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Mr. Inder Kr. Gujral

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"Bonds are many between India and Italy"

I.K. GUJRAL
August 21, 1998, ND

I have the most pleasant memories of my two visits to Italy as Prime Minister of India. It is well known that few capitals of the world capture the mind and imagination of a visitor as does Rome. I had unique opportunities to make friends, and to marvel again and again at the grandeur and splendour of Rome’s ancient but living heritage. We laid the foundation of long-term multifaceted cooperation between India and Italy. The new relationship was reinforced by the visit to India of the Prime Minister of Italy, Romano Prodi, in September 1997. Two years before, India had the pleasure and privilege to receive the President of the Italian Republic, Oscar Luigo Scalfarno.

Ancient and at the same time new. This description applies to our two countries. The two have just celebrated the Golden Jubilee of their liberation. India from two hundred years of imperialist rule. Italy from the grip of Mussolini’s fascism and the expansionism that was in integral part of that oppressive ideology. In fifty years, Italy has emerged as a leading member of the world’s fully industrialised community, and is now one of the enthusiastic champions of integration of Western Europe into a single economic entity. India stands at the threshold of industrialisation. It is a college of many contradictions like China and Brazil and indeed all developing countries that have been straining their minds and bodies to change their feudal-colonial societies into modern ones without the benefit of centuries that Europe has had in its development race. I dare say that India’s problems are better understood in Italy than in some other industrial and post-industrial countries of the West. India has mastered the highest technologies in certain areas as the nuclear tests and its space programme indicate. At the same time, India is the habitat of the world’s largest mass of poor people, some 300-400 million of them, and a gigantic cohort of youth which needs to be trained for skilled jobs and found gainful employment.

Contacts between India and Italy have many thousands of years of history. The Vedas, Upanishads, the great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata and the Bhagvat Geeta as well as the Gautama Buddha and Emperor Ashoka happened in India before or along with the Roman empire flourishing in Italy for a thousand years from 500 B.C. to 500 A.D. Both countries faced numerous aggressions by external forces. If you have Charlemagne and the Lombards footprinted in your early history, our history carries the ghastly memories of Ahmad Shah Durrani and Mohammad Ghouri'’ aggressive sweeps. As the Romans brought to Italy positive changes, so did the invasions of India of Darius from Persia and Alexander the Great from Greece. Much commerce and diplomacy flowed between India and what is now Italy in the classical times and even before. Traders, missionaries and travellers kept living contacts between India and Italy of the medieval times.

In modern times, the two countries’ history traversed different routes. For thousand of years, both countries were geographical expression. It is probably better to use the phrase civilisational instead of geographical in describing Italy and India of the pre-modern times. India, in the Aryan north and the Dravidian south, had many kingdoms and empires as Italy had its famous cities, States of Florence, Venice and Bologna. No empire in India lasted more than 300 years. Only two empires, the Gupta or Mauryan empire of the pre-Christian period and the Mughal empire of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the Chola, Pandya, Chalukya and Bahmani kingdoms and empires in the south have left their marks on the pages of Indian history with splendid mosques, temples and mausoleums. The great Renaissance flourished in Florence and Venice and, as historians have testified, created the Modern Man.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, India was given unified administration by the British to serve imperial interest. Italian unification took longer and a harsher course marked by many wars and conflicts in which a host of European governments were involved. Most of Italy was unified as an independent country for the first time in 1861 under a constitutional monarchy headed by King Victor Emmanuel-II. Twenty years later Rome was added to unified Italy and became its capital. However, popular figures in the modern history of Italy, especially Garibaldi and Mazzini became icons of the Indian nationalist movement for the role they played in unifying the small and often warring kingdoms of the Italian Peninsula and its island spread. Indians also cherish the great cultural figures of Italian history – Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, the clear scientific prose of Galelio, the works of Copernicus, father of modern astronomy (after whom an important avenue in Delhi is named), the ever-enduring Niccolo Machiavelli. Indeed, Italian paintings, sculpture, literature and cinema have made the country much better known to educated Indians then its political exploits. The humanist poetry and short stories of Petrarch and Boccaccio, the philosophical plays of Luigi Pirandello, and, in recent decades, the novels of Moravia and the great films of the realistic school have become part of the universlist cultural heritage of the Indian people.

The Italy that we know most and feel close to was born in 1947-48 when India was liberated from British rule. Both Republics have just celebrated their Golden Jubilees. Italy had to liberate itself from Benito Mussolini’s fascism and abandon for ever the expansionist policies of almost a hundred years, India and Italy had to wait for the end of the Cold War to be able to build creative and mutually beneficial bilateral relationship in political, economic, technological and cultural fields. I am happy to note that these relationships have flourished in the last decade, and our Republics are poised to enter the 21st century with commitments of unprecedented scales in their hitherto chequered relationship.

