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Mr. Inder Kr. Gujral

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Mrs. Shiela Gujral

Excerpts from the book "A Foreign Policy for India"

Selected Speeches

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"Punjab University Convocation"

Address by Hon'ble Shri I.K. Gujral, Former Prime Minister of India, Chandigarh 17th October 1999

Mr.Vice Chancellor;
Learned Members of the Faculty;
Distinguished Members of the Senate and
Syndicate of the Punjab University;
Members of the Alumni;
Fresh Graduates;

Ladies & Gentlemen;

It is a privilege and a high honour to be invited by one's own alma-mater to receive this honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (Hons Causa). This stirs nostalgia and induces me to recall my days in this university - of course in its pre-partition incarnation. Thank you very much.

Mr.Vice Chancellor, you had recently done me another honour when you had asked me to lay the foundation stone of the alumni house in the university campus that would facilitate interactions between the alumni and the university that shaped their lives and careers.

Standing here this morning, I see before me the future of India in bright young faces of men and women who are venturing out for great adventure of life. I see in their eyes bits of the sky and mountains. They have all the dreams of the sky and the determination of the mountain rock. May I say to them that their baptism is all the more remarkable because it begins with the new millennium. A short few weeks from now ends the 20th century, the most bloody and gory as well as the most creative century in human history. A noted British historian has called it "the short century". No century has passed so fast, leaving humans breathless facing catastrophies and calamities, achieving wonderous conquests over nature, and simultaneously exploring the science of cosmos. The century saw personalities of colossal dimensions like Mahatma Gandhi and Mandela who achieved what was once perceived as impossible. The great Mahatma bequeathed a vision that gave to the world a new meaning of non-violence and Dharma.

In this century, nearly five thousand wars were fought, including two World Wars, in a single generation. Great revolutions marked this century - the ten days of the Bolshevik revolution that shook the world, creating the planet's first socialist state. The other revolution, that of China, a peasant revolution has just celebrated its 50th Anniversary. This century also witnessed the first Cold War, a uniquely new type of war, fought for 50 years mostly without weapons, but with diplomacy, technology, trade and politics. It dangerously polarized the nations, divided the international family into two mutually hostile camps. It was India's proud privilege, along with a cluster of other leaders of newly liberated countries, to create and run the engine of Non-alignment, another unique creation of the 20th Century that tried to keep the peace and prevent a nuclear war between the two polarized power blocs.

Now, at the century's end, the Cold War is said to have gone, but its embers still simmer in several major capitals; its mindset and rhetoric continue to prevail. The Non-aligned Movement too is alive, but it has been robbed of its cutting edge perhaps because the great polarization which gave it birth has ceased to exist or may be because the classical form of imperialism has receded into history. If ever at all, one or the other of the polarized Super Power feared like Prospero in the Tempest that "every third thought shall be my grave", it did not so happen. On the contrary, one Super Power, the USSR, now no more, recognised the Non-aligned as virtual allies, while the other, the United States, has itself adopted the NAM's five principles of peaceful co-existence as valid tools of relations between and among sovereign states.

But for us - even more than all the earth shaking changes, the most important is the Decolonisation revolution. The once invincible empires on whom even the Sun would not dare to set, have vanished. A vast majority of the mankind is released from shackles of the imperial dominations and humiliating experiences of slavery and colour discriminations.

This century is also leaving the legacy of a smaller world that is busy restructuring a new political world that looks beyond the narrow grooves of national sovereignties. Though the wars are not yet banished, but the civil societies and statesmen the world over, are assigned a role for ushering in of an era of durable peace and world-wide cooperation. With its universalised membership, the United Nations now is an edifice of hope and optimism.

We have arrived at a straight junction of Time when people are meshed with people in bonds that are at once exploitive and cooperative. There are now indeed no permanent friends and permanent enemies. Nations who fight each other are also bound together by seen or unseen bonds of cooperation.

Mr. Vice Chancellor, distinguished friends,

As we stand on threshold of the next millennium, there is a felt need for us and the other new nation states to introspect ourselves critically in a constructive mood to assess how far we have succeeded or failed to build our respective nations. As is known, in some of our countries, there were long struggles for independence, violent or non-violent. Some fought revolutionary wars to secure their emancipation. To many, power was peacefully transferred by the colonial powers. In South Asia, we experienced several types of decolonisation. India won freedom non-violently but with it the country was partitioned creating an additional sovereign state of Pakistan. The gory tale of partition was full of pain and agony that involved one of the largest displacement of humans in history and millions died.

Nepal and Bhutan had never been made into British colonies though their affairs were directed by British Residents. Sri Lanka belongs to those countries to whose national elite power was transferred by the departing colonisers. Bangladesh fought a liberation war. In our neighbourhood, the Burmese and Indonesians fought their colonial masters with arms, Malaysia and Singapore did not, while the three Indo-China states of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia went through agonising series of wars to win their sovereignties. The Chinese revolution succeeded after forty years of anti-imperialist as well as civil wars making it one of the Big Five.

I need not recapitulate here the manners in which the 50 countries of Africa, the 20 Arab and non-Arab countries of what is known as the Middle East and the Persian Gulf and the 20 countries of Latin America got their independence. Though study of this phenomenon is fascinating.

Mr. Vice Chancellor,

I have narrated these glorious tales to point out a paradoxical irony that almost in all the countries that were decolonised, the form of government, the jurisprudence, the power structure, the police system were continued by the post-colonial ruling elites that assigned a passive role to the civil societies. In our country, almost the entire Government of India Act of 1935 was kept in the new constitution for governance at the state level. Only recently did we amend the constitution creating a 3rd tier of elected panchayats and district councils whereby some three and a half million elected representatives of people are entrusted the governance at grass-root levels, and among them about forty per cent are women. Though I must confess this far-reaching measure is confronted with many bureaucratic and political impediments. In a state like Bihar, for instance, even a first Panchayat election has not taken place and this despite all pressures and inducements from the Central Government. There are very few exceptions where real power and finances have been transferred to the Panchayats and local bodies. With the result that most of the local bodies are severely handicapped to effectively serve the people.

