India, USA and the World: Let us work together to solve the Political-Economic Y2K Problem

India's Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee

New York
September 28, 1998

Mr. Greenberg, Mr. Platt, Mr. Bouton, Distinguished members of the Asia Society, Friends,

It is a great honor for me to be invited this evening to speak at this renowned institution. Its well-deserved fame is the result of many years of sustained and dedicated work by some of the most eminent minds of the United States of America.

The Asia Society has provided a forum for the East and the West to meet, for Asia and America to meet and, on many occasions, for India and the USA to meet.

All of us know through experience, the most productive meetings between nations are often those that take place outside the formal framework of diplomacy and summitry. It is when political leaders, intellectuals and policy makers of two or more countries meet and interact in informal and friendly settings that trust develops and understanding deepens.

I would, therefore, at the outset like to compliment the Asia Society for its excellent work in the field of what is called popular diplomacy.

March elections mirror India's democratic pluralism

Friends, this is my first visit to the USA after assuming the office of Prime Minister of India.

In March this year, we completed what have been described as the largest elections in the history of the world, with an electorate of over 600 million people. To Indians today, the vast majority of whom were born in freedom, democracy is the natural and only acceptable form of governance.

This very fact characterizes the remarkable journey that India has traveled in fifty years during which India has remained true to its values, and has succeeded in knitting together its many diversities into a strong, coherent, pluralistic society.

Despite changes in government, the political system itself has remained remarkably stable. This testifies to the inherent strength and stability of democratic traditions in India.

India's commitment to democratic pluralism is also reflected in the Government which I head. Ours is a coalition Government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party. We have prepared a common program which defines the National Agenda for Governance. We are convinced that maturing of coalition politics is what India needs at the present juncture.

Our objective is clear, to build a strong, prosperous and self-confident India, which occupies its rightful place in the comity of nations.

We know that India has what it takes to achieve a far higher- 7-8% rate of annual GDP growth. We know that India has what it takes to emerge as a major manufacturing, trading and exporting power, by achieving global competitiveness in cost and quality.

We also know that faster economic growth is the key to overcoming the historical legacy of unemployment and material backwardness afflicting large sections or our population.

We are fully aware of the problems that lie in the path of achieving these goals. But we are also convinced that we can make light of these problems if we act in national interest in all matters.

Personally speaking, I have always held the national interest above party and personal interest. This is the pledge I made to people of India on August 15, in the concluding celebrations of India's fiftieth anniversary of independence. It is a pledge that I am determined to honor.

India's bifocal vision: nationalism and internationalism

Friends, India's preoccupation with the imperatives of national reconstruction has never blinded us to our duties toward the world. As Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, once vividly said, nationalism and internationalism are two eyes of our national body.

India has never seen what is good for herself without having simultaneously seen what is good for the whole world.

India's freedom movement, led by Mahatama Ghandi, was without parallel in its endeavor to harmonize a nation's legitimate aspirations for political independence with the universal values and concerns of the human race.

In my lecture this august audience today, I therefore wish to talk about both India and the world standing expectantly on the threshold of the 21st century. I do so from an Indian point of view. But I make bold to claim that the Indian point of view is broad enough to command respectful attention of every progressive opinion in America and the world.

The 20th century has been a time of unprecedented changes. The scale and newness of changes in this century have far surpassed anything recorded in known history of mankind. Of this century can it be truly said that "it was the best of times and it was the worst of times".

It has been a century of world wars and conflicts, of stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, of colonialism, hegemonism, terrorism and religious fanaticism.

At the same time, it has also been a century of freedom, relative peace, prosperity, advance of democracy, spectacular progress in science and technology, especially recent advances in information and communication technology, and unprecedented levels of global cooperation.

The challenge before the world is: how can the worst features of this century be held in check, reversed and their non-recurrence ensured? The challenge also is how can we better the best features of the 20th century for the benefit of all sections of humanity- and not just some select, privileged nations and classes, as has happened so far?

Will the new century be really new for humanity, or will it be a continuation of the old problems and crises and conflicts that we have seen in our times?

Will the world move decisively in the direction of peace and disarmament? Will mass poverty, undernourishment and starvation be things of the past? Will the world financial system become less volatile and more predictable? And will there be a just and equitable economic order?

Will we be able to overcome terrorism, ethnic strife and religious hatred in the coming century?

These are questions that confront the leaders of the world in the twilight days of the 20th century. By leaders I do not only mean heads of governments. No. History has thrown this challenge before all of us- leaders in government, politics, business, international agencies, academic institutions, media and cultural organizations. Will we be able to rise to the occasion?

Today, India, USA and the world stand at a unique moment in history. As we peer into the future, we find that it is not so far away at all. In less than 500 days, we will leave the 20th century behind, the second millennium behind and enter into a new century and new millennium.

As we all know, computer professionals around the world are busy grappling with what is famously called the Y2K problem. The problem basically is to re-program software to let computers know that the Year 2000 has begun. Computers will behave funnily and be totally unreliable if the Y2K problem is not solved.

