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Address by Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Minister to the Indian-American Community at a reception hosted by Ambassador Ronen Sen

New York
September 24, 2006

Ladies & Gentlemen,

At the very outset, let me express my gratitude for all of you present here this evening and for an opportunity to share some of our perceptions and also an opportunity to meet you all. We are in a period of good cheer in India on the eve of our annual festive season, when we will be celebrating festivals of many great faiths which have enriched our heritage over the centuries and millennia. The holy month of Ramzan has just begun today. We marked the beginning of the Jewish new year yesterday. Amongst you I see so many faces of diverse India, and I feel as if I am at home.

When I look at you and meet other fellow Indians from different parts of the world, I often ask myself - what is it about us that we are able to adapt ourselves so easily to different societies, traditions and cultures? Why is it possible for Indians to make different places their home and to make themselves liked and admired? How is it that they make such meaningful contributions to the societies in which they live? In short, how is it so effortless for them to adapt seamlessly to the globalised world and yet retain their links over generations with the glorious civilizational heritage of India? While I do not always look at antiquity to seek answers to the riddles of contemporary times, I am convinced that many of the answers to the success of Indians at home and abroad lie in our history and culture.

It is indeed a matter of great pride for us that we represent a great and composite civilization that defines our “Indianness” and our worldview. Our thinking is shaped by a history in which practically all the communities of world have thrived. India has always been a mosaic of cultures and an open society. Great religions have been born in our nation, and many from outside have been absorbed and internalised. Not many people are aware that while the great religions of the East - Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism and many others - grew from the soil of India, the faiths from West Asia were also embraced with equal respect and reverence. It was as early as the middle of the first century AD that Christianity came to India; that is about a thousand years before it took root in most of Europe. Jewish people lived in India with dignity and respect for centuries. Islam came first to India with Arab traders and enriched our civilization. Zoroastrians sought refuge and thrived in India for centuries. This rich heritage became an integral part of our identity. In contemporary India, it is reflected in our commitment to secularism, which is enshrined in our Constitution. 

In a world of conflict and bigotry, India provides an alternative model of peaceful co-existence. In an age in which people talk of the end of history and a clash of civilizations, Gandhi’s message is that civilizations enrich each other by overlapping and interacting. 

Friends, 

Another characteristic of the globalized world is the exchange of goods, services and people amongst the different parts of the world. It is a reflection of the logic of business and industry that they will move to wherever it is profitable and economical. This was also happening thousands of years ago. A spice route traveled north through Jammu & Kashmir in India to Central Asia to connect with the great Silk Route from China to Europe. Similarly, ships from the Malabar coast of India sailed to the Gulf and the Red Sea for further movement to the west. Ships from the eastern coast of India also traveled great distances to the Far East for trade and other exchanges. This overland and maritime trade connected our land with distant peoples and cultures. India has never been an insular land unused to trade and commerce with others. It is, therefore, not surprising that we see merit today in an increasingly inter-dependent and globalised world. The logic of our economic reforms was to strengthen ourselves to compete, and by competing, further strengthen our nation.
Friends,

I am aware that you represent the fastest growing and third most populous Asian group in the United States. Indian-Americans are the best educated and amongst the wealthiest ethnic groups in this country. The largest number of foreign students in US universities is from India. Thousands of prominent Indian-American scientists, faculty members and research workers are contributing to the intellectual capital in American universities and other institutions. Indian-Americans have made their mark in areas of high technology and innovation, real estate development, journalism, legal practice, literature, music and art. They run a number of successful small businesses, head some large US corporations and control about 40% of hotels in this country. With over 40,000 doctors and more than 12,000 medical students and interns, Indian Americans contribute significantly to healthcare in the United States.

You have the great advantage of coming from an open and pluralistic society and making another free society your home. And openness is the basis of human creativity. Democracies sometimes seem noisy and divisive, but they are ultimately the true guarantee of unity and equitable development. Free and fair elections in India over the last six decades and the steady strengthening of democratic institutions have ingrained a tradition of democracy in such a large and diverse a country – a phenomenon which is unparalleled and unprecedented in world history. A society as diverse as India can only be governed as a democratic, federal and pluralistic polity. Since, for most of you, your country of origin and your country of adoption are both democracies, I am sure that your participation, as good American citizens, in the political process of this country will serve your and this nation’s long-term interests. I have thus been heartened to learn of contribution of the Indian-American community to political life of the United States. I am sure that, with each passing year, your participation in the political processes at the local, state and national level, will continue to increase and be commensurate with your contributions to other aspects of life in the United States.

