Mahatma Gandhi was a visionary who
made an epoch making contribution for socio, political, economic and
cultural transformation of not only India but also the world. His
public life began with peaceful civil disobedience in the Indian community's struggle against
racism and for civil rights of non-white population in South Africa.
After his return from South Africa to India, he organized all
sections of society, from budding industrialists, educated
intelligential, women and children to poor farmers and labourers to
protest against oppressive British regime and widespread
discrimination. Assuming leadership of the Indian
National Congress, Gandhi led nationwide campaigns for
the alleviation of poverty, for fight against merciless taxation of
poor peasants, for the liberation of women, for communal harmony and
democratic rights of ethnic groups, for an end to barbaric practice
of untouchability and
caste discrimination, and for the economic self-sufficiency of the
nation, but above all, for Swaraj (Home Rule) the independence of India from foreign
domination. Gandhi famously led the civil disobedience movement
against the salt tax imposed by the British Administration with the
400 kilometer (250 miles) Dandi Salt March in 1930. He masterminded the Quit India
Movement in 1942.
I congratulate Shri M.D. Shah Mahila College of Arts & Commerce, Malad for
organizing a National Seminar on this important theme during the
centenary year of Gandhiji’s famous series of articles in Harijan
written during 1908 compiled as “Hind Swaraj” in which he gave his
vision of future of India and demanded “human face” for economic
development, growth, science and technology.
Socio-political Development of India since Independence
Let me now focus on India’s political and economic achievements since Independence
and what these portend for the future. Our consolidation as a
national polity has been impressive and no one really doubts India’s
stability today. This is important to state because that was not how
international opinion always perceived us. In the 1960s, for
example, there was a considerable body of analyses that predicted
very alarming scenarios arising out of the growth of regionalism.
Our ability to reconcile competing demands was also questioned,
particularly during times of economic difficulties. But today, there
is a broad appreciation that the Indian political ethos is
accommodative of diversity and respectful of federalism. Indeed, the
inherently pluralistic culture of India has actually provided the
basis for the working of complex coalitions at both central and state levels.
Similarly, internal contradictions and differences – not unnatural in a large,
varied and democratic society – have often been misinterpreted.
Observers unused to the complexity of our socio-political matrix
sometimes tend to believe that this negatively affects the
efficiency of our development process. But if there is one lesson
out of the last sixty years, it is that the culture of debate that
accompanies decision-making is central to the management of the
Indian political process. In many ways, the world is revisiting the
debates of ‘democracy versus development’ and ‘pluralism versus
homogeneity.’ India is increasingly recognized for its successes in
simultaneously building an open society and an open economy. That,
in itself, has significant repercussions, as much for India as for the world.
This recognition may not have been as strongly endorsed as it is today if India’s
political achievements were not matched by its economic success. An
audience in Singapore needs no convincing of the merits of our
reforms, initiated 15 years ago. But even more skeptical quarters
have now come to accept that the unleashing of energies in India and
growth of our aspirations has the most profound consequences for the
global economy. The changes in India itself are visible for all to
see. A sustained 9% growth rate is manifesting itself in growing
incomes and rising demand. Poverty levels in the last decade alone
have declined significantly in both urban and rural areas. Contrary
to many expectations, Indian business has proven its competitiveness
as our economy integrates with the world.
Security & Related Issues
Over the last six decades, an India that was a vocal exponent of disarmament was
compelled by circumstances to emerge as a nuclear weapon state. The
challenge that we will now face is to fashion diplomacy more
appropriate to our present strategic posture, while simultaneously
pursuing disarmament goals and participating in international
nuclear commerce and technology initiatives.
Relevance of Non-alignment and Foreign Policy Issues
Sixty years ago, when India gained independence, it joined the international
community as a polity fractured by the Partition and as an economy
shattered by two centuries of colonialism. The challenges that it
faced were so fundamental that they would have been daunting for
even a seasoned leadership. Only one which had so determinedly waged
an independence movement over half a century could have assumed the
responsibilities of governance so seamlessly and articulated a coherent national agenda.
There were three major constraints that India faced on the foreign policy front in
its early years. The first was to undertake the internal political
consolidation and the economic reconstruction of India. The former
process occupied the first decade and the latter is still ongoing.
The second, an inevitable consequence of Partition, was a reduction
in India’s size and reach. There was not only a disruption of many
of its historical connectivities but an adversarial relationship
with Pakistan which arose from the circumstances of the Partition.
The third constraint was the structural rigidity in the
international system emanating from the Cold War which significantly
circumscribed India’s freedom to exercise choices as it set about
the task of nation building. Non-alignment was a response to this
reality. Six decades later, each one of these factors has in some
measure, changed to our advantage, leading to a more optimistic
vision for India’s future.