Drawing form the computer terminology, let me pose the question: Have we, the political leaders, heads of governments, policy makers and intellectuals of the world, begun to re-program our political and economic minds to take note of the fact that we are all soon going to enter a new era? I call this the PE-Y2K- the Political Economic Year 2000- problem.

World Peace: The need to move from deterrence to disarmament

Friends, in order to successfully meet this challenge, leaders around the world need a new mindset. And the mindset necessary to sustain the world in the 21st century demands that all of us must first learn the lessons of the 20th century.

The greatest lesson of this century is that peace is the highest ideal. The 20th century witnessed two World Wars, each more ferocious than all the previous wars. The price humanity paid in these two global conflicts has been so frightening that the option before the world today is stark: another world war, which will be a nuclear war, and extinction; or peace, survival and progress.

For fifty years, world peace has been secured on the tenuous principle of nuclear deterrence. But this cannot be the durable basis for peace. The conscience of humanity demands that the world move away from deterrence to disarmament.

Unfortunately, however, traditional nuclear powers have paid little heed to this universal demand. They first used the Cold War as a pretext for a costly arms race. Now, even thought the Cold War is over, they have sought to perpetuate their hegemony through discriminatory non-proliferation treaties which are bound to fail.

It is this hypocrisy and hegemony which forced India to rethink our nuclear policy recently. As you well know, my country has championed the cause of peace and disarmament with consistency and conviction for the past five decades.

We raised our voice for disarmament, both on our own behalf and on behalf of members of the Non-Aligned Movement, in every multilateral and bilateral forum. Not only was our demand disregarded, but also India's sovereign right to keep the nuclear option open was sought to be curtailed.

In the circumstances, we were force to exercise our nuclear option both fore reasons of national security and as a powerful challenge to the practitioners of nuclear apartheid. With this firm action, we have reminded the nuclear club that the voice of one-sixth of humanity cannot be ignored.

The lesson of the late is, thus, simple: Disarmament- real, visible, verifiable disarmament- is the only way to achieve the goal of non-proliferation.

I do hope that the leadership of America, the country with the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons and delivery systems and hence carrying the greatest responsibility for peace on earth, takes the right course of action in the coming years.

Apprehensions have been expressed in some quarters that recent developments in South Asia raise the specter of an arms race and heightened tensions. These apprehensions are misplaced.

Those who voice this apprehension argue that India and Pakistan have fought three wars in the last fifty years. They forget to add that here has been no war for the last 25 or 50 years. And that is because of the bilateral Shimla Agreement arrived at between India and Pakistan in 1972.

Contrary to what some may believe, bilateralism works. It is the intrusion by third parties, however well-intentioned, that creates complications.

Democratization of the world order

Disarmament in turn demands democratization of the world order. And this brings us to the second greatest lesson of the 20th century.

This has truly been a Century of Democracy. More and more countries around the world have embraced democracy, of course with necessary local variations. But we see a strange dichotomy here.

Democracy at the global level, as a framework for setting the norms for international relations, has not kept pace with the march of democracy as a system of natural governance. The rich and the powerful make and unmake rules to suit their partisan interests.

As the world moves into the 21st century, this situation is totally unsustainable. No nation, however rich and militarily powerful, can for long pursue interests that do not harmonize with the interests of the global community.

The age of colonialism, which was the curse of the past few centuries, is over forever. In no way can the unequal relations that marked this age be revived without deeply endangering peace and stability.

I do hope that America, the land that cherishes democratic values, takes concrete steps to promote democratization of the world order. The process could begin with the democratization of UN system.

Needs to restructure Indo-US ties for the good of global democracy

Friends, we in India believe that Indo-US relations, restructured on an equal footing, constitute the key element in the architecture of tomorrow's democratized world order. However, I must confess to being baffled by the unsatisfactory current state of relations between our tow countries.

We are the two largest democracies in the world, and have similar political cultures, a free press and the rule of law. We both have a tradition of private enterprise and free markets.

Above all, I see no conflict of interests between the two countries in the foreseeable future and yet all of us here would agree that the full potential of our relationship has not been realized in the last 50 years.

I have been trying to analyze the reasons and think I can at least indicate where the shoe pinches us. First and foremost, it is American reluctance to accept us as a responsible member of the international community.

Whether it is regional arrangements dealing with Afgahnistan, where we have vital security and other interests; whether it is cooperative arrangements in the Asia-Pacific region, where we have a clearly positive, moderating and stabilizing role to play; whether it is global organizations like the UN Security Council or the discriminatory Non-Proliferation Treaty; in all of these the United States does not appreciate and accommodate India's interests and concerns.

Secondly, we have been subjected to technology denials virtually from the time of our independence. Our own export control regimes are extremely stringent and there has been no leakage of equipment or technology from India. Despite this, we find the US unwilling to accommodate us in terms of technology transfers.

Similarly on South Asian issues, where our supreme national interests are involved, we encounter policy approaches from America that go contrary to our basic irreducible security needs.

