President of the Emmanuel College Sister Janet Eisner, my dear friend Professor Lenore Martin, ladies and gentlemen, it is wonderful to be back in Boston, a city of which I have the most pleasant memories.
I am privileged to have this opportunity to share with you some thoughts on India’s role in the changing global landscape. I am aware that I am addressing a distinguished gathering of eminent people, and it is therefore an honor to be speaking before you on a theme of such relevance and importance to India, and to the world.
I believe we approach the subject of the talk against a backdrop that is defined by India’s unique identity as a pluralistic and diverse society, as a country defined not just by its regional situation, but more as one that is able to bridge divides, that respects diversity, that through its secular, democratic traditions redefines conventional definitions of national power. India is a country, it is the world’s largest democracy, it is also an enduring civilizational construct. As has been noted elsewhere, there is a legitimacy about India’s strength, its ability to “bridge divides of interests and identities” – these are strengths based on India’s domestic experience. And, there lies the power of the Indian example. Ever more than before, therefore, there is need for us to embrace the idea of India when change is upon us, in our region and the world, geopolitically, economically, demographically. We live in an age of re-definitions. As the economic center of gravity has shifted towards the Indo-Pacific region, there has also been a concomitant shift in geo-politics towards that part of the world. The financial and economic crisis that started in 2008 and from which the world has not yet completely recovered has accelerated this pace of change in a dramatic manner.
The core values that define India- the embrace of a diversity of opinions and outlook, the extraordinary mix of different religions and cultural practices, profusion of languages, variations of climate and topography, and differences in levels of economic development and, flowing from all this, our respect for democratic traditions and multi-party democracy make us very much like the United States. Since the founding of our republic we have consistently worked to strengthen our thriving, vibrant and often noisy democracy, with an electorate of more than 700 million people. With all their diversity, the people of India are united by a shared history and civilization, sustained by a pluralist and secular democracy. The idea of India and its vision is not one of enforcing conformity but of celebrating diversity. John Steinbeck once wrote of America, “Our land is of every kind geologically and climatically, and our people are of every kind also--of every race, of every ethnic category--and yet our land is one nation, and our people are Americans”. The inscription on your seal “E pluribus unum” or “out of many, one” is an idea, which in my view, is not dissimilar to the Indian ideal; we have, in India, taken the concept of “Unity in diversity” to our hearts, and made it the defining path of our daily lives.
India today represents a unique model of development in the world. Our policy choices for development have been a product of a healthy debate resulting in a broad political consensus. Even though at times the pace of development might seem slow, the overall trend and direction remain clear. Indeed, as Larry Summers, former Chairman of National Economic Council noted, India’s growth reflects the idea of a democratic developmental state, driven not by a mercantilist emphasis on exports, but a people-centered emphasis on growing levels of consumption and a widening middle class. And uniquely, India’s emergence is not regarded as a threat, but, rather, welcomed by the vast majority of nations.
Sixty five years into India’s journey as a vibrant democracy, I would say that it is the Indian model of democratic governance, its acceptance of pluralism, its emphasis on inclusive, sustainable growth, together with its economic strength, resilience and dynamism of its people that propels the promise and the potential of India’s role on the global stage. Additionally, we have always relied on diplomacy and statecraft in building relations and addressing problem issues, and have never been protagonists for the first use of force in settling outstanding problems.
Let me first turn to our economy. Our sustained economic growth, particularly in the last two decades, has led to a dramatic transformation in India. It has lifted millions of people out of poverty and led to the rise of a large middle class. Despite some slowdown in economic growth in the first half of 2011-12 which stood at 7.3 per cent as against 8.5 per cent in 2010-11, we have been able to keep the adverse impact of global slowdown and uncertainty on our economy to the minimum.
Notwithstanding this continuing uncertainty in the global economic situation, our economy is in some ways better placed than those of many other nations. India’s resilience results from the fact that the bulk of India’s GDP is domestic demand driven. There are other advantages too that India enjoys. These include a large young population. The median age in India is just over 25 years. There is a large pool of skilled workers that continues to expand as it is estimated that annually more than 3 million graduates and 300,000 engineers join the workforce. This implies that over the next several decades we would continue to see an expansion in our young work force which bodes well for India as we continue on our economic growth path. The Indian middle class, approximately around 300 million and growing, is fuelling domestic consumption which accounts for more than 60% of the GDP.
