Bio-Profile :
Mr. Inder Kr. Gujral

Bio-Profile :
Mrs. Shiela Gujral

Excerpts from the book "A Foreign Policy for India"

Selected Speeches

Latest Articles


"Foreign Policy Objectives of India’s United Front Government"

Address by Mr.I.K. Gujral, External Affairs Minister, at Chatham House, London, on 23rd September 1996

I am deeply conscious of the honour given to India and me, with this opportunity to speak to a very distinguished gathering at this historic hall which has heard a long line of statesmen. It is a proud occasion for me to bring to the edge of your imagination the image of the world’s largest democracy where nearly a billion people are engaged in a unique political and social experiment which has aptly been described as the ‘Indian Enterprise’. Some of you have first hand knowledge and experience of India. The Raj, I am told, still has a powerful nostalgia for some in Britain, who would still see India with the lenses of the empire. Most Indians themselves find in their homeland many signatures of its colonial time. Indeed, India of the 20th century is a memorable record of the triumph and tragedy of the Indian people involved in the most significant engagement in their long history – the struggle for Independence and the challenges that followed the achievement of that goal. My own adult life began when India was still struggling for Independence, and in a small way I was involved in that struggle. Most of my adult life has witnessed the ups and downs of the Indian Enterprise, the epic effort to erect a democratic republic on a soil that was largely feudal and traditional, with a people divided by many languages and cultures and yet bound together in numerous bonds of togetherness. My generation in India instinctively looks back to the past to get a measure of the future and perhaps that is how it should be, for did not Edmund Burke truly say "People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors".

So when you ask me to speak of the Foreign Policy of the new Government of India, I have to take you briefly down the memory lane to the inauguration of Independent India’s Foreign Policy by Jawaharlal Nehru, and the course Indian diplomacy has tried to chart over the last 49 years. India’s Independence changed the old world over which Europe ruled, brought to an end what a noted Indian historian called the Vasco da Gama age in history. India was born as an Independent sovereign State in the midst of the Cold War. Jawaharlal Nehru conceived of the doctrine of Non-Alignment which India continues to wear as a badge of identity and honour. Non-Alignment was derided and ridiculed initially. But, to us, it meant independence to decision-making. It meant independence of mind and autonomy of choice. It has provided the valuable strand of continuity in India’s Foreign Policy. The mind that determined in the 50s to stay away from the global power divide and plough an independent, if at times lonely, furrow in the affairs of humankind, recently determined to stay out of the so-called ‘Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty’ or CTBT because it did not even touch the central issue of ridding the world of the curse of nuclear weapons. Independence of mind and autonomy of action, then has been the hallmark of Indian Foreign Policy as much with the first Indian Government headed by Jawaharlal Nehru as with the new Indian Government headed by a farmer from the Southern State of Karnataka, Deve Gowda whose Foreign Minister I have the privilege to be.

Of course, between the time of Nehru and the time of the United Front Government, much water has flown down the hundreds of rivers that wash the Indian earth. It is to the credit of the people of India, millions of whom are still unlettered and inadequately fed and sheltered, that democracy has not only survived in our ancient land, it has taken roots in our soil, it has extended its frontier to villages. In a short span of 49 years, there is a vibrant, viable, enduring political system supporting the world’s largest emerging market.

The passage of Indian democracy has been far from smooth. It has had many ups and downs. There was the Emergency when for some 18 months the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution were suspended. India has been governed for the far greater part of 49 years by a single dominant party, the Congress Party in its two incarnations. It has been assailed by insurgency, armed rebellion, often aided and abetted by external powers. It still has large areas of darkness….the 20 per cent that is absolutely poor, perhaps another 20 per cent who do not have what we know to be conditions of civilized living. It has had to live with great traumas, like the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, and of two successive Prime Ministers in a single decade. However, it has elected eleven Parliaments in polls largely fair and peaceful considering the size of the electorate – 500 million, or larger than the entire population of Europe.

