen which still overshadow my mind. The immense symbolism of the summit - the very fact that leaders from around the world, the powerful and the powerless, the rich as well as the poor, jointly affirmed their commitment to improve the human condition, in particular by redressing inequities and acknowledged the needs and requirements of the underprivileged. This made the conference, for a few fleeting moments, a vivid symbol of a single world, which for all its divisions and great variations in the power, wealth and reach of individual nations, was nevertheless bound together by the spellet common goals and a shared dream.

The Summit told us that idealism was still alive, that people of the world had a shared destiny and that we were all in this together. Five years on, one is somehow not too sure. The sentiment that infused the Copenhagen Summit with life and meaning seems to have dimmed, as the developed and developing worlds drift further apart into two separate halves, like partners in a soured marriage, trapped in mutual incomprehension and mutual distrust. Let me consider some of the principal developments that have taken place in the economic sphere since 1995, particularly in the last year or two.

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Disturbing Omens in the World Economy

For one, Asia is yet to recover from the crisis of 1997/1998 which saw the Tiger economies of the East and South East Asia that were cited as role models, bite the dust. Indonesia, Thailand, Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines - nations that proudly counted themselves as part of the Asian miracle - were all of a sudden, without much advance warning, infected by an economic contagion of unprecedented magnitude, one which has ravaged the lives and livelihood of hundreds of millions of people in these countries. This was the severest economic contraction this region has ever known and it was particularly severe on the middle classes which have been decimated by this crisis. The consequent political crisis has already claimed at least four governments (Thailand, Indonesia, Korea and Japan) while destabilising a fifth (Malaysia). The Chinese economy many fear, may be the next domino to fall, an eventuality which has the potential to trigger a relapse in the rest of Asia.

Two, the situation outside of Asia is not very much better. The Russian economy is in turmoil together with much of East Europe and Central Asia. In Latin America, the largest economy - that of Brazil - is in trouble and even for the rest of the region it is said the choice is between ‘slowdown’ and ‘meltdown’.

Three, Over the past twelve months alone, over half a dozen of the worlds major economies have been compelled to seek the help of the IMF/World Bank. These include Korea, Brazil, Indonesia, Russia, Thailand and Pakistan. The amounts involved in the IMF financial packages are larger than they have ever been in the past, ranging from $57 billion (for Korea) and $40 billion (Indonesia), to $17 billion (Thailand) and this does not seem to be end of the story since no significant upturn is even foreseen in the fortunes of Asia until the middle or end of 1999. One can safely assume that the rest of the world’s developing regions will likewise continue to suffer economic misery into the foreseeable future.

The growing gulf between the two, the developed and the developing worlds and the secession of the rich into an insular orbit all of their own, find reflection in various statistics. Development aid has already fallen to an all time low. Recently released OECD statistics show that ODA has fallen to a record low of 0.22% of the GDP of the developed world, which is well below the historical norm of .33% which prevailed prior to 1992, and a small fraction of the 0.7% of GDP figure which was the agreed target in the United Nations. The decline in concessional lending had in the Nineties been to some extent offset by an increase in private investment and capital flows. However, even these private investment flows have now gone into reverse gear, and, according to the Institute for International Finance, commercial bank lending to developing nations plunged from 121 billion dollars in 1997 to a negative flow of 10 billion dollars in 1998. It may now make one feel that the North no longer looks upon the South as bankable and in consequence, private capital flows from the developed world to the developing world have all but dried up. As a consequence, most countries are repaying more in past loans than they are receiving in terms of fresh lending.

This is the reality on the ground. I do not think it would be far wrong to assume that if there is no talk of a general economic crisis as yet, this is only because the United States and Europe - the developed world, in other words - are unaffected, for the present, from the ongoing economic turmoil. This cannot obscure the fact that a majority of the countries that constitute the developing world are in economic decline or distress of some kind. In the developed countries however, there is no particular concern. The prevailing sentiment it cynically seems, is that as long as the New York and London stock markets remain strong, there is no real global crisis. It were as if the developed and developing world after an unhappy and uneasy cohabitation have decided to divorce and go their own separate ways, segregating the world economy into two separate and impermeable entities, one close to subsistence, the other in tenuous and insecure prosperity, each unable and unwilling to comprehend or coexist or collaborate with the other. This is not a happy augury for the future.