Against this backdrop, how does India see the current global landscape from its
own vantage point and what is its perspective regarding its own role
in Asia and the world?
the current international landscape, there is only one country which
has a truly global agenda and also a global reach, which is the
United States. However, there is also a cluster of major powers with
strong regional profiles but increasingly global impact. These
include the E.U., Russia, China, Japan, India, Brazil and South
Africa. While U.S. pre-eminence is unlikely to be reversed in the
foreseeable future, the relative importance of the other major
powers is likely to increase. We are already in a world of what I
would call "asymmetric multipolarity" with the asymmetry
progressively diminishing over a period of time. India has an
instinctive preference for multipolarity and multipolarity globally
implies a multipolar Asia as well and this is a trend which is
positive from India’s standpoint as an emerging power.
international agenda today is dominated, as never before, by a
number of significant cross-cutting issues that are not amenable to
national or regional solutions. They require global responses and
this itself would limit the scope for competitive behaviour among
major states. These cross-cutting issues include terrorism,
drug-trafficking, international crime, global pandemics, environment
to name a few. The participation of large developing countries like
India and China would be imperative in seeking solutions to such
issues, even as multilateral institutions and multilateral
approaches become essential tools in confronting these challenges.
India will be increasingly engaged in playing a leading role both in
the creation of such global institutions and in the fashioning of
the current global landscape is characterized by the emergence of a
number of major powers, there is unmistakably a shift in the center
of gravity of global economy towards Asia and with that the relative
weight of Asia in global affairs. The most obvious manifestation of
this is of course the emergence of both India and China as two
dynamic, continental sized economies, but also the continued
expansion and maturation of ASEAN economies, and the resumption of
growth in Japan. How Asia will manage this historic transformation
will be critical to the prospects for peace and prosperity both in
our region and the world. There is little doubt that India’s
energies will be focused to a considerable extent, in managing this
transformation and participating in the creation of new political,
security and economic architectures in our region.
Recent trends indicate that development will, in the future, be
increasingly knowledge-driven and technology-driven. Countries that
demonstrate strengths in innovation, in knowledge creation and
applications and have the demographic profile to sustain growth over
a period of time, will emerge in the front ranks of the world in the
next 30 to 50 years. India has demonstrated strengths in this
regard. It has a large and growing corps of skilled and technical
qualified manpower. IT is an example. At the same time, it has a
young population which will ensure sustained growth over the next
technology and communications continue to shrink the global
neighbourhood and interaction among countries and peoples grow in
quantum leaps, the ability to handle and reconcile diversities of
ethnicity, religion, culture and language, is what will distinguish
successful societies. There will be a natural tendency for plural
democracies to seek proximity and confront the intolerance and
hostility generated in societies unable to adapt to rapidly shifting
winds of change. India is an example of a successful, plural
democracy, which has by and large, been able to accommodate immense
diversity within a liberal political order. It is, therefore,
well-positioned to adapt to a more interconnected world.
In articulating an appropriate foreign policy for the next couple of decades, it is
the parameters detailed above which would be the most relevant.
There will be certain significant elements of continuity. The
objective of India’s foreign policy has long been to expand its
strategic space and strengthen the autonomy of its decision -
making. As a large and populous country, and heir to a rich and
ancient civilization, India has always had a sense of its place in
the world. The experience of colonial domination only strengthened
the zealousness with which its people safeguarded their newly won
independence. Non-aligned foreign policy was an expression of this
ethos and remains so today. What has changed is the context in which
this objective is sought to be pursued.
Divested of the bipolarity of the Cold War and the rigidities of East-West
confrontation, international relations today offers India the
opportunity to simultaneously pursue closer engagement with the all
the major powers; strengthening of relations with one does not
inevitably lead to diminishing returns on some other front. It is
possible today to think of flexible and shifting coalitions of major
powers to deal with a varied set of challenges. For example, India
is part of an India-Brazil-South Africa arrangement called IBSA. It
is a member of a Russia-China-India trilateral and an observer at
the Shanghai Corporation Organization, even as it is comfortable
pursuing a closer consultative relationship in the quadrilateral
format with the US, Japan and Australia. India works together with
the EU on issues of energy and environment, but it is also willing
to cooperate with the U.S., China, Japan, Australia and South Korea
under the Asia-Pacific Clean Development Partnership. India’s
foreign policy is becoming expansive, with an unprecedented degree
of regional and global engagement. The rapidity with which the
country is becoming enmeshed in a variety of regional and global
networks is truly astonishing. This trend towards more intense
engagement with a globalised world is likely to continue in the coming years.
Operating at all these levels naturally require an integrated vision. A pre-requisite
for a multi-polar world, for example, will have to be a multi-polar
Asia. Independence of thought and action will remain a dominant
feature of India’s diplomacy into the future. Even when we were much
weaker, India was chary of being used by other powers. There is no
cause for that to change. Our approach remains to translate the
achievements of one relationship into gains in another. The record
of the last few years would bear this out.
