November 5, 2004
New Delhi

PM's speech at the HT Leadership Initiative Conference

"India and the World: A Blueprint for Partnership and Growth"

Shobhana Bhartiaji,

(President Kumaratunge, Mr. Major, Dr. Kissinger),

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here this morning to inaugurate The Hindustan Times Leadership Initiative Conference on the theme "India and the World : A Blueprint for Partnership and Growth". I am grateful to Shobhana Bhartiaji for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts on the subject with such a distinguished audience of eminent scholars, political leaders and policy analysts. I commend her and The Hindustan Times for taking this initiative. Your conference has become an important annual feature in the intellectual calendar of our national capital. I am also delighted to see so many friends both among the participants and in the audience. I do wish I had the time to be here right through your deliberations so as to learn from the wealth of intellectual opinion gathered here.

The theme of "India and the World" has often been debated in this country over the past half century. From the time of our Independence, when we tried to re-fashion our interaction with the outside world, this has been a subject of considerable discussion. The intellectual foundation for this debate was laid by Mahatma Gandhi when he said, "I want the winds from every corner to blow through my house, but I refuse to be swept off my feet by any of them."

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru echoed this idea, while emphasizing the importance of national sovereignty in shaping the interaction with the outside world, when he wrote in the Discovery of India, "Today India swings between a blind adherence to her old customs and a slavish imitation of foreign ways. In neither of these can she find relief or life or growth. India will find herself again when freedom opens out new horizons, and the future will then fascinate her far more than the immediate past of frustration and humiliation." Panditji hoped that with freedom gained India "will go forward with confidence, rooted in herself and yet eager to learn from others and co-operate with them. It is obvious that she has to come out of her shell and take full part in the life and activities of the modern age."

To 'take full part in the life and activities of the modern age' and to establish 'partnerships for growth' are, indeed, the challenges that we have been grappling with in our interaction with the world. Perhaps no other post-colonial nation has debated so intensely and in so open a manner the terms of engagement with the world as we have in India. In the early years of de-colonisation, later through the heat of the Cold War and, more recently through the rough and tumble of the post-Cold War era we have debated at length the nature of our relationship with the world, the possibilities of partnerships and the potential for growth. Broadly speaking the debate has been within two perspectives : the political and strategic and the economic and commercial. Even your conference has been conceptualized within this framework. When you title your conference theme as "India and the World : A Blueprint for Partnership and Growth", I believe you are looking at political and economic partnerships and would like to see how these will accelerate the process of economic growth.

Undoubtedly, these issues lie at the core of our concerns. Our foreign policy and our economic policy have evolved over the years to enable us to derive the benefits of our interaction with the world while addressing the challenges that have come our way. While there are bound to be party political differences in priorities and perceptions in a democracy, it must be recognized that there has been an element of continuity, mirroring an evolving consensus, on many aspects of our foreign and external economic policy. I draw your attention to the fact that the initial response of our Government in the early 1990s to the new post-Cold War world has since evolved, under successive governments, in a direction set by us at the time. Be it our foreign policy, both with respect to major powers and other nations, or our external economic policy, there has been continuity with change. I am sure your conference will devote time to a deeper consideration of these issues. Suffice it for me to say that in the heat and dust of our domestic debates on foreign and external economic policy we should not lose sight of the fact of this emerging consensus on our political and economic interaction with the world.

I sincerely believe that India's standing in the world will, in the final analysis, be defined by our domestic capabilities, by the well-being and creativity of our people, by the resilience of our political and social institutions. Our Government would like to give the highest priority to an acceleration of the rate of economic growth through a process of economic and social development that is equitable and just. As an open society and an open economy we will have to engage the world at all levels and in all spheres. It is with this understanding that we seek a larger role for ourselves in global institutions and would like to help strengthen and broad base multilateral institutions. India has to be an active trading nation and is therefore committed to strengthening a rule-based, transparent and consensual multilateral trading regime.