It is critical, to my mind, that these trends are reversed. We cannot divide the world into two halves. For it is neither in the interests of the developed world or the developing world that this happens. Both need each other if the world as a whole is going to grow and prosper. I think it is incumbent on all of us who applauded the Copenhagen spirit to find ways and means to reverse this unhelpful and unhealthy drift.

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Towards finding a response

A good part of the responsibility for the current situation falls on the developing countries themselves. We have to introspect and dispassionately regard our own strengths and weaknesses, if we are serious about improving our situation. Sometimes there is a tendency to blame outsiders for all our shortcomings. However, by claiming perfection we are only saying that we are beyond improvement, and that is not a very hopeful message for anyone. A balanced approach is necessary.

A very perceptive comment was made about the plight of the developing societies by a senior Minister of a prominent South Asian nation and I would like to reproduce here from what he observed, "(Our) persistent underdevelopment", Mr. Ahsan Iqbal of Pakistan notes, "can no longer be explained by a low endowment of physical capital, but by a low capacity to maintain and operate that capital effectively; not by a lack of institutions but by dearth of standards of behaviour that enable these institutions to perform effectively; not by an ignorance of good policies (although many policies were less than ideal), but by the inability to implement such policies effectively; not by the paucity of laws but by the absence of norms of conduct that prevent the misuse of laws."

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has recently pointed out, "The recent problems of East and South-East Asia bring out, among other things, the penalty of undemocratic governance. This is so in two striking respects. First, the development of the financial crisis in some of these economies (including South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia) has been closely linked with the lack of transparency in business, in particular the lack of public participation in reviewing financial arrangements. The absence of an effective democratic forum has been consequential in this failing. Second, once the financial crisis led to a general economic recession, the protective power of democracy - not unlike that which prevents famines in democratic countries - was badly missed in some countries, such as Indonesia and Thailand. The newly dispossessed did not have the hearing they needed."

There are, as such frank analysis would suggest, a number of internal hurdles that have to be overcome to make our development goals attainable. The problem revolves around the systems and styles of governance that normally prevail in developing societies. At the risk of oversimplifying the problem, I would venture to say that the crisis of the poor countries is, in the first instance, a crisis of the elites of these countries, their insularity and narrow-sightedness. The unfortunate reality is that the elites of the developing world have had a comfortable time, many have prospered, even as the common man has languished in want, hunger and poverty. In very few developing countries does one find that the ruling elites have really identified and made common cause with their own people.

I do think that it is time therefore, that the elites of the developing world were called to make their political systems genuinely equitable that would in turn hold them accountable and make their contribution larger towards the welfare of their own people. In pursuit of this objective, may I suggest that it is time that the international forums created a climate whereby certain binding norms and standards for good governance come to be accepted and established.

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Good Governance and the Rule of Law

What would be the key elements of this "good governance"? I think a few can quite clearly be identified.

Good governance lies firstly in the rule of Law. If I were asked to identify what element, more than anything else, makes up the inner core of democracy, the central feature that distinguishes a progressive, modern minded society from a backward, medieval society, I would say quite categorically that it is the rule of Law. Here, the essential principle is that the basic law of society vests not in some human diktat, but on natural, or divinely ordained wisdom which some call natural justice, others Truth, others Morality. Cicero, the great philosopher of Republican Rome had described it as follows: " The Law is not a product of human thought, nor is it an enactment of some peoples, but something universal which rules the whole world by its wisdom in command and prohibition."

It is this basic Law, whatever name one might give it, that is the best guarantee for the common good and the welfare of the nation, and so has it been since the beginning of history. Some two thousand five hundred years ago, in Mahabharata, the great India epic of statecraft it was written that, "Governance is rooted in the Truth, and the people are rooted in governance".