But, there still remain enormous development challenges. We need to create modern infrastructure and manufacturing capacities, improve agriculture productivity, ensure health, education and the skill development of our population so as to benefit from our demographic assets, and secure sustainable sources of energy to fuel our growth and at the same time ensure that the fruits of development are accessed by all sections of society. While the government has laid out ambitious policies to meet these challenges, there is another dimension too, in that these also represent an immense opportunity for our international partners to join in and benefit from our growth. For instance, India needs to invest an additional 3-4 per cent of GDP on infrastructure or about US$ 1 trillion to sustain current levels of growth. Another developmental challenge is the interlinked issue of energy security and climate change. We have to address the shortfall in meeting our energy requirements. We are therefore working on a whole range of clean energy options including solar energy, wind energy, nuclear energy and clean coal technology as well as energy efficiency. Also, we have committed to keep our per capita emissions below the average of those in the developed countries and to reduce the emissions intensity of India's GDP by 20 to 25% by 2020 as compared to 2005. We are also working with the international community to meet this challenge. With the US for example, we have established a Joint Center for Clean Energy Research, to encourage development of affordable and reliable new technologies. The first awards for joint projects are going to be announced in a few weeks.
One out of every six persons on our planet is Indian. If we are able to successfully tackle the developmental challenges and fulfill the priorities we have set, the beneficial impact of that would register globally. Our vision is to harness the full potential of India as a knowledge power, to alleviate poverty and illiteracy. And, we will defend India’s values of democracy, pluralism and secularism from terrorism and jehadism with every fiber of our being.
Let me now turn our searchlight outwards. Even as we pursue our national and developmental interests, we are also intensifying our engagement with world. We have benefitted from our integration into global economy since the 1990s. This engagement is bound to grow as India actively pursues its interests in the world.
What drives India’s foreign policy? As for all countries, our foreign policy seeks to forge strategies that serve India’s interest, protect its sovereignty and its security concerns, and promote its economic development. Our vision of a secular, pluralistic and tolerant society within the country, embracing diversity of opinions and outlook, is sought to be articulated in our dealings with the world. India’s global outlook and foreign policy is a reflection of the priorities that it has defined for itself as it seeks to develop, to be secure, to withstand external threats, to ensure that it’s national and developmental interests are not diluted by actions by hostile players in the global arena. A key feature of our foreign policy has always been our desire to retain our ability to make independent decisions in the best interests of our people. I believe also that there is a strong sense of realism and pragmatism that informs Indian foreign policy in our new century and is attached to the principles that have guided us in external relations since the early years of our Republic. Globalization is breaking barriers between countries and regions, raising expectations in emergent economies as well as new power rivalries, and highlighting the compulsions of energy security, the need for unhindered growth and passage of trade between nations, and the growing capability of non-state actors, outside any rule-based system. The power and grasp of new technologies and their capacity to change the way we have conventionally defined security and national defense, call for intelligent and creative responses in diplomacy in order to ensure secure and viable solutions.
For the foreseeable future, our foremost national task is to ensure sustained economic growth so that we can provide opportunities to all our citizens to realize their full potential. Our primary concern is to ensure a peaceful periphery and good relations with our neighbours. Our geography as a subcontinent must be transformed, as it has been said recently, into a geography of hope. With this, we also seek a balanced relationship with the major powers and a durable and equitable multilateral global order. India's stakes in a global and regional environment of peace, stability and broader prosperity have never been higher. Today, as India’s economic growth provides it more weight and adds to our influence in the international arena, we remain conscious that with this comes ever increasing responsibility – responsibility in weighing every move we make and positions we take with the realization that India is growingly, one of the key players on the global stage today and will be called upon increasingly to deploy its potential in the interest of global peace and development. And, buoyed by its sustainable economic growth, India is more willing and able to play a role commensurate with its size and destiny, whether in the UN Security Council or other multinational institutions such as the G20. Our developmental partnerships with regions like Africa and particularly with the least developed countries, are of particular meaning and significance.