It is noteworthy that with the passage of time, the people are protesting. These were highlighted by the media in the recently held elections when some villages and slum dwellers collectively refused to cast their votes. These may be aberrations but they are worrisome signals. Active participation of the people at all levels is the essence of democratic governance. People must be enabled to govern themselves, then alone will they build civil societies that make them aware of what they can themselves do for their own development and betterment. In my stint as Prime Minister, I realised how difficult it is to offer good governance and engineer relevant people-oriented social change without active participation of the civil society. We have to dispassionately evaluate our strengths and weaknesses if we are serious about making governance more humane. A very perceptive comment was recently made about the plight of the developing societies by a Minister of Pakistan, Mr.Ahsan Iqbal, who observed, "(Our) persistent underdevelopment 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, 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."

Mr. Vice Chancellor,

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen of whom we are so proud, has pointed out that "the recent problems of East and South-East Asia bring out, among other things, the penalty of undemocratic governance….." A candid and exhaustive analysis of these is presented in the 1999 Human Development Report of South Asia. It points out number of internal hurdles that must be overcome to make our development goals attainable. The problem revolves around the systems and styles of governance that prevail in developing societies. At the risk of oversimplifying, 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 if at all, does one find that the ruling elites have really identified and made common cause with their own people.

I do think that it is the time that we in our country make our political systems genuinely equitable that would in turn hold us accountable and make our contribution larger towards the welfare of our own people. In pursuit of this objective, may I suggest that it is time that certain binding norms and standards for good governance be accepted and established.

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 said " 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 our own country, 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 of our nation 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 such persons act in brash arrogance and in cavalier disregard to the spirit of Law or against the public sentiment, then this only creates a climate of general lawlessness which in the long run creates more problems than it solves. I would therefore urge that it is not just legally tenable behaviour that is called for but an appropriate behaviour that is quoteable as was in the case of Gandhijee. 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 really flowers.

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 its 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. The heritage of our freedom struggle was emphatic in expanding the scope of human rights to include crucial social, economic and cultural rights including most prominently the right to development, and the rights of minority and disadvantaged groups particularly 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".

Learned friends,

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 earth was flat and that it was the sun that circled around it. 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 we must constantly be on guard against.

Good governance also 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.

Lastly, 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 chief architect of modern India was a keen student of history and he was convinced that openness was an essential part of the growth of any nation. In foreign affairs, he was firm in keeping India away from the path of isolationism, for as he observed, "Isolation means 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 principles that I think constitute the essence of a Humane governance. And if these measures can become the part and parcel of the daily management 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.

Mr. Vice Chancellor, distinguished friends, young graduates, may I say that good governance is part of the answer. The other part of the answer would stem from imparting education, training and skills to the young and upcoming citizens. 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. We must focus on such strategies as would eradicate illiteracy and the universalise the basic education, improve the quality of education and take affirmative steps to enable all children to complete primary, secondary, vocational and higher education. And particularly ensure full and equal access to education for girls and women. 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.

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.

As you would know, in India, we have, of late begun to benefit from the development of our human resources. Young persons 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. 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 our professionals have made in the international arena can be easily multiplied. It is time that our policies focus on making a concerted effort to improve education, skills and talents that we are blessed with. If we are even partially successful in our efforts, this would unleash a new era of growth and development which would immensely benefit the nation. It would generate vast employment opportunities and increase social cohesion.

Young graduates, you are the third post-independence generation going out of the university to make your life in the 21st century. You have no colonial hang-up, no direct memory of the partition of India. The time is overdue when young people like you may ask as to why entire generations of post-colonial power elites have not fully met aspirations of the people? Why after a grand, even glorious dawn, partial darkness is allowed to descend? Why after half a century of independence nearly six per cent rate of growth and forty per cent of our population are forced to live below, on, or just above the poverty line? Why are nearly forty per cent still illiterate? Why are we not allocating the required funds for universal primary education? You may also assess if the education that you received has prepared you to fight and win the battle of life?

Prof.Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize Laureate economist, has just published a book whose title is "Education is Development". I suggest you to read it. It tells you more about India and the developing world than tens of convocation speeches might do. It also tells you where and why has China gone ahead of us. This knowledge should enable us to re-orient the policies and attitudes that you must influence while occupying various positions of crucial importance.

Mr. Vice Chancellor, Young Graduates,

I wish to ask all of you whether in the next century we should usher in a cultural revolution of our own type. Not Mao's cultural revolution which the Chinese have themselves condemned, but a cultural revolution or a "Sampuran Kranti" as Jai Prakash Narayan called it, that may follow the path shown by two of the greatest men of this century, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Gandhi created a nation out of the colonial subjects of the British, Mandela built what is known as the "Rainbow Nation" in South Africa which was not even a single country at the dawn of the 20th century. Such a "Kranti" cannot be waged through words alone, spoke or written. It needs commitment by the young to wage it with the Gandhian tools.

May I conclude by saying, life beckons you the young, from within the walls of the campus into the exciting world of life of many colours and allurements. Let me treat you to a quote from James Joyce, an eminent writer of this century. In his novel, A portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, he has this to say of the art and drama of living: "To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to create life out of life…."

May you and the millions of others of your generation recreate India out of India, an India that will be cured of the many venal ailments that now eat into its vitals!

Jai Hind!

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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