The Indian-American community has rightly earned for itself an extraordinary place in this country. We rejoice in your well-being and take great pride in your achievements. As you have flourished, so has the relationship between India and the United States. Today, we stand on the cusp of a great transformation in this relationship. Your role in this process is vital. Your creativity, knowledge and work ethic have helped to transform the image of India in American minds. In a relatively short span of time, you have traversed a vast distance. The rise of the influence of the Indian-American community has occurred in parallel with the strategic, economic and technological resurgence of India. India has experienced a noticeable growth of its GDP in the last few years, which reached 7.5% in fiscal 2004 and 8.4% in fiscal 2005. Our economy continues to remain buoyant and we hope to have sustained growth at higher levels. In the first four months of fiscal 2006, our exports have grown by nearly 34%. During the first quarter of 2006-07, foreign direct investment inflows into India have grown 47%. India’s industrial growth was 12.4% in July 2006; the fastest in the past decade. It will perhaps not be inaccurate to say that India is today the fastest growing democracy in the world.

Friends,

India has, and will, continue to be a responsible member of the international community. We are one of the largest troop contributing countries to UN peacekeeping operations. Within our capabilities, we have always responded to the need for relief and supplies in case of natural disasters in any part of the globe. Even as a country affected by the tsunami of December 2004, we were the first to provide help to neighbours such as Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia. When Hurricane Katrina caused death and devastation in the United States, we made a modest contribution in money and relief supplies flown abroad Indian Air Force aircraft as a gesture of our sympathy and solidarity with the American people. When an earthquake struck the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and parts of Pakistan, we offered assistance to our neighbour. 

India has also been a responsible member of the international community in other ways. Despite being the first Asian country to have built a nuclear reactor indigenously and then developing full nuclear fuel cycle activities, we have always used these sensitive technologies with great caution and care. There has not been even one case of outward nuclear proliferation from India to any country. This is the premise on which the international community today is prepared to cooperate with us in developing civil nuclear technology. Avenues for this cooperation were opened by the 18th July understanding reached during the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the United States last year, and the 2nd March agreement reached during the visit of President Bush to India this year. The India-US civil nuclear agreement is emblematic of the new relationship. Let me state clearly that this agreement pertains solely to civilian power generation. The agreement does not pertain to and will not in any way affect our strategic programme nor our indigenous research and development programme. We look forward to the completion of the legislative and other processes to permit the commencement of civil nuclear cooperation.

Our initiatives have not been limited to that of civil nuclear cooperation. Let us look at some developments in the last 18 months alone. During this period, India and the United States signed an Open Skies Agreement to increase the number of flights between our countries and enhance trade and tourism. Since then the number of flights have increased and non-stop flights between the two countries have commenced. We concluded the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership, or the NSSP process. This has made licensing procedures for export of sensitive goods and technologies from the United States to India easier and more predictable. We have established an Energy Dialogue that aims at boosting cooperation across the whole spectrum of energy sources. We have established a new Economic Dialogue between our two Governments, and launched a CEO’s Forum representing top Indian and US companies. The New Framework for the India-US Defense Relationship that Defence Secretary Rumsfeld and I concluded in June last year laid the foundation for cooperation, including in defence industry. India and the United States have also signed a bilateral Science and Technology Agreement and established a Bi-National Science and Technology Commission with the objective of vastly enhancing cooperation in basic and applied sciences. We have decided to cooperate in the field of space. We have established a Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture aimed at generating a second Green Revolution in India. We have also taken various India-US initiatives which will have a positive global impact - in promotion of democracy, in natural disaster management, in meeting the challenges caused by pandemics like HIV/AIDS and avian flu and in other fields. Hence growing India-US cooperation will not only be of benefit to India and the USA but have a positive global impact. 

I am confident that this trend of closer India-US partnership will strengthen in the coming years. India will continue its rise in the comity of nations, and so will the role of the Indian American community within the United States. The future of India and that of the Indian-American community within the United States thus appear to be intrinsically inter-twined. To respond to the widespread desire of this vibrant and dynamic community to have greater formal links with the land of its origin, our Government took the initiative of creating a separate Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs and also put in place the overseas citizenship scheme.

Friends,

I appreciate the fact that you have come from far and near to attend this programme. I extend my warm greetings and good wishes to all of you who are present this evening, as well as to all resident Indian citizens and Indian-Americans. We look forward to continuing to work together even more closely with you in forging a deeper partnership between India and the United States, based on abiding values cherished by both our countries as well as our common concerns and intersecting interests.

I thank you for gracing this occasion with your presence and giving me a patient hearing. 

Jai Hind!