Text of the Speech by Sonya Gandhi

5 November 2004, New Delhi


The Hindustan Times has been, over several decades now, a daily habit of lakhs of readers.

With this leadership Initiative it has also become an instrument of stimulating thought and reflection outside of its columns. This is an occasion for many of us to step back from the pre-occupation of our daily lives and reflect on larger and more crucial issues.

We met exactly a year ago to discuss India and South Asia. And I bet none of you expected me to be here today as a part of the establishment rather than the Opposition.

Today, we assemble to look at India and the World.

The two are inter-linked. India has many security concerns that are real and that cannot be wished away. Even so, India can, must and I am sure will take the lead to build more enduring political and economic partnerships with her neighbours. This is an essential pre-requisite for an India occupying its rightful place on the world stage.

Enormous, defining and fundamental changes are taking place in the world with astonishing rapidity. One might ask, has it not always been so? In living memory, in the life of India as a new and independent nation-state, our predecessors have had to deal with situations which demanded of them high statesmanship and courage. Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, India Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi all faced a world where India's place was far from secure and its interests were constantly under assault. They steered out notion through the hostility of bi-polar world and threats and wars in our neighbourhood.

The challenges we face are now of a different kind. The old conflicts between nation-states and between blocks of nation-states have yielded to the growing menace of terrorism. This is an enemy where the distinction between state and non-state actors is often blurred. This is an enemy that recognizes no borders and has no identifiable geographical limitations. At the same, the familiar world order of the second half of the 20th century has given place to a disturbing imbalance for which traditional institutional mechanisms, such as the United Nations appear to be ill-prepared and ill-suited. Technological advance is spectacular but the benefits are unevenly disturbed both within and among nations.

What is India's place in such a world in the coming years?

Obviously, that place has to be based on the tripod of democracy, diversity and development that has sustained our nation and our people these past decades. India's external strength depends on her internal cohesiveness. The fulfilment of India's global ambitions rests on the edifice of domestic harmony. If India wants to be seen as being exclusive in the world as she indeed is, then she has to be inclusive at home. Our nationalism has necessarily to be secular, pluralistic and liberal as bequeathed to us by vigour and independence in our relationships with other nations or exercise influence in the world, if we are not strong and coherent at home.

The remarkable resilience our democracy, vividly displayed these past few months, gives us a voice that is heard and respected throughout the world. Speaking of resilience, I am glad to see that voter turnout in the world's most powerful democracy is, at last, comparable to the turnout in the world's most populous democracy. Our many diversities are cemented by secularism and a long tradition of tolerance. This makes us an example for a world where nations are torn apart by sectarian violence and conflicts ignited by religious and ethnic differences. Our sustained commitment to development has yielded impressive results. Even though we have much left to accomplish, our economic and social transformations over the past half-century cannot be denied.

We are a democratic nation of a billion people living harmoniously in a pluralistic society. We constitute one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Our credentials can hardly be doubted. Yet, I find it difficult to comprehend that the world is still treated to a regime of grouping based on the Second World War's outcomes of victory and defeat. The UN Security Council, as now constituted, for instance, is not just unrepresentative, it is unintelligent.

A global role brings with it global responsibilities. Traditionally, we have always advocated the cause of multilateralism in world affairs. We have always championed the strengthening of the United Nations. However, new concerns have emerged. We must take note of them seriously and fashion effective and credible responses in areas like climate change, environment, child labour and HIV/AIDS.

As we look ahead, what will drive India's relationship with the world?

India's potential for what has come to be broadly called outsourcing is imparting a whole new dimension to our global links.

New opportunities are opening up.

As the world ages, for instance, India's capacity for providing health services, both in modern and traditional medicine is being recognised. International media organisations are beginning to use India as their base. India has emerged as the preferred destination for research and development and for an expanding range of services. Our hard work, the technological skills of our young women and men, our ability to talk to the world in its preferred languages, and the sheer innate enterprise of our people have given us a singular opportunity that will, I believe, be the driving force of our role in the world.

