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"Challenges Facing India"

Lecture by Hon'ble Shri I.K. Gujral, Former Prime Minister of India, at the World Affairs Council, Wilmington Delware, March 7, 2000

Mr. Chairman
Distinguished members of the World Affairs Council

Ladies and Gentlemen

I consider it a great privilege to come to your midst and talk about the foreign and internal policy challenges facing India today. It is a particular honour to speak to a distinguished audience of a think-tank and members of Council world affairs forum, something that I have looked forward to with pleasure during all my previous visits to the United States. I might add that I speak, not as a disinterested observer or scholar, nor as a pundit or professor, but as a political practitioner, with my own prejudices and predilections. I thank you for taking an interest in the issues India faces today and the possible approach to them, and I would be most happy to respond to any questions that you may ask following my introductory remarks.

Mr. Chairman,

When I was invited to come here, it was suggested that the issues I should focus on could include population, Kashmir, relations with China, industrialization and foreign investment. I was told besides, that I should speak not only from my own standpoint, but also articulate the positions advanced by various interests. This, indeed, is especially important in the Indian context, where a democratic polity has to accommodate pluralistic demands from different classes, regions, religious and linguistic groups and ethnicities.

It is interesting that our system of parliamentary democracy has evolved to a point where consensus building in decision-making has become the established norm. This is underpinned by the political arithmetic in government formation at the centre where coalitions have now become the rule rather than the exception. My own government, when I was Prime Minister, consisted of a 13-party coalition. So is the present government a coalition. The irrevocability of coalition politics engenders its own distinct culture of governance, which is intrinsically more stable than a government based on the brute majority of one single party. In a diverse country such as ours, a single-party government could represent rather partisan interests and lead to widespread disaffection.

Other major political trends in India also contribute to stability, though on surface this may not be easily apparent. The relationship between the centre and states is undergoing a subtle change. India is a federal democracy with a unitary bias, but in practice we are moving towards federalism of the type you are more familiar with. Moreover, devolution of authority has gone a step further in the past decade with the empowerment of grass-roots level institutions in villages and municipal bodies, which has over 3 million elected representatives. India is unique to have a one-third reservation for representation of women in these local, self-government institutions.

Internally, the most important challenges that we face are development and demography, energy security, the claims of redistributive justice and problems related to the assertion of regional identities. Some of these concerns, in turn, influence India’s foreign and security policies in special ways.

Our compulsion to engage in India’s development has led to sweeping economic reforms and openness to trade and foreign investment, on the broad parameters of which there exists a political consensus in India though some of its putatives are causing widely spread anxieties. The reforms have altered the traditional patterns of foreign involvement in India. For instance, economic ties between India and the United States are increasing faster than between India and any other country. Since 1992, the United States has accounted for between a quarter and a third of all foreign direct investment flows into India. According to the US Embassy in India, half of the Fortune 500 companies are either already established in India or about to set up operations there.

Mr.Chairman,

May I convey what our experience has shown. The development and population control go hand-in-hand, particularly in democracies where coercive strategies cannot be used. There are parts of India, such as in some of the southern states, whose human development indices are exceptionally high, on par with those of the Scandinavian countries, and where birth rates are also very low. The rest of India needs to catch up with these progressive states if the fruits of the accelerated growth, which we have seen over the past few years, are to make an impact on the daily lives of the people.

With rising incomes and population, India’s energy requirements are growing rapidly. With the resources of Bombay High being depleted, and in the absence of significant indigenous oil or gas reserves, India will become even more dependent on external energy supplies. This implies a degree of congruence with all the powers seeking security of the sea-lanes and stability in the Gulf and Central Asia.

The demands of re-distributive justice imply that India’s foreign and security policy goals will have to be shaped to defend our interests without profligate expenditure on defense. Even after the increased allocations indicated in the next year’s defense budget, our defense expenditure will remain around 3% of GDP, significantly below the levels of expenditure incurred by India’s two largest neighbours. There is therefore little danger of India destabilizing the international order through possible militarization. In fact, a strong, democratic and prosperous India will be a stabilizing force in a diverse and rapidly transforming Asia.

Mr. Chairman

In the foreign policy arena, I believe that an important challenge we face today is to forge a new, upgraded and multifaceted relationship with the United States. The world’s most dynamic and powerful democracies should have been natural partners. They share common values and many mutual interests. Instead, as Nathan Glazer wrote in Conflicting Images: India and the United States, which he co-authored in 1990 with his wife Sulochana, indifference, hostility, resentment and disdain have characterized India-US bilateral relations over the previous decades.

However, even during the period India-U.S. interactions were not what they should have been, the relationship was somewhat estranged but never confrontational. In the 1950s and 60s, though little private American capital came to India, the United States provided India impressive technical assistance. It helped India build the Tarapur reactor under the Atoms for Peace Program. It gave significant assistance for agricultural technology and irrigation, directly and through the International Development Agency under the World Bank, to which the United States was then the most important donor. It helped set up the Indian institutes of technology on the lines of MIT. It shipped wheat to India when there were food deficits and helped launch the Green Revolution, which made India self-sufficient in food.

As this distinguished audience would know a cumulation of several factors, including the end of the Cold War, led to a reassessment of US objectives towards India. The United States, from about the end of 1997, put a policy of engagement in place. High-level exchanges and the initiation of a strategic dialogue characterized this.

President Clinton’s forthcoming visit to India, in about two week’s time is an outcome of this process that was initiated in my talks with him in 1998.