India's economic engagement of the world must match up to our size and scope. I would like to see closer and wider economic engagement between India and our Asian neighbourhood. I would like our business leaders to explore the full potential of the creation of an Asian Economic Community. We seek mutually beneficial relations with all our Asian neighbours and will work closely with Asia to realize our combined aspiration to make the 21st Century an Asian century. We would like to see a widening and deepening of our economic relations with China, Japan, the member countries of ASEAN, the Central Asian Republics and our traditional friends in West Asia and Africa. We want a neighbourhood of peace and shared prosperity in which people, goods and services can travel with ease across borders. South Asia must regain its pre-eminence in the global economy as a sub‑continent of creativity and enterprise. We would like to inject new energy into regional associations like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation(BIMSTEC). It is in our shared interest to wage a joint struggle against poverty and ignorance.

We will continue to strengthen our wide-ranging and many‑sided relationship with the United States, European Union and Russia. As a responsible nuclear power we are firmly committed to nuclear non-proliferation and will cooperate with the world community to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and deal with the threat of terrorism. India is committed to work with the international community to make the world a safer place to live in. We will pursue energy security within a cooperative framework working with other countries to ensure the security of oil supplies, of pipelines and sea-lanes of communication. We are equally committed to working with the international community in tackling other global threats. The threats to the environment, the threat of communicable diseases and the pandemic of HIV/AIDS are all global challenges. The world is a "global village" and so we must address these challenges as members of a cooperative global community.

An important aspect of our interaction with the world is the role of the so-called Indian "diaspora". There is a strong emotional link between the global community of people of Indian origin and the Motherland. I am convinced that if we create at home the right environment and the required infrastructure we can draw on the creativity and enterprise of overseas Indians in building a more vibrant and dynamic economy at home.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to take this opportunity to focus your attention on an altogether different aspect of our interaction with the world. This pertains to the dialogue between nations and civilizations. An ancient, civilisational nation like ours, home to more than one great religion of the world and many philosophical traditions; a land of linguistic and cultural diversity; and, located at Asia's cultural crossroads, has quite naturally and understandably a unique position in the world. The world expects us to bring to the table of global discourse something more than strategic partnerships and market opportunities, important as both these are and open as we are to engaging the world on both these fronts.

I submit to you that India has something more to offer, that is specially relevant to the on-going global discourse pertaining to the two great challenges of our time, namely, globalisation and the notion of a "clash of civilizations". Both these debates have often been conducted as if the debate is a battle between contending world-views. The media has often succumbed to the temptation of turning every dialogue into a debate by defining the terms of the discussion in binary opposites. Are you "For" or "Against"? Are you with "Us" or "Them". Reality can never be captured in black and white. It is always represented in an array of colours.

India's unique contribution to the world has been the notion of the many-sidedness and the constant and continuing discovery of Truth.The idea of unity in diversity, drawing on the wisdom of our forefathers who spoke of "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam" - that translates as "The Whole World Is One Family" - is a powerful yet practical political basis for dealing with these twin challenges of our times.

It is that philosophical tradition that inspired our freedom struggle and that enabled a peaceful transfer of power. It is that notion of cooperative pluralism that was the basis of our democracy. Our democracy, like our civilization, has been built on the notions of "unity in diversity" and inclusive pluralism.

The idea of a "clash of civilizations" goes against the grain of our civilizaton. Like many tributaries joining andflowing together as a mighty river, diverse religions and cultures have combined to form the mighty river called India. What is a river but a confluence of its tributaries. The Ganga and the Indus, the two rivers that play a central role in the very definition of our civilization and identity are made wide and deep by the coming together of so many tributaries. When we revere the Ganga at its widest expanse in the plains we recognize the many rivers and tributaries that over time and space join it. India too is defined in this manner. A land of diversity, through time and space, where modern democracy has come to be built on the notion of pluralism and inclusiveness.

Admittedly, there are those even among us who do not share this syncretic view of India. They not only believe in the "clash of civilizations" but wish to encourage it. They do not, indeed cannot, represent the true spirit of our ancient land. As Sunil Khilnani and Pratap Bhanu Mehta have so eloquently argued in their thoughtful books, India's most important contribution to the world is the idea of syncretic pluralism that has shaped the institutions of an inclusive democracy. I am aware of the skepticism expressed by Fareed Zakaria about the "illiberal" aspects of democracy. But with all our faults and limitations, with all the challenges and shortcomings we have succeeded in stabilizing representative democracy and ensuing the smooth transfer of power after every election at all levels of democratic representation in a country of continental dimensions with an electorate of over half a billion people.

