Theme - "India: The Next Global Superpower?" news
17 November 2006

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am happy to be back here at this forum once again. I notice that there is an integral link between the theme of your summit last year, ie, "Building a Better Future", and the theme this year.

However, I submit to you that we in India wish to `build a better future' for ourselves, not because of a desire to be a `global superpower'; but because we want to live in peace and with dignity; in good health and gainfully employed; creating an environment conducive to the full expression of our creativity and enterprise.

Ladies and Gentlemen, at the outset, I would like to examine the concept of a global superpower itself. In the 21st century, I see the benefits of science and technology reaching almost all corners of the world, removing the age old scourges of poverty, ignorance and disease.

As prosperity spreads, as people and communities get increasingly empowered to manage the affairs of their nations, as the economic and technological gap between nations of the world narrows, as trade and capital flows grow to a magnitude unimaginable today, as nations become more interdependent, the notions of power and a "superpower" as we understand these today will have to undergo a change.

We will possibly move to a world where nations act together in concert to address the major concerns of the times - global environmental hazards, sustainability of global consumption, global energy security, global health risks and global threats to security. New global institutions will have to emerge to manage these collective international responses and we will need to move to a far more rule based and equitable management of international affairs.

In this rule based world - just as in the rule based polity we have internally - power as traditionally understood may become less relevant in international affairs and the concept of a super power as we generally understand it, even less so. Given this emerging scenario, our goal should be to ensure a prosperous, secure and dignified future for our people and to participate actively in contributing to the evolution of a just world order. Size does give us a certain weight in global affairs and this will get recognized across the world. We will be seen a growth engine. But, this has to be tempered by the realization that the ultimate goal is to work for rule based rather than power based relationships.

Further, such an approach is in line with our history, culture and civilization. For centuries, we have lived in peace with the world around us, traveling to distant lands as traders, teachers and scholars. Rarely has the world seen armies sailing out of India as conquerors.

The Indian influence across much of Asia has been one of culture, language, religion, ideas and values, not of bloody conquest. We have always been respected for our traditional export - knowledge! Does that not also make India a "global superpower", though not in the traditional sense! Can this not be the power we seek in the next century?

Ladies and Gentlemen, Sir Winston Churchill had once said that the "empires of the future will be the empires of the mind." This statement not only recognises the importance of knowledge in determining the destinies of nations, it also subtly hints that the intellectual, cultural, social, economic and political empowerment of individuals is the basis on which the modern world will be constructed. This should be the goal we should work for. And I am confident that we are capable of meeting it.

When we analyse our history of the 18th and 19th centuries, we see that it was our neglect of modern science and technology and our inability to harness it for growth that made us miss the industrial revolution that swept the world then. India and China, which together accounted for half the world GDP and whose people were among the most prosperous, fell behind Europe and ended up at the bottom of global prosperity tables.

We are once again at an inflexion point in world history. Once again, advances in science and technology, particularly in IT and connectivity, are making enormous changes in the way we organize our lives, our industries, our economies and our institutions. This is throwing up immense opportunities for those who are skilled, creative, and enterprising. If we have to realize our destiny and once again be counted among the great nations of the world, we have to ensure that we do not miss this new wave of industrialisation.

The challenge before us is to use modern science and technology to ride this wave. We need to equip and empower our people to take advantage of the opportunities that are rapidly arising across the world. We need to have a skilled, confident, healthy workforce. We need to have dynamic, creative, enterprising firms which are capable of meeting global challenges.

We need to build institutions which are robust, which inspire confidence and which can enforce the rule of law in a fair manner. We need a polity, which is inclusive, equitable, caring and just. We need a social order, which every citizen owns and is proud of. These are goals, which will take us to our destiny.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the goals I have listed are not new. Nor are they easy to fulfill. We have a huge challenge in education in ensuring that millions of our children complete basic schooling. We need to build far more universities, colleges, technical and professional institutions so that our youth have the basic skill set to participate in the dynamism being shown by our economy. We have to educate the girl child and empower our women and all weaker sections of society through education.

For doing all this, we have to widen access to education, make it more equitable and relevant, and ensure that excellence is rewarded. The education system must promote rational thinking and a scientific temper. This is the surest way of unleashing the full potential of all our people. We cannot afford to be a nation, half of whose citizens are marginalized and outside the pale of a modern economy.

The other challenge is in health. The consequences of ill health and disease are adverse on all age groups - children, the productive workforce and the aged. We need a health system, which caters to the diverse needs of all these groups. Our people must be assured of quality healthcare at an affordable cost. We need a health system, which reduces the infant mortality rate, the maternal mortality rate, controls epidemics, provides basic health care. We are still at an early stage in evolving large-scale systemic solutions to our health problems. We need to accelerate our efforts.