The experience of Italy after World War-II shows that governmental instability at the national level does not necessarily block a country’s emergence as an industrial power. Italy’s historical process has endowed the regions and provinces with a great deal of autonomy, and even in the long years when the Christian Democratic Party dominated national politics, the regions and provinces were ruled by a variety of political factions. Thus, though the Italian constitution created a unitary state, its political development followed much of the federal line. India’s evolution is destined to be somewhat similar. The long predominance of the Indian National Congress, the party and the movement that led the freedom struggle, came to an end at the turn of this decade, and the country is now governed by diverse political parties lending the republic a rainbow political colour. Southern Italy which has been mostly agrarian and the large island of Sicily have taken decades to industrialise. The Italian Left hewed its ideology more from Gramsci than from Marx and Lenin, and the Italian Communist Party, for a long time the premier communist faction in Western Europe, moved away from the binds of dogmatic leftism ahead of the other communist parties in the European democracies. Today it has mingled with the Italian political mainstream. Something on largely similar lines has happened to the Indian Left which is now firmly part of the political mileu of parliamentary democracy.

Each nation must learn from its political experience to renew itself from time to time. Here, Italy seems to have shown greater resilience than India. In recent years, Italian political parties agreed to revise the electoral system to bring about a mix of the PR and the winner-takes-all systems. This has lent stability to the government formed in Rome. Indeed, Italy is going through a process of constitutional reforms, which began with the passing of the constitutional bill. The focus is now on revising the second part of the 1948 constitution covering parliament, the President of the Republic, the government, the judiciary, the regions and provinces and the municipalities as well as the constitutional guarantees. A bicameral commission for constitutional reforms has already presented to the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate a federal draft.

I believe that we can learn much from the Italian exercise. The present government in New Delhi has on its agenda the setting up of a parliamentary committee to go into the question of constitutional reforms. India is a very diverse political society of many languages and cultures, and a population that is edging towards the billion mark. Fifty-one years of parliamentary democracy has created political awareness amongst the vast masses of our people, and given the long-deprived cultural groups new sub-national identities. Moreover, the federal spaces built into the Indian constitution have not been properly used in the right time. As a result, the parliamentary system framed after the Westminster model is now under multiple strains. I am sure that the basic resilience of the democratic process will rise to the demands of changed and changing times, and India too will, like, Italy, correct the faultlines of the present system in the light of half-a-century’s experience.

Humankind lives in an exciting period of globalisation with its attending challenges and risks and opportunities. Italy is now an integrated part of the European Union; it can draw upon the technologies and the market facilities of a large and highly developed region of the world. Most remarkably, Europe, which has been the engine of numerous wars of the last three or four centuries and of two World Wars in a single generation, will probably have to fight no more wars, at any rate not another World War. World Wars happened because the colonial powers imposed their own wars on their colonies without consulting them, without caring for the feelings and sentiments of their people. Western Europe is now on the road of emerging as a unified block of post-industrial nations with tremendously creative possibilities for the entire world provided united Europe’s abundant scientific and technological resources are used to build world peace and cooperation block by block, drawing to its fold the developing nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America, most of them passing through the most critical phases of their evolution since the exit of European colonialism.

India with its massive human resources and considerable natural wealth will inevitably emerge as one of the major powers of the 21st century. Our problems are diverse and will take many years to resolve. I do not subscribe to the post-Cold War geopolitical theories emanating from the two shores of the Atlantic. The world is multipolar, even when a single nation happens to be the most powerful one. Inspite of multiple differences and divides, the world is inevitably moving towards a single entity, though its realisation may take another fifty, even a hundred years. The most important gift of the 20th century is the liberation of the entire humankind from political bondage. Men and women in the developing world will be straining in the 21st century for liberation from the bondages of poverty, ignorance, ill-health and homelessness. A gigantic drama of human development is being enacted in India, China and other countries of Asia and Africa and Latin America. The drama has many gory acts, as well as many acts of peaceful flowering of the human mind and muscle.

I trust that it will be possible for India and Italy to join hands and minds to accelerate the pace of global human development. In field of economic and technological cooperation, our two countries have only made a beginning in working together. An annual trade turnover of $ 2.5 billion is nothing in comparison of the immense possibilities that lie ahead. We are hopefully moving towards countless ties of development – in energy, transportation, other areas of infrastructure, in industry and agriculture, in science and technology and art, literature, urbanisation and media development. Science and ethics was one of the important subjects discussed at an Indo-Italian seminar held in New Delhi in January this year. In my view, the central theme of Indo-Italian cooperation through the 21st century should be developed with ethics.

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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