The first sphere of our external engagement is quite naturally within our sub-continent and the enabling of a geography of hope. Domestically, we have since independence, tried to pursue a policy of inclusive and equitable socio-economic growth that empowers all our citizens and affords them opportunities to realize their full potential in a democratic manner. The policies that we seek to pursue in our neighborhood and beyond are based on this experience. Our Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has often said that the countries of the sub-continent have a shared destiny. Our effort therefore has been to create neighborhood partnerships so that our neighbors can benefit from India’s growth. Our vision is to re-create the shared linkages, free flow of goods, peoples and ideas that characterized our shared geographical space for our mutual benefit without wishing away the political realities that exist today. India’s vision for the region calls for development of a framework for shared economic prosperity embedded in habits of dialogue and cooperation. With its growing economy and expanding markets, India can, and is willing to partner with other countries and play the role of an anchor for long term peace, prosperity and stability of the region.
Developments in Afghanistan over the past few years have demonstrated the indivisibility of peace, security and prosperity in the region. In this context, the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan will have an important bearing for the future of South Asia’s peoples, and, therefore, India has a vital stake in their stability and progress. With Pakistan, we are making earnest and committed efforts to build a peaceful, cooperative and normal relationship, and to reduce the trust deficit that has blighted that relationship for so long. It is our hope and expectation that these efforts are not thwarted by the threat of terrorism that continues to emanate from within Pakistan and, whose deadly impact is increasingly felt within that country.
In Afghanistan, we are working with the Afghan people, as they try to build a stable, prosperous and democratic country. We remain committed to Afghanistan’s development and this is reflected in the India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement of 2011; our two billion dollars of assistance for Afghanistan’s development; our support for building Afghan capacity for governance, security and development; our efforts to improve its connectivity with the world; and our commitment to invest in Afghanistan's mining sector. We believe that Afghanistan's regional economic integration and the realization of its destiny as a hub of trade and connectivity in our region, is important for the stability and prosperity of both that country and the wider region. We have supplemented our endeavors in Afghanistan, with cooperative efforts with the US to help vulnerable and marginalized groups, particularly women. We are also watching in this regard the current US efforts to promote a political solution. It is necessary and crucial that such efforts ensure that we build, and in no way, regress, on the gains achieved in the last decade in Afghanistan, as too much is at stake for the various sections of Afghan society, and for peace and stability in our shared region.
Looking beyond this immediate neighborhood, we have also been expanding our circles of engagement, starting with South-east Asia, the Indian Ocean region, West Asia, Central Asia, Africa, and the world’s major powers.
I have often said that South East Asia begins with North East India. Therefore through our ‘Look East’ Policy enunciated in the early nineties, we have tried to reconnect and reach out in the civilizational space we share with our near neighbours in Southeast Asia. In the two decades since 1992, we have been able to increasingly promote processes of cooperation with Southeast & East Asia at the strategic, political, economic, cultural and people-to-people levels. We are building on our strong bilateral ties, expanding our roles in regional organizations and working to build comprehensive economic partnerships. And, we are adding content to our economic relations with the region, through growing strategic and security engagement. We have a stake in a stable, prosperous and secure Indo-Pacific region, an objective that is shared by the US too. We are therefore strengthening India-US consultations and coordination on developments in the region. And recently, we have expanded this process to include Japan as a partner in this dialogue.
China is our largest neighbor. The rise of China is a reality that stands out across our regional landscape. We have challenges in our relationship, but also enormous opportunities for a mutually beneficial partnership at the bilateral and global levels. Over the last two decades, we have sought to deepen our dialogue and strengthen bilateral relations with China. Today, China is our largest trading partner in goods. Peace and tranquility have prevailed in the India-China border areas. We will continue to invest in building a stable and cooperative relationship with China that is mutually beneficial, and also a source of regional stability and prosperity. We feel that there are a number of issues where India, China and the United States can work together for our collective benefit just as we are now beginning to do with Japan. In this context, we believe that the US proposal for a trilateral dialogue between India, China and the United States merits serious consideration.
We firmly believe that our success, and indeed that of the larger international community, depends on our ability to use forge an inclusive architecture of economic integration and security cooperation for the Asia-Pacific or the Indo-Pacific as it is being increasingly termed, to create a basis for a stable and prosperous Asia. In this regard, we welcome the fact that issues such as terrorism, prevention and response to natural disasters, piracy, protecting sea lanes of communication and drug trafficking are also being discussed in the East Asia Summit. These are the challenges that cut across national boundaries and require cooperative responses.