It is the impartial workings of the rule of Law which give dignity to the weak and justice to the powerless. It is the rule of Law that ensures the separation of powers and stands guard against the arbitrariness of absolute rule. It is the rule of Law which protects individual freedoms and civil liberties, and frees the human spirit to search for excellence. Without the protection of the rule of Law, a democracy can quickly descend from majority rule to mob rule. There are enough examples, even in today’s world, to warn us that a society that lacks the rule of the Law, will eventually have the Law of the jungle, where might is right and those with the guns set the rules.

It is the duty of civil society everywhere in the world to ensure that the rule of the Law is maintained, that power is not unduly concentrated and that all civil liberties and human rights are given the fullest of protection. Those who wield executive power have particular responsibility to uphold the rule of Law and the civil institutions and liberties that go hand in hand with them. The subversion of the law, by those charged with maintaining the law are the very anathema of civilized conduct in a democracy. This, I would like to emphasize is true not only nationally, within nations, but internationally, amongst nations, as well.

Codes of conduct can only be maintained by the example and encouragement of those vested with power and authority. When those who have been vested with this power and authority act in brash arrogance and in cavalier disregard to the spirit of international Law or against the public sentiment, then this only creates a climate of general lawlessness which in the long rung creates more problems than it solves. I would say therefore that it is the particular responsibility of leading nations and international agencies to set an example, not just of legally tenable behaviour but appropriate behaviour. As responsible members of the international community, no nation or nations should seek to impose or prescribe norms and standards upon others, unless they are scrupulously adhering to such norms and standards themselves. Democracy places a special responsibility and special restraint on the rich and the powerful, and unless these vital but voluntary obligations are met, no democracy can really flower.

The second feature of good governance is to have special regards for the disadvantaged and the weak. There is no civilised society that does not go out of its way to protect its weaker, more disadvantaged members. Ultimately if there is a yardstick to assess the strength and durability of a civilization it is not in the arms and armaments that it possesses, but in the courtesy and compassion with which it treats it most disadvantaged and powerless citizens. This is one of the more enduring lessons of history, the fact that every great society, throughout history has been built upon the bedrock of basic human rights and values. These include civil and political rights such as the right to life, liberty and security, to hold property, the right not to be discriminated against, the right to vote, to freedom of speech and freedom of press, protection of arbitrary invasion of privacy, family or home, etc. In the contemporary world it has also come to be recognised that the scope of human rights cannot exclude crucial social, economic and cultural rights, including most prominently the right to development, and the rights of minority and disadvantaged groups ( such as minorities, women, children and tribal folk).

Thirdly, good governance implies tolerance, the broadmindedness which allows us to accept and embrace diversity and to see the essential unity of the Universe in the rainbow colours of contrasting truths and beliefs. Those who practice tolerance show the courage and conviction of their own essential beliefs for as, Mahatma Gandhi had said, " If we want to cultivate the true spirit of democracy we cannot afford to be intolerant. Intolerance betrays a lack of faith in one’s cause".

Just as tolerance and democracy go hand in hand so are tolerance and openness essential for progress. A curious but constant feature of history is the fact that heretics have made far larger contribution to the progress of the world than those who stuck to the comfortable groove of narrow conformity. Today’s heresy often turns out to be tomorrow’s truth. Shutting the door to dissent is foolhardiness for it amounts to closing one of the main avenues of innovation and improvement. If dissent had been shut out, we would still be believing that the world was flat and that it was the sun that circled around the earth. This is not exactly a recipe for great socio-economic progress, and the tendency to close our minds to new ideas and hard truth is a failing that developing countries particularly must constantly be on guard against.

Good governance means self reliance. I mean self reliance not in the sense of a political slogan but self reliance in the sense of an assertive self-confidence that is inculcated in the hearts and minds of each and every citizen. Self-reliance means essentially to have belief in oneself but neither conceit not arrogance but to find the means to ones own growth within oneself without seeking props and short cuts such as the charity of others or the support of the State.

Finally, I would say democracy means openness. It means to keep an open mind to new ideas and new influences and the winds of change. No society has grown to greatness behind closed doors. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India and the chief architect of India’s foreign policy was a keen student of history and he was convinced that openness was an essential part of the growth of any nation. He was firm in keeping India away from the path of isolationism, for as he observed, "Isolation means in future the death and ruin of the country. To every great country however big, isolation means standing apart from the world. It means falling behind while the world progresses".