In the election of May last, the voters denied the two large parties, the Congress and the BJP, the mandate to govern. Many observers at home and abroad jumped to the conclusion that India was thrust to the brink of chronic instability and was becoming ungovernable. But as many as 13 parties came together, some of them regional parties, carpented the United Front, and formed the Government in Delhi. This Government has in less than four months captured the imagination of not only the people of India, but also of South Asia and many countries in the West. It has embarked on a bold programme of political reforms to eliminate abuse of power and corruption in high places, to clean up the process of election and to empower the poor as well as women. I may mention just one of the empowering measures undertaken by the Government. A Select Committee of Parliament has before it a legislation that, when enacted in next Parliamentary session, will make it mandatory for all directly elected bodies from the Lok Sabha, the Lower House of Parliament, down to the State Legislatures to have women for one third of their Members. How many developed countries have a comparable record of women’s empowerment? Another legislation now before parliament proposes to set up a mechanism to monitor and check corruption even in the highest echelons of the Government.

I have treated you to a shorthand sketch of India’s evolutions as a democracy and of the new Government that was formed last May. I also make it clear that although it is a minority Government and depends on the support of the Congress Party for its survival, the United Front Government is not a weak Government. Indeed, its political will has proven to be much stronger than that of the single party regime. It is moving forward with liberalization of the economy aimed at drawing US$ 10 billion of foreign investment a year in comparison to just about US $ 2 billion plus a year so far. It is a Government with the largest direct participation of more than a dozen Political Parties spanning the entire country. These Political Parties, some national, others regional, cover the largest segment of the political spectrum. It is a Centre-Left combination which is guided by a Common Minimum Programme which serves as a live manifesto guiding its legislative and executive programmes.

The United Front Government has brought about a political balance between India’s North and South after nearly 15 years of imbalance. There is less internal political tension today than at any time in the last 20 years. The secular forces are stronger than the forces of religious fundamentalism which themselves have become mellower in the face of a non-confrontationist style of domestic politics. Above all, India has now a federal coalition bringing to life the hitherto unused federal fineries of the Indian Constitution. And this seminal change has taken place without a predetermined design, even without much of a political discourse; it has happened because the voters wished it to happen. When I contemplate Indian democracy, I am reminded of what the great sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein said about his creation "Genesis". "My Genesis, with her fruitful womb, confronts our enfeebled generation. Within her man takes on new hope for the future". So do a billion people of India from the "Genesis" of their own creation and given the name of Democracy.

The principal objective of the foreign policy of the United Front Government is to further strengthen India’s democracy, with all round economic and social development with justice and equity. We have sculped the logo for our foreign policy which is WITH NO BAGGAGE OF THE PAST, WITH A HAND OF FRIENDSHIP STRETCHED OUT TO EVERY NATION OF THE EARTH.

With this logo we have started to reshape India’s relations with its neighbours. For four months, the Indian Government has not reacted to any last or blister thrown at it from a not so friendly neighbour. Prime Minister Deve Gowda did make a handsome response to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s offer to hold talks with us as soon as the United Front took over the reigns of Government. He offered to talk about the entire gamut of India Pakistan relations including those issues on which the two countries held different views. That obviously meant Kashmir and issues like nuclear capability and missiles. While we are waiting for Islamabad’s readiness to resume talks, we have unilaterally taken several measures to improve the relationship at the people-to-people levels.

At the same time, we have proceeded to hold Parliamentary and State elections in the State of Jammu & Kashmir, which the insurgency thus had inhibited for a long spell of time. We have pledged to grant the State of Jammu & Kashmir a large quantum of autonomy after friendly negotiations with the popularly elected State Government. It is our fervent hope that when the post election situation in the State of Jammu & Kashmire settles down, Prime Minister Bhutto, for whom I have great respect, will agree to resume the dialogue with India. At the same time, trade and business relations between the two countries will go on steadily expanding as the South Asian Preferential Trade Agreement comes into effect by the end of this year.

