2nd All-Ukrainian Conference of Indologists
(5-6 June 2007)
Statement of Mr. DEBABRATA SAHA
Ambassador of India to Ukraine
Opening Session on
5th June, 2007
India: 60 Years of Independent Development
I am particularly pleased to see so many eminent persons, including academicians and scholars, and longstanding friends and well-wishers of India participating in this year's Conference of Indologists. All of them share a deep understanding of, and love for, India. I have had a number of opportunities to interact with several of them, and been privileged to benefit from their knowledge and scholarship. Through their writings and their teachings covering diverse facets of India's past and present, they have been instrumental in creating greater awareness and understanding of India within Ukraine and in the region. They have thereby made a tremendous contribution to strengthening relations between our two countries, and I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to them for their commitment and their dedication.
It is heartening to find that the study of India continues to evoke great interest around the world today, as it has through the ages. The reasons, I think, are varied - its ancient civilisation, the richness of India's history and culture, its diversity, its living traditions, its spirituality. What sharpens contemporary interest in India, no doubt, is the idea of an inclusive, open, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual society of over a billion people, living together in harmony, proudly, as citizens of one nation. It is, perhaps, this 'idea of India' - an overarching unity embracing an immense diversity - that appeals most to people, near and far.
India, as an independent nation, would soon cross another milestone, when it commemorates the 60th anniversary of its independence on 15th of August. Indeed, this conference is a celebration of that important upcoming event. Professor Lukash suggested to me when she was planning this conference that I speak on India: 60 Years of Independent Development. I am happy to do so. I thought it would be appropriate, in the context of a review of India's development, to include the international dimension, and so I would touch on that aspect as well, and also look ahead - to what might await India in the coming decades. The Conference has heard Deputy Minister, Ambassador Yuri Kostenko speak on Ukraine-India Relations. After that excellent presentation it would be unnecessary to add anything further about our bilateral relations.
Among the millions who have been drawn to India over the ages, there were many who were fascinated by its fabulous riches. For India, indeed, was rich. Three hundred years ago, before the dawn of the industrial era, India, China and Europe each had around 23% of world income. A hundred years later, the historian politician, Lord Macaulay, reporting to the British Parliament in 1835, declared: "I have travelled across the length and breadth of India. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre."
Alas, by the middle of the 20th Century India's share of world income was down to a paltry 3%, China's to 5%, while Europe and the United States together accounted for more than 50%. So, when India became independent in 1947, it embarked on a journey of reclamation - to regain its rightful place in the world, and to secure the wellbeing of its people. Meeting the challenge of development was a particular priority. But it was determined to do so without compromising its core values. The Constitution we adopted after Independence enshrined those core values within the framework of liberal democracy and the Rule of Law.
To be sure, the test of a democracy is not what is said in the Constitution, but in how it functions on the ground. I think India can be justly proud as it looks back at the last 60 years: the regularity with which our people have voted their representatives in and out of office; our independent judiciary, which has been a zealous defender of our Constitution and an effective guarantor of the Rule of Law; our media, which remains a fearless watchdog guarding against any executive overreach; our civil society, which remains at the forefront of so many worthy causes, and ever vigilant in protecting our human rights; our minorities, who are as determined as any to participate actively in all walks of national life; or, our Army, which guards our borders while remaining a thoroughly professional force under civilian control.
To strengthen democracy by making it truly participatory at the level where it probably matters most, our Constitution was amended a few years back to make it mandatory to hold elections to village and municipal councils. Today there are no less than 3 million elected representatives in the country, with 1 million positions reserved for women. As a result, our argumentative society has even more to argue over! But then, the right to disagree and the freedom to debate is the hallmark of any real democracy.
If the vibrancy of our democracy is one aspect of what defines India today, our commitment to development is the other. As a developing country India's aspirations are not different from those of other developing countries. But there is no other country of a billion people, with such cultural, linguistic and religious diversity, that has tried to modernize its society and transform its economy within the framework of a functioning democracy.
To be sure, the challenge of development is not an easy one. We have had to endure difficult times. In the early sixties, for example, there was a period when we lived a "ship-to-mouth" existence, dependent on food aid from the west to keep our people from going hungry. Thanks to the green revolution we were soon not only self-sufficient, but surplus in food. By any measure, our development efforts have been remarkably successful. From a near zero annual rate of growth of national income during the period 1900 to 1950, the Indian economy registered 3.5% annual growth between 1950 and 1980. Growth rates in the last twenty years averaged almost 6%.
