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"
VISION OF INDIA IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM"

LECTURE BY MR.INDER KUMAR GUJRAL, M.P., FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF INDIA AT 54 BLVD RASPAIL, 75006, PARIS, FRANCE, UNDER THE AUSPICES OF MAISON DEL’ HOMME DES SCIENCES ON 25th SEPTEMBER 1998

Ambassador Racine,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I feel deeply honoured as I stand here today to speak on India and a vision of its future. I am grateful to you, Ambassador Racine, and to the Maison Del’Homme Des Sciences for organizing this event and inviting me to address it. It is a pleasure for me to be here, amongst the intellectuals of Paris, a city famous for many excellent things, and above all for its radical impact on the philosophical and political evolution of man.

The French revolution broke down the barriers of class and estate. It propelled the world forward into the modern age, one that placed the individual at the centre of the political system, and gave birth to the modern Republic and to the nation state. We in India have been keen students of the Revolution and the subsequent development of democratic institutions in France. Our Parliamentary traditions have been influenced a great deal by the history and philosophy of France. When we established our constitutional system, our founding fathers took inspiration from your democratic traditions. We recognize that one of the greatest landmarks in the evolution of modern politics was the adoption by the French National Assembly, in August 1789, of the Declaration of Human and Citizens Rights. I take this opportunity to solemnly pay tribute to the French people for their contribution to the political wisdom of the entire world.

India, it is said, is an ancient civilization but a young nation. In fact, just last year we celebrated the Fiftieth anniversary of our Independence. A major anniversary is an important occasion for reflection and stock taking, and Indians too utilised this occasion for serious soul searching. The Indian Parliament met in a special session to debate, free from partisan considerations upon the country’s achievements and failures. Self criticism is invariably a constructive exercise, and the consensus that emerged from our debate was that while the country’s basic path - that of a democracy with a strong bias towards equity and social justice - was correct, at the same time we needed to rededicate ourselves to our early ideals, if India was to fully realize her potential and her aspirations.

To understand India’s goals and aspirations, and her eventual destiny one must consider the currents of history that have shaped her and moulded her character. India, for the larger part of her history and five thousand year old existence, has been a living, thriving civilization, and in a manner akin to France, a great centre of learning and literature. Ideas and ideologies, and many of the worlds great religions have originated in the fertile soil of India to be propagated far beyond its shores. Scientific learning, statecraft, the Arts flourished as did all manner of economic activity. Indian merchandise was renowned for its quality and the lucrative nature of the India trade attracted merchants and traders from the far corners of the world. This tradition, this history has left India, even in the lessened circumstance of today, with a global vision and a holistic world view. India does not see itself merely as a South Asian nation, nor even as just another Asian nation. History has given us a truly global world view, as through the winding road of time and circumstance we have interacted with all the great nations and civilizations of the world - from Ancient Greece and Rome in earliest times, to the Arabs in the medieval age, right down to Europe in the colonial era, and the Soviet Union and the United States in the latter half of this century. For India, all the world is a stage in which we have been important and influential players.

There is something about the very soil of India which militates against the narrow vision of ethnic or cultural nationalism, which is a common affliction nowadays, even in Europe. India can never be a monolithic society, and all Indians know it. Ours will always be a society of pluralism, of variety, a tapestry that binds many diverse threads into a single, colourful weave. For India is the very celebration of diversity. ‘The entire world is a single family’ the Vedas proclaimed, demolishing all the varied arguments that have pitted man against man, in one single, incisive observation.

There is something very modern, very contemporary in India’s ancient philosophies. Those of you who are familiar with India will know of Emperor Asoka, India’s most revered monarch, who reigned in India 300 years before the birth of Christ, and whose seal is the official insignia of the Governtment of India even today. Famous as a warrior king, Asoka had many notable military successes to his name, together with a huge Empire. Despite his invincibility, Asoka sickened of the inhumanity and misery of war. Very soon he renounced warfare altogether and instead took it upon himself to propagate Buddhism, a religious school of thought which was still in its infancy and confined to a small corner of Eastern India at that time. Through the rock pillars and inscriptions that he constructed across the length and breadth of India, Asoka preached a message of tolerance and brotherhood that stands out for its relevance and validity even today. One of his edicts reads thus:

‘If you revere your own faith, in revering your own faith, you shall revere the faith of others.

In revering the faith of others, you shall exalt your own faith, and have your own faith honoured by others.’