I am glad to say that our relations with Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are now falling into the pattern of multi-level regional cooperation. In my recent visit to Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, I was able to pull out some of the thorns in the side of Indo-Bangladesh relations. I promised to expeditiously resolve the differences about sharing of the waters of the Ganga between the two countries. Political change in Bangladesh coincided with political change in India and it is my hope that with the full cooperation of Bangladesh, it will be possible for us in India to develop not only the neglected region in India’s North-East frontier but also the adjoining areas of Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. The partition of the sub-continent put back the economy of North-Eastern India by a quarter century as it lost its markets, transit routes and arteries of communication and entrepot, Chittagong, to become an all but landlocked cul-de-sac. By conceding transit to be the sovereign right of Bangladesh, it was possible for us to fertilize the mind of that country about how to make the best use of transit facilities for its own economic and social development.

As you know the Indo-Nepal relations are historically unique. We have open borders and the Nepali citizens are free to live and work in India. With the just endorsed Mahakali Treaty, the Indo-Nepal relationship has covered more mileage. India will continue to work with Nepal more or less on Nepal’s own terms. In the meantime, we have conceded Nepal’s request for a still wider access to the Indian market, for transit through Bangladesh to South East Asia and the Far East. We have likewise extended the maximum cooperation to Sri Lanka towards restoring peace and stability in its northern and eastern provinces as well as in the area of economic and technological cooperation.

The United Front Government’s neighbourhood policy now stands on five basic principles: First, with the neighbours like Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka, India does not ask for reciprocity but gives all that it can in good faith and trust. Secondly, no South Asian country will allow its territory to be used against the interest of another country of the region. Thirdly, none will interfere in the internal affairs of another. Fourthly, all South Asian countries must respect each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. And finally, they will settle all their disputes through peaceful bilateral negotiations. These five principles, scrupulously observed, will, I am sure, recast South Asia’s regional relationship, including the tormented relationship between India and Pakistan, in a friendly, cooperative mould.

With the status of a full Dialogue Partner, India has now embarked on building a development partnership with ASEAN and is looking forward to membership of the Asia-Pacific Economic Community (APEC). Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia have now sizeable investments in the Indian economy. We have developed an excellent developmental partnership with the Republic of Korea which has emerged in a short span of three to four years as the largest direct investor in the Indian economy. We hope to engage seriously with China in developmental cooperation and also in a comprehensive security dialogue. The scheduled visit to India by the President of the Chinese People’s Republic (Ziang Zemin), who is also the head of the Communist Party of China, this year will, I am sure, mark a higher threshold of cooperation between the world’s two most populous countries.

Our imagination is now riveted on the Asia-Pacific Century that is knocking at the door of humankind. The Asia-Pacific region already produces almost one-half of the world’s GDP. Global economy watchers are telling us that in the next 20-30 years, there will be five major world powers, and three of them will be in Asia, viz Japan, China and India. However, at this stage the exact meaning and implications of the Asia-Pacific Century are still hazy. Pan-Asian regionalism will take some time to emerge as a stable international phenomenon; when it does, it will truly change the world. Jawaharlal Nehru, foresaw even in the late forties and the early fifties this great historical turn-around castings its silhouette on the horizon. For three and a half centuries Europe and America have dominated the world; almost the whole of Asia was a colony. Now in the 21st century Asia and the Pacific rim are likely to be the West’s true peer in wealth, in technology and in skilled human resources.

We, in India, have never been wedded to a dischotomous East-West or Orient-Occident world view. For us, the world is a single entity, the West and the East profoundly influencing one another, and, together, building a better future for the entire humankind. Strengthening the United Nations, therefore, is an important Foreign Policy objective of the United Front Government.

Apart from this, our priorities lie in the sprawling Asia-Pacific region, in the Indian Ocean Rim and in Central Asia. I propose to pay personal visits to these regions. We will pitch for larger investment in the Indian economy by the Arab countries of the Gulf region. We have very good relations with Iran; we have been interacting closely with leaders of the Central Asian Republics where India happens to enjoy a lot of goodwill. Lack of common land borders and of access to Central Asia through civil war torn Afghanistan is an impediment, but we have gained access to Central Asia through civil war torn Afghanistan is an impediment, but we have gained access to Central Asia through Iran. Leaders of all Central Asian Republics have visited Delhi; the former Prime Minister of India, Narasimha Rao visited more than one Central Asian capitals. The UF Government will continue to bring the India-Central Asia relationship closer to one another.