Today, with a growth rate of 8-9%, our economy is among the fastest growing in the world. As we look forward to sustained growth in the coming decades, the future of India looks quite promising. According to some economists, India could emerge as the fourth largest economy in the world by the year 2020. One might add that on a Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) basis, ours is already the fourth largest economy.
The biggest challenge we faced in the early years of independence was choosing a development path that would best suit our own circumstances. Our founding fathers were farsighted and wise. They recognized that for rapid social and economic development, India had to quickly build up an industrial infrastructure, develop a scientific and technological base, promote education including tertiary education, develop the agricultural sector, and put in place socio-economic programs that would ensure that the fruits of development reached the widest cross-section of our population. They recognized the importance of equity and justice in a democratic society that guaranteed full freedoms, including economic freedom.
While we drew from socialist models to ensure that investment in critical sectors was not neglected in the infant industrial economy of newly independent India, the economic freedom enjoyed by our people meant that we continued to benefit from the entrepreneurial genius of our people. Our economy, post-independence, remained essentially a market driven one, even if state enterprises began to play an important role in certain core sectors. Not surprisingly, we have today a confident, competitive private sector, which displays remarkable entrepreneurial energy.
Thanks to the sustained efforts in the early decades to build institutions, we also have a sound institutional infrastructure to undergird economic development over the longer term. We tend to take this institutional foundation for granted, often not realising that had we not invested in building these institutions some fifty years ago, we wouldn't have been able to reap the rich dividends we do today. The millions of educated, skilled and technologically capable citizens that India produces every year - and who are responsible for our scientific and technological accomplishments - would not have been there to drive the engines of our economic development.
Our founding fathers' vision of India was of a nation where tradition co-existed comfortably with modernity. They recognized, for example, the advantages of modern education, and of retaining English as one of the many languages that would flourish in modern India. Its role in fostering higher education was clearly recognized, in particular in science and technology, an area that newly independent India accorded high priority to. English would also serve as an effective medium of communication, within the country and outside. It is no exaggeration to say that English has played a huge part in building our strengths - in sectors such as Information Technology, Telecommunications, Pharmaceuticals, Biotechnology, and Services.
India's achievements in numerous fields of science and technology since we gained independence have, indeed, been impressive. There are Indians working in virtually every field of science, often at the frontiers of knowledge. A few stand out - nuclear energy, space, medicine, and, in the last decade, information and communication technology - but others, while less visible, are no less remarkable.
Our private entrepreneurs have clearly demonstrated that they are well equipped to enter any sector of the economy and make efficient investment decisions. As the leading financial papers have so often highlighted, Indian managers and entrepreneurs are a force to reckon with in today's business world. The talent of our entrepreneurs has been unleashed, and, with the elimination of constraints on business growth, they can compete with the best in the world. The impact of resurgent Indian business is being felt not just within India, but at the global level as well.
Looking ahead: The challenges
Rapid economic transformation requires difficult choices in which short term benefits often have to be forgone to secure longer term gains. Faced with the pressures of elective politics elected governments cannot, however, afford to ignore the short term. On the other hand, authoritarian governments are not hindered by the compulsions of democratic consensus building. They can adopt approaches to development without having to worry about public pressure. Not surprisingly, their approaches often yield quicker results compared to those that democratic countries such as India are obliged to follow. Yet, on the whole, we can be proud of what we have achieved.
But we have a long way to go before we can reclaim the position of prosperity - relative to the west - that we enjoyed three hundred years ago. Even though poverty has been significantly reduced, its incidence is still unacceptably high. We have to assure universal access to essential services like clean water, electricity, education and healthcare. We have to spread the fruits of economic growth and globalization, we have to increase investment and employment, especially in those parts of the country that have so far received insufficient attention from investors, and we have to build a world class infrastructure so that current bottlenecks do not continue to hold us back.
The transformation of our agrarian economy and of rural life is an imperative of the next decade. The proportion of our workforce involved in agriculture is expected to decline significantly, to below 40% - which would increase pressure for non-farm employment opportunities. We must accelerate growth in our manufacturing sector to absorb the millions who will enter the job market with much higher expectations than those of the previous generation.
Were India to achieve a growth rate of 9% over the next 20 years, it would result in a quadrupling of the real per capita income and almost eliminate the current proportion of Indians living below the poverty line. India should, in that event, move up significantly, in terms of per capita real GDP, from its current position of 153 among 207 countries to 100. The size of the Indian middle class is expected to exceed the population of the European Union in the near future.