A mighty, all - powerful monarch preaching and practising such a message of compassion and tolerance is itself unique, the fact that he did so 2300 years ago, when mankind was so much less evolved than it supposedly is today, makes it doubly so. To love one’s neighbour, the practice of peace and goodwill towards all, the concept of a universal brotherhood of man, were all born and propagated in India well before these ideas took hold in the West, or elsewhere in the world. A soil that is home to such a spirit, which has nurtured so much philosophical thought and enquiry, and which has consistently practised a universal value system, cannot be anything but special. This unique character should explain why India is destined to play a world role and why it is a natural candidate for influential world bodies such as, for example, United Nations Security Council.

There are of course other more down to earth, practical reasons for India’s candidature as well. By whatever rational, objective criteria that one may wish to adopt, it becomes readily apparent that India is the most obvious candidate to be a permanent member of the United Nations. Whether we go by the yardstick of population size or the size of the national economy, measured in terms of purchasing power parity; whether one considers India’s contribution to international peacekeeping efforts or our commitment to the protection and development of human rights, the same conclusion is inescapable. So too if you consider India’s involvement in the fight against colonialism and apartheid, or in the task of maintaining equity and balance between the developed and developing world. By any measure of a nations contribution to the principles and purposes of the United Nations, India cannot justifiably be excluded from the UN Security Council. To do so is an affront to the very concept of fairplay and morality that the United Nations is supposed to embody, and it undermines the credibility and authority of this august world body. We do hope that saner counsel will prevail and that India will, sooner rather than later, get a chance to play a role in world affairs that is consistent both with her contribution to the United Nations, as it is with India’s global stature and identity.

A second stream of Indian history has to do with its pacifist temperament. Right through the five thousand year history of our subcontinent, one unique feature stands out - Indians have never engaged in a war of aggression beyond India’s frontiers. On the other hand, India has suffered repeated invasions, and many bitter wars have been fought in our territory, when our prosperous cities were laid waste by rape and pillage. Despite all this, none of those who neighbour the Indian subcontinent, from Iran in the West, to Burma and Indo-China in the East have ever had reason to accuse India of having invaded their territory or exhibited any hostile designs against them.

This is not to say that Indian culture and Indian influence did not spread beyond the confines of the subcontinent. They did. All of Asia bears the imprint of Indian thought and culture. In many parts of Indo-China - Java, Cambodia and parts of Vietnam, in particular - full fledged Hindu Kingdoms came to be established. The interesting fact is that this expanding Indian influence did not depend on military might, but on the sheer brilliance of the cultural and intellectual impulses emanating from India at that time. Priests and teachers, traders and philosophers would carry the message of India beyond her shores, never the soldier bearing arms. Whether it was the spread of Hinduism to Indo-China, or the dissemination of Buddhism through Central and East Asia, both roughly 2000 years ago, the message of India was always carried abroad through the persuasiveness and inherent attractiveness of its ideas, never through the force of its arms.

This pacifist temperament finds reflection in the modern age well. India’s freedom and emergence as a modern independent Republic was led by Mahatma Gandhi, the steadfast and uncompromising apostle of Ahinsa or non violence. As an independent nation, India chose to be a staunch advocate of global disarmament, and we remain so even today. India was the first country to call for a ban on all nuclear testing in 1954, to seek a non-discriminatory treaty on non proliferation in 1965, to propose a treaty on non-use of nuclear weapons in 1978, to call for a nuclear freeze in 1982, and a phased programme for the complete disarmament in 1988. Most recently, we have given a call for a global convention aimed at rolling back and eliminating all nuclear arsenals, a commitment that is already inherent in Article Six of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. We are aware that nuclear weapons cannot be abolished overnight, and that any such negotiations will be complex, difficult and extremely time consuming. However, we believe the international community should at least demonstrate its political will in moving towards such an objective.

