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"The Saint Dnyaneshwara and Saint Shree Tukaram Endowment Lecture"

Lecture by Hon'ble Shri I.K. Gujral, Former Prime Minister of India, at the Maharashtra Institute of Technology, Pune 24th November 1999

May I thank you Mr.Chairman and Members of the Trust for inviting me to visit the World Peace Centre of the MIT with its widely-recognised lofty ideals. Your added favour enabled me to visit Alandi for the Darshan of the Sanjeevan Samadhi of Saint Shree Dnyaneshwara whose teachings and vision contributed a great deal in the initial stages of our renaissance. His teachings and that of Saint Tukaram have left a deep imprint on the Nation's valued cultural heritage.

It was indeed heartening for me to also see for myself the results of voluntary efforts for environmental improvements of the banks of Indrayani River. My compliments to all those who have put in efforts and resources to accord a real meaning to the nature worship. This project, I do hope, will inspire non-governmental efforts elsewhere in the country. Whenever I come to Pune, I get better educated in one way or the other. Last time, my dear friend Mohan Dharia had acquainted with similar achievements by him and his co-workers for greening of the arid hillocks around Pune and rest of the State. He had also taken me to see how the Osho Ashram intimates had transformed a sullage carrying drain into a beautiful park

This century, Mr.Chairman, to which we are about to say goodbye has been called the "short century". So much has happened in the last 100 years that it seems to have flown past the markers of Time with breathless speed. Nearly 500 wars, including two world wars in a single generation. Two greater social Revolutions, one of them unable to survive the Century. The emergence of the United Sates as the most dominant world power. In the first year of the century, 1900, there was the boxer Rebellion in China triggering a long and tortuous process of occupation of many strategic parts of China by collective imperialisms of Europe, America and Japan. At the end of the century, China is a recognized world power. Thinking of the long and torturous of the past, I recall the Boer war in South Africa between the British and the Afrikaner. The war ended in a compromise that produced in time the abhorable apartheid regime denying the Africans dignity and all the basic human rights. Today South Africa is the leading light in the world; its native leadership is trying to build a multiracial society and it had the fortune of being ruled in the first years of its new sovereign incarnation by a charismatic leader, Nelson Mandela.

This has been an epoch of the nuclear weapons, of a series of ethnic cleansing topped by the Nazi holocaust in which six million Jews were killed in cold blood, of countless insurgencies, and religious fundamentalism out of conquer large political pastures. And this has been also the era of man's conquest of space, his landing on the Moon, the construction of enduring space stations, the discovery of planets outside of our solar system. The invention of life-saving drugs has blessed humankind with a longevity it could not even hope to enjoy earlier. Now the twin revolutions of biotechnology and informatics and knowledge promise to create a long-living home sapien with better health and longer longevity than ever before.

This century has made the world smaller than could be imagined in the wildest imagination a hundred years ago. The global village is now part of man's vocabulary all over the world. Fax and internet have broken the barriers of national borders and prepared the ground for eventual grouping of nations on regional, even inter-regional scales. Indeed regionalism is the mantra of international politics of the 20th century. It has not succeeded equally all over the world. But at least in Europe, it has laid the foundations of a single political unit of 12 sovereign states expanding to 15. In the Asia Pacific region, in South East Asia, Latin America and Africa as well as in North America, regional cooperation, even integration, has become the catch world of large swathes of humanity.

War has not been banished. But there cannot be another World War like the two World Wars that have lent this century its dubious distinction. The reason is that the powers that may create a major war cannot get their colonies involved in their wars. Europe, which has been the main engine of war, is most unlikely to fight another major war between or among its powers; their economies and strategic technologies are being integrated too fast on an ever increasing scale. If there is a war between the United States and China, a most unlikely event, even most of the countries of the Asia-Pacific will stay out of it. Yet, the future skirmishes may happen in some parts of the world. But these are likely to be smaller conflicts relatively speaking though hugely devastating in terms of lands and peoples, thanks to the incredibly awesome destructive powers of modern weapons.

Mr.Chairman,

Of all the great earthshaking changes that have distinguished this century, the most important from our point of view, and from the point of view of the vast majority of humankind, is the decolonisation revolution. For the first time since recorded history, the planet is virtually free of colonies. The few exceptions --- small territories like the Falklands and Sao Tome and Principe,----do not in any manner diminish the immensity of the human liberation from foreign rule that has taken place since the last forties. Only 50 nations signed the Charter of the United Nations when it was founded in 1946. Now the UN has close to 200 members, each one of them sovereign and in theory equal to each other member of the World Body. We know this is an illusion.