This century will be driven by knowledge-based production. India starts off with several advantages. We have a large and relatively young population, an increasing proportion of which speak English. We have a social tradition that values higher education. Given our large population there will always be a significant number of Indians working in the knowledge sector, but the challenge will be to increase the proportion of our workforce engaged in high end knowledge-based jobs.
Currently, only 5% of the country's workforce in the 20-24 age-group possess formal vocational training, compared to levels ranging from 28% in Mexico to 96% in Korea. India has to upgrade the skills of a much larger proportion of Indian workers to take advantage of the new opportunities and to attract productive investment in high-end services - whether in software, engineering design or research in pharmaceuticals.
The international dimension: political
An important feature of our foreign policy has been, and remains, our freedom to choose what is in our best national interest. We are extremely protective of our right to chart our course based on our own assessment of each situation. While we are never doctrinaire in our approach, and regularly consult with countries with which we share many common positions, we place great importance to being able to take positions based on the merits of each case. As a nation with a 5,000 year old history and culture, we have always been peace-loving, and so our policy of independent action is, by its very nature, non-threatening to other nations.
The foundations of this policy were laid during our freedom movement when our leaders, even when fighting for independence, were engaged in the great causes of the time. The principles underpinning India's foreign policy that emerged at that time, have served us well ever since. These are: pursuit of friendly relations with all countries of the world; a commitment to resolution of conflicts by peaceful means; a belief in the sovereign equality of all states; and, a conviction that we must preserve our policy independence, so that we can always take action that is in our best interest. Non-alignment was but a natural corollary flowing from these overarching principles.
Needless to say, given that it is the world's largest democracy, India must be accorded its rightful place in international decision making bodies. It is untenable that the world order of 1945 should continue to dominate global decision making even today. The architecture of all major international organizations has remained virtually immune to the momentous political, economic, social and demographic changes of the second half of the twentieth century. Not only the agencies and councils of the United Nations, nearly every multilateral organisation today seems caught in a time-warp.
The Security Council, in particular, is a relic of a different era. It is in need of comprehensive reform and re-structuring. The Council, as it is composed today, is unrepresentative and anachronistic, and in no way reflects a world that has changed dramatically in the sixty years since San Francisco. Developing countries, which constitute the vast majority of the membership of the United Nations, find no place in the category of Permanent Members and are inadequately represented in the non-permanent category. The Council's actions cannot command legitimacy in the face of such stark imbalance, and the non-transparent methods of its work. It needs to be expanded and made more representative. As the largest democracy, India can rightfully claim a place in this expanded Council.
The international dimension: economic
Nehru articulated a key objective of Indian foreign policy as early as December 1947, in the Constituent Assembly convened to draw up our Constitution. He explained that, ultimately, foreign policy is the outcome of economic policy. As he put it, to say that we stand for peace and freedom - by itself, it has no particular meaning, because every country is prepared to say the same thing, whether it means it or not. He asked, rhetorically: "What then do we stand for? His answer: "Well, you have to develop this argument in the economic field."
So, it's no surprise that India pays such close attention to economic matters in the international arena. Our foreign policy is shaped - within the framework of an open society and an open economy - by our twin commitment to peace and freedom, and to economic development for the welfare of our people. At the multilateral level we believe that economic processes, particularly in the field of trade, need to be much more sensitive to the development compulsions of developing countries - not merely in name but also in terms of the outcomes of negotiations. Development must be at the centre of the Doha Round, and all countries must cooperate to make the trading system fair and equitable.
Globalization has woven a web of inter-connections across the world. On India's part, we are acutely aware that how we deal with the challenge of globalization and how we make use of its opportunities will shape our relations with the world, and the perception of our capabilities as a nation. Based on that knowledge, we have adapted our approach - with impressive results. Who could have imagined a decade ago that China would emerge as our second largest trading partner? With the countries of East and South-East Asia our overall relations are impacted hugely by our economic partnerships. We have certainly come closer in many fields because of the economic dimension of our relations.