Critics may argue that India’s nuclear policy does not quite fit in with this character of a pacific, peace-loving nation. Acquisition of a minimum nuclear deterrent was necessitated by two primary considerations. Firstly, there was a clear imbalance in the nuclear equation in India’s neighbourhood, in a manner that was clearly detrimental to our vital interests. As a nation that has withstood innumerable invasions we have, since our hard won Independence, made considerable sacrifices to ensure for ourselves a credible defence. In the conventional sphere we had achieved this objective. However, the growing imbalance in the nuclear arena threatened to undermine our security. Unfortunately, our efforts to draw attention of the comity of nations were dismissed, leaving with us no option. A European audience will surely appreciate that such serious imbalance of power can be quite destabilizing and that a Government would be duty bound to correct it. Such a situation was practically forced on to India by the decision of the Nuclear Weapon States to force us against our will, and through an illegitimate stratagem, to be parties to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

India’s strategic doctrine as outlined in Parliament, is not dissimilar to that of France. We seek a force de frappe, a minimum credible nuclear deterrent. India’s strategic doctrine also makes it clear that India shall never use nuclear weapons against non nuclear states, and even against others we shall never be the first to use nuclear weapons. We will not engage in any arms race.

It should be appreciated that in the given situation, India has acted with the utmost restraint, guided by its minimum and inescapable security concerns. India has no interest in undermining or in any manner weakening the international non proliferation regime as it has operated all these years. India’s first nuclear test was conducted in 1974, and in the twenty four years that have elapsed since then until May this year, we had not conducted a single fresh test, even as other Nuclear Weapons States including countries in our neighbourhood conducted hundreds of further nuclear tests. Likewise, India has never been party to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, even as those who are treaty bound to ensure non proliferation have had no qualms in encouraging it. Indeed, any examination of India’s record will show that her commitment to nuclear non proliferation has been more steadfast and consistent than many of those who are signatories to the treaty themselves.

Pursuant to the tests conducted this May, India has announced a moratorium on any further nuclear testing. The Government has also announced that it is willing to engage in discussions with a view to formalizing this voluntary moratorium into a de-jure i.e. a legally binding commitment. It has also expressed willingness to negotiate a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. The Government is also committed to continue stringent export controls on nuclear and missile related technologies as well as those relating to other weapons of mass destruction. Even though India’s record in this area, in contrast to that of some States Party to the NPT, including P-5 members, has been impeccable, Government have assured that they are ready to make the existing controls more stringent, in keeping with international guidelines and on the basis of discussions with relevant interlocutors. It bears emphasis that as a responsible nation, pursuing responsible objectives, India has no interest in destabilizing the global non-proliferation regime.

The third important feature which I would like to highlight here relates to the unity of the country. There has been an unfortunate tendency in India’s past for the central authority to weaken and even disintegrate at critical moments in the nation’s history, prompting some observers to comment that India was a name, not of a political entity, but rather of a cultural or a geographical concept. The task of forging a national identity was never an easy one in a vast sub continent with many religions, languages and a highly fragmented socio-economic structure. Knowledgeable observers were convinced that India’s efforts to forge a united entity from among its many diversities was doomed to failure.

It was only natural therefore that securing the unity of the country was a foremost national priority for independent India. It fills me with pride that I can say here today, that we have achieved this long cherished objective of ours, and more. Indian democracy is today a living, thriving entity. Twelve general elections have taken place in the fifty one years since Independence, all of them have been scrupulously fair and mostly peaceful. The size of the electorate has grown steadily and today exceeds 500 million voters, or more than the entire population of Europe. At the grassroots level there are 250,000 democratically locally elected local bodies or Panchayats, manned by over 3 million elected representatives, one third of whom, by statutory provision, are women.

The work of national integration has not been easy or smooth. The emotional integration of people with highly varied backgrounds, and instilling in such diversity the sense of a shared destiny, are not easy tasks. National unity also requires that a fine balance be maintained between the powers of the Centre and the States, between the States and the grassroots, and between the State and the citizen, all of which require good judgement and a high degree of restraint and responsibility by all parties in the political process. Nevertheless, over the years through trial and error, we have gained the experience and maturity required for the smooth functioning of a truly federal polity.

India’s democracy has succeeded in incorporating all of India’s myriad diversities and giving them expression in one national mainstream. The much desired but equally elusive goal of Indian political unity, slowly but surely, has become ground reality today. Democracy’s participatory processes and self correcting mechanisms have built an edifice, which 950 million citizens are today proud to call their home. This is a great achievement, by any measure, and for us in India, one of particular historical significance. In a way it is a civilizational landmark that we have successfully crossed, one that will contribute greatly in the years ahead to strengthening India and enhancing her role in the world.

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have so far looked to the past to capture India’s strengths and limitations. It is time now to look ahead, and to try and assess how the currents of the future will shape India and her neighbourhood.