The transformation in India’s ties with the United States in recent
years should be seen in this context. The US is India’s largest
trade, technology and investment partner, a home to a successful
Indian community and a large student body. Its value to India lies
particularly in its ability to shape global sentiment on a wide
range of issues. Our civilian nuclear energy understanding is an
appropriate example. Other countries have leveraged their
relationship with the US to accelerate their growth and there is no
reason why India should not do so. Stronger Indo-US ties not only
bring benefits to the two partners but contribute to regional and
global stability. They have also strengthened our hand in building
many other relationships across the world.
Prime Minister Abe’s recent visit to India has highlighted the change in
India-Japan relations. This has been a long time in coming. It is
apparent that Japan now sees value in going beyond those regions of
Asia with which it had historical familiarity. The scale of the
economic partnership under contemplation is impressive. We also
share a vital interest in ensuring security of maritime trade.
India has had longstanding ties with Russia and nations of the European Union
which too have expanded along the lines of our other major
relationships. Russia remains a key security partner, one with whom
we also share strong political interests. The engagement with
Europe, of course, is dominated much more by economic cooperation
and the presence of a large Indian community.
Bilateral Relations with Neighbours & Beyond
Our relationship with China has also expanded noticeably during this very period.
While our bilateral trade has grown exponentially, the real story is
the rapid broad-basing of our interaction. Today, the two countries
have established a commendable record of exchanges in the political,
security, economic and cultural spheres. It is not always
appreciated how much India and China have in common.
While our global engagement is expanding, it is also true that this expansion is
increasingly weighted in the direction of Asia, particularly
South-East Asia and the Far East. All major indices e.g. growth of
trade, investment, transport and communications, point to India’s
economic resurgence becoming an integral component of the Asian
growth story. India has now accepted that its economic destiny is
now firmly linked to its fuller integration in the global economy.
However, global integration will come increasingly through greater
connectivity and enmeshing with the dynamic economies of South East
Asia and East Asia. This is precisely what is happening. There has
been a steady evolution in India’s Look East Policy – from a
sectoral to a full dialogue partner with ASEAN and the imminent
prospect of an India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement. The East Asia
Summit is an even broader canvas on which such integration could be pursued.
India’s relations with Pakistan deserve a special mention as they have been
the most intractable of our diplomatic problems. Many of you perhaps
would be surprised to learn how normal our relationship has become
since 2004 despite our continuing differences on major issues.
Sentiments of civil society have been very much a driving force in
this normalization process. Governments have responded by creating a
more helpful enabling environment. Support by Pakistan for terrorism
directed against India has long been a particular obstacle to
improved ties. The commitment made in January 2004 to desist must be
honoured if we are to progress. There, however, seems to be a
growing awareness in both countries in recent years that our futures
are closely inter-linked and that the present impasse helps neither
country. On the Indian side, our Prime Minister has underlined our
complete flexibility, short of contemplating territorial changes.
There has been a serious search for a solution underway for some
time now. Since a middle ground does not exist, political ingenuity
has to create one. A lowering of tensions is obviously the basic
pre-requisite to do so, followed by as broad-based engagement as
possible. We now have to see how purposefully the two countries can
move down a road that has never been taken. A dilution in external
interests that have perpetuated the differences in South Asia would
also be greatly helpful in that context.
A few remarks about our relations with Singapore. An India that envisages in the
opportunities that are offered by the changing global scenario the
realisation of its aspirations naturally will pursue vigorously
cooperation with other economically resurgent societies. As you
would have gathered, our world view contemplates both concentric
circles of interest and a multi-polar global architecture. Singapore
is located in one of the inner circles, and is clearly a priority
relationship for India. It is among our top five trade and
investment partners. Our privileged relationship is reflected in the
Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), a framework
agreed upon in June 2005. Its results are no mere statistics.
Singapore is the favoured location for Indian businesses seeking a
global footprint and more than 2600 of them have set up offices
there. Most of our large banks have their presence as well and the
air connectivity between our two countries is particularly strong.
At the Indian end, Singaporean companies have moved beyond financial
investment to assume project execution responsibilities. We have
strong political and security convergences and are establishing
effective institutional linkages to advance them. Above all, as
multi-ethnic and plural societies, we have a natural bonding that
can only gain further significance as India globalises.
India’s Culture, cultural diplomacy & Globalisation
What kind of India the world would see in the next six decades? It would be an
India largely focused in raising the quality of life of its people.
This will be the basis on which our external engagements would be
judged. India’s response to the forces of globalization will also be
watched closely. We have the cultural strengths and the
self-assurance to meet the world on our terms. What augurs well is
that India, as a cross-roads culture, has never seen the world in
adversarial terms. If the past is a guide at all, the world could
learn much from South East Asia’s long tradition of interaction with
India. That tradition has been very much one of an exchange of
ideas, people and commerce. Therefore, one can safely predict that
interests of this region would be well served by a more prosperous,
confident and active India.