In addition, there are other factors that would determine the nature and depth of our interactions.

First, quite clearly, the quest for energy security will be paramount. Even as we intensify oil and gas exploration efforts at home, we will need to develop long-term, cost-effective source of supply to meet our growing demand. India has emerged as a major investor in different countries like Russia, Sudan, Vietnam, and Myanmar. West Africa, a region that has been somewhat peripheral to India's worldview, has emerged as being important for us. Central Asia offers growing possibilities. And opportunities abound in our own region itself.

Second, Indian companies will expand their global presence. This is already happening not only in terms of our exports but more importantly in terms of investment as well. There was a time when our presence was largely culinary. Some years back, while referring to the perceived threat of racial conflict, The Economist wrote that Britain would not be drowned in rivers of blood but in oceans of curry. Today, besides these oceans of delicious curry, we have a growing number of Indian firms in diverse areas like IT, pharmaceuticals, textiles, petrochemicals, steel and engineering, planting their flags all over the world. As we seek and receive increased foreign investment, our vibrant private and public sector will also emerge as major investors abroad.

Third, India will also become a much sought after provider of development assistance. Here again, on the one hand we will be recipient of foreign aid in niche areas, although we now repay much more than what we receive. But on the other we will also be a supplier of both technical and financial assistance. Thus far we have focused largely on countries in our immediate neighbourhood but there is no question that as India grows and builds its economic capability, it will look at many other countries as well.

Fourth, the common perception that India will be just the services capital of the world will change as it begins to revitalize her vast manufacturing industry. And as and when the advanced countries reduce their huge farm subsidies, Indian farmers will also begin to make their presence felt in global markets. A country that was written off as a basket case four decades ago now has the capacity to feed the world, thanks largely to the vision and determination of Indira Gandhi.

Finally, India will carve out a new and creative relationship with people of India origin living overseas. So many of them have distinguished themselves in different fields. Some of them have been elected Presidents and Prime Ministers. Just a few days back, an Indian-American was elected to the US House of representatives. The ancestors of Bharat Jagdeo, the President of Guyana hailed from - guess where ? - village Thakurain-ka-Purva in my old constituency Amethi. Indian-born scientists and technologists, authors and doctors are celebrated. But we also have around three million workers in West Asia who was remitting at least six to seven billion dollars of their savings to India annually. There can be no doubt that the skills and expertise of the Indian community abroad is waiting to be harnessed to accelerate our development and also to forge new friendships for us across the globe.

So far, I have focused largely on economics, trade and investment. But India has a pivotal role to play in the global fight against terrorism, about which I spoke a little earlier. It will be central to any global effort, to contain the threat posed by the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Terrorism cannot, and should not, be dealt with in a selective and segmented manner within the framework of individual nation-states and their priorities. The approach that says 'the terrorism I face is of higher priority than the terrorism you face' has dangerous implications for global stability and security.

India still faces numerous development challenges. How successfully we address these challenges in basic areas like literacy, education, health and infrastructure, for example, depends on ourselves and ourselves alone. But economic integration with the world in a manner determined by us will undoubtedly help the economy expand even faster. This is essential for generating more jobs and eliminating mass poverty. As we look at India and the World, let us not, even for a moment, overlook this reality. While we celebrate our achievements, let us not forget that many tasks await our focused attention, particularly in rural India where two of every three of our countrymen and women live and work. India's interaction and integration with the world should always keep these basics in mind so that all Indians have equality of opportunity and live a life of dignity and fulfilment.

In conclusion, let me emphasize that India has always had a universal perspective. That perspective has been mutually rewarding and enriching. Many more opportunities await us. Many more horizons beckon. I have no doubt that we will move forward with self-confidence knowing that ultimately it is not just our potential but more importantly our performance that will earn us the position we desire and deserve.

Thank You.