I am confident that the twenty-first century will see India emerging as major economic power. It is true that India has not so far kept up with the rapid strides that some Asian nations have successfully made. Maybe it is also true that democracy does not allow for rapid economic leaps or social transformations, but I do feel that the economic fruits of democracy are more enduring and deep-rooted. The option that India has chosen, of more gradual and incremental change through the democratic processes is better suited to India’s genius. This has ensured that the process of growth and development has permeated to the grassroots and been internalised by people. It has enabled our peoples natural talents to grow, develop and be harnessed to the benefit of society. It also ensured that modern skills and technology and best managerial practises are absorbed and widely disseminated throughout the economy. I am convinced that the advantages of democratic growth far outweigh the disbenefits, and the path we have adopted will allow India to grow and thrive much after the quicker, more impatient command economies suffer fatigue and slowdown.

India’s economy is still on the acceleration path. The annual rate of growth of the Indian economy which averaged 3.5% in the early decades after independence, increased to 4% in the 1970’s, and then to 5% in the 1980’s. In the 1990’s, our rate of growth is still higher at an average of 6% per annum so far, and barring any unusual adverse developments, such as a prolonged global recession, I do see this trend of steady and sustained growth continuing in the years ahead. There have been subtle qualitative changes in the nature of India’s economic growth - whereas in the early years of independence it was a top down process initiated by the investments and spending plans of the Government, growth today springs from individual initiatives and decisions. Likewise, in lieu of the heavy investment led growth of the early years, today we have growth through the application of science and technology in the economic field, through refinements in quality and standards and generally through a process of greater sophistication in technological and quality parameters. India’s scientists have done the country proud in many frontier areas of science, including space, ocean technology, medical sciences and biotechnology, to name but a few areas. The contribution of Indians, both in India and abroad to opening new vistas in the area of electronics and computer technology particularly software, and Internet applications, is of course well recognized. All these factors have greatly improved the dynamism of the economy and lead me to believe that the higher rates of growth witnessed in recent years will be sustained.

There is no doubt that serious problem areas remain. Our battle against demographic growth has barely begun. The growing numbers of people who are young, energetic, talented yet unemployed results in growing frustration and alienation in society. New threats in the form of health epidemics and environmental degradation also loom large. These challenges cry out for a concerted response. Even as the State’s direct involvement in economic activity tapers off, there is thus a felt need for greater State intervention and, importantly, more effective intervention in important social sectors and for human development. The provision of drinking water, primary health care and housing to meet the basic needs of every citizen, have already been identified as priority areas and we have set ourselves the goal to make the nation fully literate by the year 2005. Increased literacy levels, better health care, the empowerment of women are all powerful stimuli for economic growth. In India we have seen how the States that have improved social indicators in areas such as literacy or the status of women, have also benefited from higher per capita incomes and more rapid economic growth. The task before us really is to ensure that the socio - economic achievements of India’s more advanced states are replicated in all other areas of country as well. This is a task that allows for no delay, as otherwise regional imbalances could become a source of tension in India’s federal polity.

All in all, it is estimated that India is likely to become one of the largest markets in the world, with a middle class estimated to be in the region of 500 million by the year 2025. The World Bank has predicted that India’s share of world trade and output will double in the next two decades and that this will "fundamentally alter the way the world does business by the year 2015." Other global economy watchers have predicted that by the year 2015, India will emerge as the fourth largest economy in the world. We remain confident that this prediction will come true.

Side by side with India, I visualize south Asia emerging from the shadows of conflict and hostility to take its rightful place among the comity of nations. Regional economic cooperation has in a way become the password to the modern age today. We have all seen and been impressed by the manner in which the economic integration of Europe, steadfastly and patiently pursued, has taken the bloody battlefield of 1945, and transformed it into an economic miracle that today stands on the threshold of full fledged political union. Latin America, South East Asia, Southern Africa are witness, in varying degree, to similar economic process. The neighbourhood foreign policy that I had the privilege to put into practice, first as Foreign Minister and later as Prime Minister of India - what is referred to as the Gujral Doctrine - was based on this very vision.