Within the region, there is increasing global attention on maritime security and in that context, on the Indian Ocean, which is central to India’s economy and its security. When the map of our region is viewed upwards from the perspective of the ocean that surrounds peninsular India, you will see that India’s future destiny is in many ways defined by its maritime interests. India does not want to see this ocean emerge as a contested common or remain vulnerable to natural disasters, piracy or instability in coastal or littoral states. We in India want to see the Indian Ocean region develop into a zone of cooperation rather than of competition and domination. We support a dialogue among all stakeholders based on an affirmation of the principles of freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and peaceful settlement of maritime disputes, in accordance with international law. For this reason, we not only have robust bilateral economic and security relationships in the region, but work through regional initiatives like the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium and the Indian Ocean Rim Association of Regional Cooperation. This is also an area of growing importance and relevance in the India-US relationship.
We have been witnessing unprecedented developments in West Asia. As a democracy, India is of firm belief that people of all countries have the right to choose their own destiny and shape their own future as they deem fit. For us, the region is of immense importance. Not only do we have civilizational links with that region, but it is also home to about six million Indians whose welfare is a matter of priority. It is a region that accounts for more than two-third of our petroleum imports, contributes over US $ 100 billion in export markets and billions of dollars in remittances. We have therefore immense stakes in the peace and stability of the region. This is an objective that we share with the broader international community as well. Indeed we have enhanced our bilateral consultations with the US to exchange perspectives on the changes underway and to increase mutual understanding. Even though we might have differences on some tactical approaches there is overall agreement on the long term objective that people’s aspirations in these countries must be respected. As a freedom-loving people, committed to the secular ideals of our founding fathers, our hope is that the secular, democratic spirit that we saw blooming at the outset of the Arab Spring early last year, does not dissipate, to be overcome by extreme ideologies.
I would like to say a few words about Iran in this regard. We have consistently said that Iran must cooperate with the IAEA to resolve all the outstanding issues about its nuclear program that continue to raise doubts in the minds of the international community. We appreciate that Iran has right to utilize the benefits of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. But, this right has to be exercised in conformity with international obligations that a state has taken. And Iran, as a non-nuclear weapon state party to NPT has certain obligations that it must comply with, fully and transparently. But, we also hope that these issues are resolved peacefully. As some observers have noted, what we need is diplomatic drive and creativity more than ever to address the situation. The talk of war will not help a solution and only erodes global cohesion. As a near neighbor, and our only surface access to Central Asia and Afghanistan, engagement with Iran is of relevance and meaning to us. And, even as our imports of Iranian crude continue to decline and are currently under 10% of our overall imports, it does constitute a significant share of our oil imports. We do believe that our relationship with Iran is neither inconsistent with our non-proliferation objectives, nor is it in contradiction with the relationships that we have with our friends in West Asia or with the United States.
Our relationship with the United States is in fact built on our shared values and converging interests. It is based on our fundamental belief that we have mutually beneficial stakes in each other’s success. We have in the last decade, set up a comprehensive architecture of engagement based on broad political support in each of our country, strong people to people linkages, and a growing habit of cooperation. Over the past ten years, the two governments have put in place a very robust agenda for cooperation for our partnership that is, to quote Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, founded on both “principles and pragmatism”. As the late K. Subrahmanyam, the doyen of India’s strategic thinkers said, this relationship should not be measured by the number of successful transactions. He said, presciently, that the “relationship must..be assessed on its progress in setting up structures that make it more effective in countering the challenges of the 21st century.. Global governance must rely upon networks of bilateral strategic partnerships among democratic powers that manage rather than impose outcomes, and provide a powerful response to the challenges they face”. In the months ahead, as we plan for the third meeting of the Strategic Dialogue in Washington later this summer, it would be our joint endeavor to build on this foundation, consolidate on the work that had already been done and to implement the initiatives that have been agreed upon to qualitatively improve the relationship. Indeed in India, we attach importance to our strategic partnership with the US both for advancing global peace, stability and progress as well as in the pursuit of India’s national development goals including promoting better education opportunities, improving agriculture productivity, creating a world class infrastructure and development of sustainable energy sources.
I have no doubt that our strategic partnership will intensify further, both in the bilateral context and on regional issues. We are on the same side when it comes to eliminating those forces that threaten the freedom of our democracies and the safety and wellbeing of our peoples, and hinder our development.
To conclude, may I reiterate that India will continue to be a responsible member of the international community and will play its legitimate role on the global stage, a role that is commensurate with its size, its growing economic strength, its proven capacity to manage its enormous diversity within a democratic polity, and its lasting contributions to global peace and security.