The EU, NAFTA, ASEAN, APEC and other regional groups - all underscore the enormous impact of economic inter-dependence on international relations. That is why, in the 20 months that I have been Ambassador here, I have sought to emphasize the importance of further strengthening economic relations between India and Ukraine. It is heartening to note that, notwithstanding the political uncertainties in Ukraine over the past year, our bilateral trade has been experiencing steady growth. It went up by 20% in 2006, reaching $ 1.2 billion. We hope that over the next four years the pace of growth would accelerate further for our trade to reach $ 5 billion in 2005 - the target set by our two presidents when they met in 2005.
Development of nuclear energy has long been a priority of India, almost since we became independent sixty years ago. I should, therefore, say something about our nuclear policy. To begin with let me stress that India's track record in nuclear non-proliferation is impeccable. We have adhered scrupulously to every rule and canon in this area. We have done so even though we have witnessed unchecked nuclear proliferation in our own neighbourhood, which has directly affected our security interests. As a responsible nuclear power, India is extremely conscious of the immense responsibility that comes with the possession of advanced technologies, both civilian and strategic. We have never been, and will never be, a source of proliferation of sensitive technologies.
We should not overlook the fact, though, that for over half a century, the international community has failed to effectively address the threat posed by nuclear weapons. This threat has acquired a frightening new dimension with the very real possibility that non-state actors, or even a small terrorist group, might acquire and use a nuclear weapon. The threat needs to be addressed seriously by all countries, especially those with nuclear capabilities.
India subscribes to the principle of equal and legitimate security interest of all nations. Since a nuclear weapons free world would enhance every nation's security, India has consistently over the years called for elimination of nuclear weapons. In 1988, our former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi put forward an Action Plan for a phased elimination of all nuclear weapons within a specified time frame. It is unfortunate that these proposals did not receive a positive response from other nuclear weapon states. In the circumstances we were compelled to exercise the nuclear weapons option, taking into account our security interests in the prevailing environment. Nevertheless, our commitment to global nuclear disarmament remains undiminished.
As a state with nuclear weapons, however, India is committed to non-proliferation and the maintenance of stringent export controls to ensure that there is no leakage of our indigenously developed nuclear technology and know-how. We have an effective export control regime for nuclear material as well as related technologies even though we are neither a party to the NPT nor a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
In today's energy starved world, the importance of nuclear technology cannot be overstated. Nuclear power generation has been accorded a high priority in India. Eight power reactors are under construction in India - the largest number in any country. Nuclear power can help in meeting the growing worldwide energy need in a sustainable way with the least harm to the environment. Our nuclear energy plan accords primacy to safety in all its activities. With around 200 reactor-years of operating experience, we have an excellent safety record. Given India's size, if we succeeded in finding an environment friendly way to boost our production and consumption without sacrificing our economic growth, it would have an enormous positive implication for ecological sustainability overall.
I would like to touch briefly on the impact of Indian culture abroad. India's arts and crafts, its language and literature, its music and dance, its religion and philosophy, and its traditional ways of life and living have inspired people over the ages. Its resurgence in today's 'globalized' world is perhaps no more than a re-discovery. Classical Indian music, for example, went global a generation ago, with the Beatles and Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan. Today, classical Indian musicians devote as much as a third of their time to overseas concerts. Indian dances have a following abroad well beyond the Indian Diaspora. Thousands visit India every year to study yoga, Buddhism and other aspects of Indian culture. And who can doubt the influence of Bollywood. Despite the language barrier, these films are a primary source of entertainment in many countries today. They appeal to ever increasing audiences, not only in South Asia, but also in the Middle East, Asia, and countries of the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine.
A powerful set of forces is accelerating change throughout the world. They include a rapid rise in levels of education, higher rates of technological innovation and application, faster and less expensive means of communication that shrink distances, greater availability and easier access to information, and the further opening up of global markets. Technology, organization, information, education and productive skills - all these will play a critically decisive role in determining the future course of India's development. Indeed, that is true of all developing countries, and of countries in transition, like Ukraine.
Let me conclude by observing that India's success in overcoming the challenges of development within the framework of an open, democratic society, would have a huge impact on the aspirations of freedom loving people all over the developing world, and in accelerating change in those countries. Democracy would be seen not only as a sine qua non for just and fair governance - one that guarantees freedoms and offers choices - but also as a dynamic force for economic development. It would demonstrate that it is possible to successfully manage the tension between the soft approach of democracy, with its emphasis on consensus and social justice, and the discipline and hard choices required to deliver rapid economic growth. India's success would mark a major triumph of democratic society. As we continue on our ambitious journey to transform the economic face of our country, a great deal rides on our success - not just for India, but for the world at large.