My approach was based on two convictions. Firstly, that regional cooperation in South Asia could materially improve the lives of over a billion of the world’s most impoverished people, while at the same time offering an escape route from the conflict and hatreds that history has burdened us with. Secondly was my belief that India, as the natural leader of the South Asian region, should not hesitate to make that extra contribution, the added effort required to get the process started. That is why the Gujral Doctrine offers to India’s smaller neighbours the incentive of non-reciprocal treatment. India loses little and gains a lot from such gestures. As and when regional cooperation in South Asia does take off, the resultant gains to each country and to the subcontinent will be immense. Considering just the energy sector for example, it is estimated India would be importing roughly 75% of her energy needs at a cost of US $25 billion, or well over one half of her total export earnings, by the year 2010. This burden gets progressively heavier in subsequent years. But while India is energy deficit, its neighbourhood is not. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal are all surplus in energy and if we were able to commercially access these surpluses, we may be able to significantly moderate our energy bill. In a similar manner, opening out trade, transportation and communication links in the subcontinent will greatly reduce costs in all SAARC countries, bringing increased benefits to all citizens, in particular the poor and the deprived sections of society on whose back the present inefficiencies are mainly sustained.

Both the above trends - the sustained economic growth of India and the progressive development of a common South Asian economic area - will I believe provide the basis for a much greater interaction between India and France in the years ahead.

India and France share much in common. We are both in favour of a democratic world order that respects the rights and the liberties of individuals and the sovereign equality of nations. We are both committed to secularism, to tolerance in the observance of religion, and to equity in society. We share a common interest in a stable and peaceful world order that rejects unipolarity or the predominance of a single State in any manner. We are averse to the spread of religious fundamentalism and to associated evils in forms such as terrorism, or traffic in arms and narcotics. We are for the progressive democratization of important world bodies such as the UN Security Council and the Bretton Woods institutions, and making their functioning transparent and responsive to global needs.

As Prime Minister of India, I had the privilege of receiving President Chirac in India as the Guest of Honour on the occasion of India’s Special 50th Anniversary Republic Day Celebrations, last January. The two of us had very pleasant and fruitful exchanges and this interaction brought home to me the broad identity of Indo-French interests and just how much we share in common. We were both agreed that there are huge prospects for Indo-French cooperation, both in the domain of international affairs and in the economic arena, and that we must exert ourselves to exploit these opportunities.

The India of today, and even more so the India of tomorrow, provides powerful incentives to France and French companies to look towards it. On our part, we need French technologies in a wide range of fields vital to the Indian economy. An area of special concern to us is the strengthening of our economic infrastructure. Indeed where this is concerned India is one of the world’s pre-eminent development frontiers. For we must be one of the few countries in the world where every year there is the need to add tens of thousands of megawatts of power, thousands of kilometres of roads and highways millions of telephones and millions of tonnes of nitrogen or cubic metres of gas. I would like to use this opportunity to invite French and other European enterprises and institutions to come to India to participate, to contribute and to benefit from India’s gigantic task of national construction.

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen;

India’s thriving democracy and the resilience of her political and civil institutions are her greatest achievements as an independent nation. When the chronology of the era is written and the verdict of history passed down, India’s success in integrating a vast and diverse land through the democratic processes will certainly be described as one of the great achievements of the latter half of the Twentieth Century.

India’s democratic traditions will continue to bear fruit in the years ahead. This foundation provides us the strength and stability to weather such storms as may lie ahead. As you know, India inhabits a region that is vulnerable to economic and political difficulties. An encircling arc of anxiety stretches all the way from the Middle East to South East Asia via Central Asia.

India by virtue of her position in the region, and on account of her relative strength and stability, may well be called upon to exert a calming, pacifying influence in this region. Joining hands with France and other great peace loving nations of the world, India will serve the interests of a peaceful and equitable world order. India’s destiny I think decrees that India plays an increasingly important stabilizing role in the affairs of Asia, and of the world.

I also foresee India serving as a bridge between the two great continents of Asia and Europe, uniting the two through its great ability to understand, assimilate and synthesise. In marrying the rich human resources and talents of Asia with the scientific prowess and technical mastery of Europe, our two civilisations can jointly ensure that the engine of this planet’s technological and economic growth does not falter. Attaining a cleaner, greener planet, developing alternative and renewable energy resources, attending to the old age and health care requirements of rapidly ageing global populations - these are but a small sample of the areas where we can and must pool our resources for the common good. Through such joint endeavours and striving, mutual understanding will grow, peace will find abundant vitality and strength and the creativity of mankind will take great leaps forward, bringing the fruits of development to the billions who have been waiting for them for too long a time.

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