It is these five principle that I think constitute the essence of "good governance". And if these measures can become the part and parcel the daily governance of our societies, I think we would have made up for a good part of the institutional weakness that inhibits the development and growth of our societies.

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Human Development as a basic requirement

But "good governance" is just the beginning. We have also to cast aside some of our failed developmental models and evolve anew paradigm of development. It is acknowledged nowadays that the most valuable resource of any society are, its people. Far more important than its material or natural resources are a society’s human resources. Its wealth and prosperity will generally depend upon how effectively it uses their human resource. A developed society is one that has successfully nurtured and made the best use of its given endowment of human talents, skills and resources. Underdevelopment, conversely represents negations or wastage of a nation’s human resources, and injury which not only weakens the developing nation concerned, but also diminishes the collective capability of mankind and so impoverishes the world as a whole. It is the human spirit that has somehow to be harnessed and the focus of global development efforts has to be focused upon ways and means of best realising and productively utilizing the abundant human energies, resources and talents of the developing nations, which for a variety of reasons, lie dormant and suppressed at the present time.

Good governance is part of the answer. The other part of the answer would stem from imparting education, training and skills on demand to the young and upcoming citizens of the developing world. Human development, in other words has to be the core of our efforts and the most effective means of realizing this goal is to redouble our efforts in the fields of literacy, education and training. The World summit on Social Development had indeed identified the goal of universal and equitable access to quality education for all citizens. To this end the Member States have committed themselves to the implementation of national strategies for the eradication of illiteracy and the universalisation of basic education, improving the quality of education, taking affirmative steps to enable all children to complete primary, secondary, vocational and higher education. While ensuring full and equal access to education for girls and women, as the case may be. I have, no doubt, that this approach steadfastly pursued holds the promise of great success and we must re-dedicate ourselves to these objectives, while finding ways and means to strengthen commitments and priorities in this area.

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The Indian Experience

The more I consider this matter, the more I am convinced that it is education and learning that offers solutions for the future. The fact of the matter is that in today’s world, commodities and materials are in abundant supply. Whether one considers steel or oil or automobiles or ships or computer chips or telecom lines, the fact of the matter is that all these products and, like most others, are often in over supply. On the other hand, the item that is in perpetual scarcity and short supply is human learning and ingenuity, in particular, the skills and talents of well-educated and trained professionals. Whether it is computer programmers or systems analysts, whether it is designers or engineers or surgeons or doctors, professionals with any degree or skill and competence in their respective fields command a significant scarcity value and their earnings and remuneration levels are increasingly reflecting these scarcities.

In India, we have, of late begun to benefit from the development of our human resources. Young Indians who are trained in new areas such as software programming, computer sciences, the medical or engineering fields or other similar high-tech areas have done themselves and India proud by excelling in their chosen fields. Today, the single largest foreign exchange earner for India are the earnings of her skilled people, whether they are computer programmers or software specialists based in India, or doctors or engineers or professionals living abroad. The earnings of Indians, talented and highly mobile professionals are the fastest growing source and the largest single contributor to India’s foreign exchange reserves.

The imprint that Indian’s professionals have made in the international arena can be duplicated by developing countries around the world to the benefit of themselves and the world economy as a whole. It is time that the international community made a concerted effort to improve education, skills and talents that the developing countries are blessed with but which, due to the unfortunate circumstances and myopic policies of these countries have removed lying suppressed and dormant. If we are even partially successful in our efforts this would unleash a new era of global growth and development which would benefit all countries, both in the developing and the developed world. It would generate vast employment opportunities and increase social cohesion and unit not only in the developing countries themselves but would serve to reunited the developed and the developing worlds.

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Bio-Profile :
Mr. Inder Kr. Gujral

Bio-Profile :
Mrs. Shiela Gujral

Excerpts from the book "A Foreign Policy for India"

Selected Speeches

Latest Articles