An even more serious case of incomprehension in India are the public statements made by American leaders where our sensitivities are involved. The statement issued on South Asia during President Clinton's visit to China and American attempts at putting pressure on Russia to end its defense and scientific cooperation with India are two prime examples of recent vintage.

For democratic governments like ours, which desire closer understanding with the USA, it becomes extremely difficult to move forward in the face of such public declarations.

Friends, I have argued for restructuring of Indo-US relations not just because they will help India- but also because they will help the US itself. Let me repeat what I have said earlier: Indo-US ties based on equality and mutuality of interests is going to be the mainstay of tomorrow's stable, democratic world order.

Reforming the global financial system

Friends, by now it is well recognized that economic democracy is the very core of democracy, both in a domestic set up as well as in international relations. But the financial system that has come into being in the post-World War II period has proved itself to be anything but democratic.

The intrinsic inequities in this system cannot be rationalized by saying that they are the result of market forces that brook no governmental intervention. The 20th century has seen the heavy price that the dogma of communism extracted.

The world is today paying the price for another dogma: the dogma of the Invisible Hand of the market forces. We have seen how irrationally volatile the markets have been.

We have also seen how market instability in one part of the world quickly travels, like a seismic wave, to other parts of the world through the fault lines of the global financial system.

With market instability comes social and political instability. Overnight ordinary people lose see their hare-earned savings evaporate, investors lose their market capitalization and countries lose their value of currencies.

There is no doubt that nations that do not manage their economies on sound principle invite a penalty in this system. But often they and their innocent people pay the penalty of unemployment and price rise for no fault of their own.

It is rightly said that in the era of globalization, the global market for goods, services, investments and human labor is one and indivisible- much like the atmosphere that surrounds our planet. Any damage to the atmosphere at one place adversely affects all the people inhabiting this planet.

Rich nations of the Western hemisphere, therefore, should not be under the illusion that they are immune from the crisis that is currently rippling through Asian markets. There is an urgent need for collective global action to reform the world's financial system by refocusing it to meet the priority growth needs of the human race.

We in India have taken a principled stand towards globalization- cautious, calibrated and steady integration. This approach has served our national interests well. We have remained largely unaffected by the turmoil in the Asian markets.

We know we have to implement many more internal and external reforms to harness the full potential of our economy. We shall definitely do so. At the same time, we shall continue to raise our voice for radically reforming the global economic order ast eh man guarantor for a stable and peaceful 21st century.

Managing diversities: Key to peaceful world order

There is a fourth important lesson of the 20th century and it has to do with how we manage diversities. All of us on this planet belong to different races, regions, religions, cultures and nationalities. We speak different languages and hold different views on politics and life. But we all share the same common home because we are al part of the same human family.

India's Vedic seers extolled this value by stating that, whereas the Truth is one, wise men express it differently- Ekam Sat Viprah Bahudha Vadanti

This was always true. But in the age of globalization, when interaction and interdependence is a law rather than an exception, acceptance of the truth of 'Unity is Diversity' and 'Diversity is Unity' is not just an option. It is an inescapable necessity.

Sadly, unwillingness to accept this truth is at the root of much violence and strife in many parts of the world today. When such exclusivism and intolerance are wedded to narrow political goals, they even give rise to terrorism.

Friends, terrorism has become one of the gravest threats to civil society, and national security. Here again, both India and the USA have been its victims. We were shocked and horrified at the wanton loss of innocent American and African lives in the recent attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam.

We shared the anguish and anger that you felt. The forces of international terrorism that launched these cowardly attacks are active in our region also. India has been a target of relentless terrorist violence. You have Lockerbie, We have Kanishka. You have the World Trade Center, we have Wandhama.

The threads lead back to one and the same source. It is contemptible that this is being sponsored and abetted from across our borders. One country in our region has already fallen to obscurantism. The international community must act determinedly to prevent the contagion from spreading.

As the world moves into the next century, we must accept multiculturism and respect for diversities as a way of life. I am happy to note here that both India and the United States, which have a rich experience in peacefully managing diversities, can work together in this area for the benefit of mankind.

India and America: natural allies in the quest for a better future

Friends, on all these major challenges facing mankind today, my belief is that progressive people all over the world have convergent views. I see this convergence especially among the forward-looking leaders, policy-makers and intellectuals of India and America.

It is this convergence, it is this commonality of concerns and cognition, which reinforces my belief that India and the United States are natural allies in the quest for a better future for the world in the 21st century.

Thanks to the initiatives of non-governmental and non-partisan institutions like the Asia Society, I am sure this alliance will become stronger and stronger in the coming years.

In conclusion, as an ode to this natural Indo-American alliance, let me quote a few lines from the poem written by Swami Vivekananda, one of the greatest Indian sages of modern times.

It is call "To the Fourth of July". It was written a hundred years ago, on July 4, 1898 when he was travelling with some American disciples through the woods of Kashmir.

Move on, O Lord, in the resistless path!
Till thy high noon o'erspreads the world,
Till every land reflects thy light,
Till men and women, with uplifted head,
Behold their shackles broken, and
Know, in springing joy, their life renewed!