At the end of the century, of five or four or three decades of our emancipation from different brands of colonialism, it is time to take stock of how far we have succeeded or failed to build the new nations that dot today's map of the planet? 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 to the nationalist elites. In the geopolitical region of South Asia alone, we witnessed several types of decolonisation. India fought the British non-violently for forty years under the mass mobilizing leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Freedom came with blood-soaked partition that created the new sovereign state of Pakistan. It involved one of the largest displacement of humans in history and millions died. Still, in 1947, well over 400 million people of this sub-continent freed themselves from British colonialism.

Mr.Chairman, learned friends,

It may be relevant for me to share with you the vision of the next millennium for our country. What options and orientations does it offer for ushering an era of peace and sustainable economic development. In a way every nation is trying to identify contours of the future based on the prevailing levels of social growth. We live in a diverse world with pronounced inequalities - both nationally and internationally, hence the concepts of our futures are based on our respective historical experiences. Naturally we are confronted with several question marks. Is our record of peoples' welfare and uplift something to be proud of? Have we achieved a satisfying record of human rights? Of frontal attacks on poverty? Have we not been trapped in what is known as enclave development? Why is there so much poverty, illiteracy, gender inequity, malnutrition, child mortality, homelessness and joblessness in our society?

Is it because most of us continued with the colonial systems of government left behind by the colonial masters? Is it because there has been more continuity than change in our systems and styles of governance? The American colonies fought the British imperialists for many years and drove them out. Then they assembled together to sculpt an entirely new system of government -- a presidential federation which left a lot of autonomy, power and resource with the states. They did not continue the Westminster model of government. They kept what they thought was good in the British system and formed a system of governance that suited their genius.

I am not saying all this by way of criticizing any particular party or persons. We are justly proud of our collective success. But with the new millennium right on our doorstep, we must be humbly conscious of our slippages, mistakes and shortcomings.

We discuss a great deal these days about the relevance and role of the civil society. Creation of civil societies is the greatest challenge before us because without functioning civil societies there is no good governance. Civil societies need extensive decentralization. People have to govern themselves and then alone do they build civil societies making people aware of what they can themselves do for their own development and betterment. In my stint as Prime Minister of India, I realized how difficult it is to offer good governance and engineer relevant people-oriented social change without active participation of the civil society.

There are some basic requirements for the creation of civil societies. The first requirement is to build a legal foundation of the State from the top to the bottom and to ensure that the laws of the land are universally and impartially enforced. Secondly, an independent, efficient, honest and uncorrupted judiciary is indispensable for a civic society. Thirdly, government has to be decentralized with the people given opportunities to govern themselves and take charge of their own affairs. Fourthly, the concept that government is the giver of everything. The sole provider, is inimical to the building of a civil society. The citizen must realize that in many ways he or she is his or her own master and that a great deal of initiatives for good governance, a peaceful social order, for cooperative coexistence of different interests in society, and for better health and hygiene, for cleanliness, for greening of urban sprawls, for ensuring that every child goes to school, that teachers actually teach and doctors attend regularly on patients at rural health centres, for creating a sense of respect and equality for women in our traditional societies and a climate of tolerance in our lives, the individual citizens, separately and together must play their role. Governments alone cannot run human societies nor build nations without a great deal of active and conscious help from the citizens. I have spelt at some length the paradigms of good governance since it must occupy a priority position in our socio-political agenda for the 21st Century.

Mr.Chairman,

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. May I repeat that 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. 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 former 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." Even while quoting this from the address of an eminent Pakistani Thinker, I regret that Pakistan's ruling elite did not give adequate attention to this axiom.

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 of humane governance be accepted and established.

Essential imperatives 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.

May I also add that tolerance and broadmindedness are integral parts of a truly democratic polity 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".

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.

Mr.Chairman, Friends,

Let me in the end revert again to the urgent necessity of building and reshaping our governance to make it more humane and participatory. The latest Human Development report pertinently says "South Asia is replete with examples of poor governance that erode the capacity of communities and individuals, especially the poor, women and children, to meet their basic needs. Failure to execute timely policy and institutional reforms, for the benefit of the disadvantaged majority, increases the risk of violent revolt today. A new vision and architecture of humane governance, built upon the principles of ownership, decency and accountability, have become imperative for the over one billion citizens of South Asia. The Report makes some concrete proposals towards this end".

Thank you.

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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