May I now proceed to explain the main thrust of our CTBT policy and why India cannot endorse the treaty in its present form. India, I may recall, was among the first countries that have been demanding the halting of all nuclear tests since the 1950s. We welcomed the Partial Test Ban Treaty as a first step towards a comprehensive ban on underground tests also. We have never departed from our goal which is to see a world rid of the curse of nuclear weapons. For us a nuclear weapon free planet is an article of faith. In 1988, the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had presented to the United Nations a phased programme aimed at total universal nuclear disarmament by all countries of the world. Such a programme must begin with the nuclear powers.

It has been India’s consistent policy not to sign unequal, discriminatory treaties. That’s why India was not a party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). India undertook a peaceful nuclear test as far back as 1974 but has studiously refrained from weaponisation. India has scrupulously observed the provisions of the NPT even while remaining out of it. We have not exported nuclear know-how or material to foreign countries. We have not openly or in a clandestine manner helped the process of proliferation. Others have, including some of the major nuclear powers.

The NPT was extended indefinitely in 1995. An openly discriminatory treaty of great importance for the fate of the world and of human kind was given an indefinite lease of life. We stood away from the treaty but we were not indifferent to proliferation of nuclear weapons, vertical or horizontal. If you care to look into our earnest pleas since the mid-50s for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, you will find that underpinning our position was an unwavering commitment to a nuclear weapons free world. Therefore, when CTBT came up for debate at the Disarmament Commission in Geneva, we made it abundantly clear that we will not go with a draft unless it contained a pledge by the nuclear powers that they will proceed towards complete nuclear disarmament within a reasonable time frame.

Our position was not taken seriously by the world’s nuclear powers. And they did not stop there. They devised an entry-into-force device once again without consultation with us and other like-minded countries. At first, they ruled that the approval of the five nuclear powers and of three threshold powers would be required for the treaty to be open for signature by the comity of nations. Afterwards, they determined that the signature of all the 44 countries that have nuclear reactors will be essential for the treaty to come into force. This was an arbitrary decision of the five nuclear powers. The so-called threshold powers were not taken into consultation, nor indeed the 44 countries that have nuclear reactors of different sizes and capacities.

In my first statement in the Parliament on CTBT in July, I said, that while we cannot sign the treaty, we do not want to be spoilers. I meant that if unfair, arbitrary implicitly coercive conditions were not imposed on those who would not sign the treaty on highly principled grounds, we would let the CTBT draft pass the Disarmament Conference, even though we would not sign it. There was no consultation with us, no effort to accommodate our principled objection both to the treaty and its way of passage. On other other hand, objections raised by China were accommodated to get its approval to the text of the treaty. We warned several times that if this continued to be the policy of the nuclear powers, we will have to block the treaty at Geneva. When our protestations were ignored, we were left with no option but to block it. However, the CTBT as drafted in Geneva, was hurriedly taken to a reconvened 50th session of the UN General Assembly and adopted by a majority vote. We have said and may I say again that India will not sign in its present form – now or later.

May I invite you to look at the present strategic situation around India if you wish to understand our compulsions to a CTBT that does not even reduce the burden of nuclear arms thrust upon the world, not to speak of eliminating the burden completely and totally. We are surrounded by nuclear weapons. In the East, there is China, a full-fledged nuclear power. In the South, there is Diego Garcia, a major American naval base for its nuclear submarines as well as aircraft carriers. In the West, the Gulf region is nuclearised by the United States and its allies. Is it possible for any government in India to remain indifferent to this gigantic array of nuclear arms across it eastern, southern and western borders? What is our response to this manifestly dangerous security environment? We have no desire to go nuclear unless and until we are forced to. But we cannot give up our nuclear option, can we? Would any one of you have given up the nuclear option if you were in my position? We shall be delighted to surrender our nuclear option if the world is made nuclear weapon free, if nuclear weapons are withdrawn from our eastern, southern and western borders.