Besides the new political equations and economic potential of India-U.S. relations, a further plus in the relationship is the dynamism and enterprise of the India-American community, which have brought benefits to both societies. In education and income levels, Indians constitute the number one ethnic group in the United States. It is they who have established links with India and launched Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad as the major software exporting centers of the world.

In any multi-faceted relationship between two large democracies, some differences are bound to arise. But most of these differences are of the type that India and the United States experience with many of their other democratic partners and friends. There is ongoing misperception in some quarters about India’s commitment to disarmament and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, following the nuclear weapons tests conducted by India in May 1998. In fact, post-nuclear weapon test, India has ended its discord with the global nuclear order and Indian responses on specific issues tend both to bridge and to mirror the positions of India and the United States. India is committed in principle to the CTBT, as to the idea of the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and the creation of a nuclear-weapon free world. However, just as it is imperative for the United States to secure a political consensus on the CTBT before it can be ratified by the Senate, so also in India all shades of political opinion have to be satisfied that signing and ratifying the CTBT is in our best interests. The same pulls and pressures, inevitable in democratic polities, have held up action on this in the two countries. Meanwhile, with minimum deterrence as its declared strategy, it is in India’s interest to bind all the other nuclear states to commitments to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons. India is in a position to sign the CTBT having tested; and being able technologically to conduct future sub-critical tests through computer simulation, allowed under the Treaty. India has also entered into the negotiations on FMCT in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. India has an exemplary record in non-proliferation through denial of sale and transfer of nuclear-weapon technology and weapons of mass destruction. It has again reaffirmed its export control commitments even without formally joining the selective restrictive regimes such as the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG), the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), and the Australia Group for chemical weapon precursors and feedstock.

Mr. Chairman, distinguished friends,

The intensity of any relationship is based on whether the two sides pose a threat to each other or whether they present opportunities. India and Indian nuclear weapons do not endanger the United States. In that sense, they are like the nuclear weapons of the UK, France or Israel. At the same time, India’s steady economic growth, despite the governmental changes, is bound to result in closer and multi-faceted India-US relations. I endorse an international relations theory popular in many American campuses that democracies are more likely to be stable partners, less likely to interfere in each other’s affairs, and less likely to make war on each other. This will perhaps be even more relevant in the post-Cold War era. Overall, therefore, we are dealing with a situation of difficult legacies but positive trends.

At this stage, may I refer to the Sino-Indian relations. Many of you know, we have an outstanding problem on the border. President Jiang's 1997 visit to India during my tenure as Foreign Minister helped in an tranquilizing the borders. The joint agreement was helpful in advancing and widening the areas of cooperation in economic and cultural spheres, while the Joint Working Group has been working constructively on this issue. Meanwhile, we both have not held our dialogue or relations hostage to the border dispute. Our trade and bilateral interaction with China has been growing, symptomised by summit-level visits exchanged between the two sides.

You might recall that on 2nd December, 1996 while addressing the Senate of Pakistan in Islamabad, President Jiang had said and, I quote, "As neighbours it is difficult not to have differences on disputes from time to time. We stand for seeking common ground on major issues while reserving differences on minor ones. We should look at the differences or disputes from a long perspective, seeking a just and reasonable settlement thorough consultations and negotiations while bearing in mind the larger picture. If certain issues cannot be resolved for the time being, they may be shelved temporarily so that they will not affect the normal State to State relations".

Distinguished friends,

When you ask me to speak about India's relationships with its immediate neighbours, I have to take you briefly down the memory lane. The end of Cold War changed the paradigms of all bilateral and multilateral relationships. It offered us new opportunities in South Asia. It fell to my lot - first as Foreign Minister and later as Prime Minster - to re-orient India's diplomacy and give focussed attention to South Asia. We consciously chose to shed off baggage of the past and to pursue a policy that would be asymetrix in terms. It meant that while dealing with our neighbours in South Asia, India would not insist on mechanical reciprocity. We were willing to do more for them than they could do for us. This policy which some people had called 'Gujral Doctrine' paid rich dividends and lead to significant strengthening of the atmosphere of trust and cooperation in our region.

In my consultations with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, we agreed to go beyond the preferential trade towards establishing a free trade zone in the region and subsequently build South Asian economic community. The succeeding Government led by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has sustained this approach. Nepal and Bhutan enjoy unilateral trade concessions from India with virtually free access for their goods in the Indian markets. India and Sri Lanka have recently concluded a free trade agreement in which India has granted concessions on the basis of deferred reciprocity. The basic principles of India’s policy in South Asia are to base relations on good faith and trust, as also the commitment that no country allows its territory to be used against the interests of another country in the region. This implies naturally that no country shall interfere in the internal affairs of another, that each would respect the other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and that the disputes would be solved through peaceful, bilateral negotiations. The vision is to weave together mutual relationships within a cooperative framework where democracy and pluralism become the warp and weft of the South Asian fabric.

The one unfortunate exception in this regard is Pakistan, which has violated each of these principles, despite a steadfast Indian policy of restraint, even while dealing with armed Pakistani intrusion into the Kargil Hills across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. India’s armed forces got back the territory without crossing our borders. We are open to dialogue, but without a modicum of trust and understanding, the ground for such a dialogue cannot be prepared.

The new millenium offers exciting opportunities for human progress, even while throwing up fresh challenges of equity, poverty redressal and regional stability. The growth of scientific knowledge, and information technology in particular, affords the prospects of bridging the developmental gap by creating new possibilities of cooperation. India and the Unites States are well poised to benefit from this in addressing our respective social and economic priorities. May I, Mr.Chairman, conclude on this hopeful note.

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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