That is the basis on which we can build a meaningful partnership with the world. We have, through history, approached the world as seekers of knowledge and opportunity. Indians have always reached out to the world as teachers and traders, as writers and workers, and never as conquerors.

The world has increasingly come to accept that open societies and open markets are the most natural and stable form of social and economic organization. What is now increasingly clear is that an inclusive democracy, based on the principles of pluralism and multi-culturalism, is the most enduring means of dealing with the challenges posed by open markets and open societies.

The world community has been actively engaged in recent years in dealing with the perceived threat of globalisation and of political extremism in its various manifestations, ranging from ethnic cleansing to Jehadism. There are no military solutions to such challenges. There are no unilateral solutions either. Any meaningful solution must be based on the principles of democratic pluralism and inclusivism, the respect of the rule of law and of diversity of opinion and faith. The voice of moderation has to be empowered in all societies to make the world a better place to live in. The principle of an "eye for an eye", as Gandhiji often reminded us, would leave us all blind.


Economists quantify our engagement with the world in terms of our share of world trade and capital flows, while strategic analysts look at military and political alliances. I submit to you for your consideration the idea that the most enduring engagement of a people with the world is in the realm of ideas and the idea we must engage the world through is the "Idea of India", the idea of "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam". The idea that even if nations may clash with one another, cultures and civilizations can co-exist. The defining feature of the 21st Century is not that it will be marked by a "clash of civilizations", but that it will be shaped by a "confluence of civilizations".

I believe the world community can deal more meaningfully with the challenge of globalisation and the threat of terrorism by enabling a dialogue between nations and a "confluence of civilizations". India must actively engage the world towards this end. By rejecting the politics of exclusion and voting in favour of the values of secularism and pluralism that we cherish, the people of India have once again given us a reason to hold our head high in the comity of nations.

Those of us who celebrated the end of the Cold War and hoped to reap a development dividend from it are today dismayed by the new ideological divides that threaten global peace and prosperity. The ideology of a "clash of civilizations" and of terrorism is a threat to world peace. We must empower the voices of moderation and of civilized discourse to enable a "confluence of civilizations" to make the world a better and safer place to live in.

Just as many developed industrial economies assisted the so-called "Economies in transition" to make the transition from centrally planned economies to open market economies, the experience of a democracy like ours can be of some help in enabling "Societies in Transition", to evolve into open, inclusive, plural, democratic societies.

When the United Nations and the Governments of other democracies reach out to our Election Commission seeking its assistance in conducting elections we feel a sense of pride in our democratic processes and institutions. Our Election Commission has no peers anywhere in the world. It has established an enviable record of efficiency and transparency in the conduct of elections from Kanyakumari to Kashmir.

Let me assure you that in putting forward my views on how we can contribute to the strengthening of democracy in the world, I am not advocating diplomatic activism, nor would we in India ever advocate any form of political interventionism. Far from it. We recognize the sovereign right of every country to order its affairs in the manner most desired by its people. But I do believe that our experience can be of some help to the world community in its quest to strengthen the institutions of democracy and the idea of inclusive pluralism.

The partnerships we seek and the basis of growth we wish to create should rest on this foundation of our commitment to the values of inclusive pluralism and multi-culturalism within the framework of an open society and an open economy. This is the promise our Government has made at home. This is the experience we should happily share with the world. Our nationhood and our Republic are intrinsically linked to our commitment to democracy and our democracy has endured because we have enabled at home a dialogue between civilizations.

This is our message to the world and we should not shy away from opportunities to strengthen the institutions of democratic pluralism whenever we are called upon to do so. We know from our own experience that the world would be a safer place and growth and prosperity would be ensured if we can enable the "confluence of civilizations" within the framework of democratic pluralism. The partnerships for growth that we can build on that basis will be truly enduring. I think the time has come, as Panditji long believed, for India to "come out of her shell and take full part in the life and activities of the modern age."


I will be grateful to the many learned people assembled here if you will consider some of these ideas and educate me whether I am correct to view our engagement with the world in these terms. I wish the Conference all success and look forward to learning of its deliberations.

Thank you.