We have been warned of isolation from the international community, of explicit or implicit coercion by the nuclear powers. India remains undaunted by these open or opaque threats. When 970 million people are united behind their Government’s principled position, who can isolate them from the world? There are many countries who sympathise with our position and whose people would like their Governments to adopt a similar stance. But for one reason or another they have thought it prudent to go along with the nuclear powers. The Japanese press has generally supported our stand which has found approval in some of the most powerful Newspapers in the United States and Europe. And I have been assured by the Foreign Ministers of all the countries that I have met, including the US Secretary of State, that differences over CTBT will not affect bilateral relations. Indeed, I have reason to doubt if the nuclear powers really wish to bring even the lame and tamed CTBT into force. We shall see in the next three years whether such doubts are entirely groundless.

An equally important objective of our foreign policy is to achieve the accelerated development of India and of the South Asian sub-continent. India is a later comer to liberalisation and opening up the economy to the global market. What China began in 1978, we started only in 1991. We are courting the world market with cautious ardour, not with complete abandon. We are crafting an Indian style. We have opened the "Core" sector of our economy – like power, transportation, telecommunications – to foreign investment. We have allowed multinationals to make consumer goods on a selective basis and even to open a few fast food chains. Foreign collaboration with Indian companies in the public and private sectors is the main thrust of our new economic policy. Our success has not been insignificant. Bangalore in South India is fast growing into India’s silicon valley. Five giant American multinationals have opened shops there. Bangalore has a work force that can operate anywhere in the world. An international work force is steadily being built in several other parts of India also, as the advance contingent of our development as a partner of the global economy.

India’s manufacturing industry grew at the rate of 14.2 per cent in 1995-96; industrial growth as a whole stood at 13.1 per cent. We have problems with agriculture which grows at a low rate of 2.4 per cent, and is receiving a great deal of attention from the United Front Government. Our grain output in 1995-96 was 190 million tonnes and we have a grain reserve of 21 million tonnes, enabling the United Front Government to revamp the public distribution system throughout the country to make grain and several other essential commodities available to the poorer sections of the population at subsidised prices. Our exports grew by 20 per cent and imports by 26.9 per cent in 1995-96. Inflation is being contained at 5 or 6 per cent. Direct foreign investment in 1995-96 stood at $ 2.1 billion, portfolio investment was much higher. A nationwide adult literacy campaign, campaigns to improve the nutrition standards of women and children and a successful drive to immunize all newly born babies throughout the country are expected to show good results in population control by the time the next census is taken in 2001. The UF Government is determined to break the back of entrenched mass poverty. As I have said, it is one of the major objectives of our foreign policy.

In conclusion, I must say that the tasks before us are enormous – the future of 970 million people in a world caught in a whirlpool of change. Our common ideal and objective is the creation of One World for entire humankind. That objective is still far off; we are still caught in the coils of competing nationalism. There are too many arms around, too much of violence within and between States. The United Nations is not given the role of building a peaceful, cooperative world. There is still the practice of gunboat diplomacy. The Cold War is over for five years but still in mighty nations, the vocabulary of foreign policy is often replete with the rhetoric, even strategic ideas, of the Cold War. Military might has not mellowed. Swords are still to be broken into ploughsthares. At the same time, people every where are more assertive than before, and political leaders can ill afford to ignore their demands for peace and development with justice. The energies of Indian diplomacy and its endeavors are constantly addressed to create what Jawaharlal Nehru called an atmosphere of peace in South Asia, and in the much larger space of the Asia-Pacific region.

Next year, we shall celebrate the 50th anniversary of our Independence. We began our career as an independent nation by mobilising the peoples of Asia and Africa for the common purpose of peace and development. Next year, we propose to bring to India the resurgent spirit of the Asia-Pacific region and of Africa. However, we shall continue to work with all countries of the world, with the West as well as the East, with the North as well as the South, to the utmost of our abilities and resources to create a better world for all of us, particularly, the teeming millions who toil with the seat of their bodies for a better human condition, for liberation from poverty, whose constant quest is for light, some light, any light that disperses the darkness of their existence.

<<Back to Index

 




Bio-Profile :
Mr. Inder Kr. Gujral

Bio-Profile :
Mrs. Shiela Gujral

Excerpts from the book "A Foreign Policy for India"

Selected Speeches

Latest Articles