As our economy grows, we need to look at the energy needs of our country. We need to look into the future, forecast our energy consumption patterns, study alternatives that are available and take steps to ensure that energy availability is not a constraint on our prospects. Energy security will be a continuing effort both in the domestic sphere and the international sphere.

Ladies and Gentlemen, if we have to equip ourselves to ride this new wave of industrialization, we need huge investments - both public and private. This can be done only in the framework of a rapidly growing economy. We have been able to sustain high rates of economic growth averaging over 8 per cent in the last three years. This is the result of a whole range of policies we have put in place. We are targeting growth rates of 10 per cent in the next Five Year Plan.

It is only through such growth can we generate the tax resources which can then finance the huge expenditures that are needed in education and health. Therefore, we need to ensure that we have an economic environment, which is conducive to growth, an environment with moderate tax rates but high levels of compliance.
Growth is raising other concerns. We are seeing a widening of the urban-rural gap and inter-regional disparities. The income ratio between urban and rural India has risen from 1:2 at the time of Independence to 1:4 today. Is it going to widen further? Can we allow such a trend to persist without its ill effects on our society and polity? This is a matter of deep concern.

Another dimension of growth is the widening gap between states and regions. We are a common market in many ways. Internationally, common markets enable convergence in prosperity. We are seeing the reverse happening in our country. There is an increasing disconnect between backward regions and the rest of the country. Is this a consequence of low urbanization? Or poor industrialization? Or poor institutional capacities?

The consequences of this trend are going to be extremely adverse. We need to urgently arrest this trend as well. Less developed regions must catch up with the more developed regions. We need sharply focused policies to reduce disparities, take people out of agriculture and increase agricultural productivity. Bharat Nirman and rural infrastructure, which are priority areas for our government, attempt to redress this imbalance. We need to collectively think as a nation to ensure equity in growth - equity across regions, states, sections of society and gender. We cannot walk boldly into the future with only one half of our nation shining.

This means that growth cannot be an end in itself. It must translate into meaningful outcomes in the lives of individuals. At the same time, the protection of environment and control of the degradation of our land, water and air will also need to be attended to. I am not sure whether we can aspire to achieve consumption standards of developed countries.

This ambition will place unsustainable pressure on our environment and the essential life support system of our planet. Our aim must be to pursue a sustainable development path through which we can eliminate the differences in important indices of human development between us and developed countries over a reasonable time period. This is my view of what catching up should mean.

Ladies and Gentlemen, while focusing on economic growth and equity, we often tend to ignore the importance of institutions. Effective, efficient, just institutions are integral to any modern polity. They make it more inclusive, capable of handling contrary pulls and pressures. They enforce the rule of law in an unbiased manner, inspire confidence in the 'fairness' of the system and make the polity stable and robust. They deliver essential public services. They form the basis of a market economy and any social safety net.

I am concerned whether we are doing enough to reform our institutions. Our administration, judiciary, legislature and institutions of local government need to be revitalized and made more accountable and effective. We have to do more to eliminate corruption in public life and in government.

Are we debating enough on the management of politics in our country, taking into account the wide differences in caste, creed, and language. Are we debating and working on the modernization of the Indian state? Are our urban bodies and panchayats capable of handling the immense workload that will be expected of them in the decades to come? Have we done enough to tap into the immense creative potential of decentralized governance with more powers to raise resources and more accountable systems of governance?

In the answers to these lies the answer to our original question of realizing our destiny. Our political discourse and the attention of media, are not adequately seized of these challenges. To unleash our full potential we need a politics of constructive engagement. We need forward-looking political leadership at all levels of our polity. We need a basic political consensus on some of the difficult things that governments must do to create an environment conducive to sustainable development.

If we don't think into the future, if we don't think big, if we don't think anew, if we cannot, and will not, learn from the experience of the world, we will not be forgiven by future generations.
We have to have the courage and the vision to take calculated risks that expand the horizons of development and knowledge.

We must be willing to benchmark ourselves against the best in the world, in whatever we do, and see how we can bridge the gap. Many Indians have done this. Many young students, professionals and entrepreneurs have shown the courage to test their skills in the global market. They have done India proud. This is not enough. As a nation we must be willing to benchmark our effort against the best in the world in whatever we do, in every walk of life, to bridge the gap between performance and potential.

In the foreseeable future more than half our population will be less than 25 years of age. Adequately empowered, this vast army of young men and women can fuel the engines of growth and redistribution. Our Government has kept its focus sharply on these objectives. In the past two years the economy is once again on the move. We have been able to step up the rates of saving and investment. But what we have been able to achieve is just the beginning of a long process.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is also imperative that we become more engaged with our own neighbourhood. We must create and sustain mutually beneficial relations with all our neighbours and with all the Great Nations of the world. I believe the people of South Asia have a shared destiny, just as we have a shared past. We must learn to live with each other, respecting the inherent diversity of our region, and work together in improving the lives of our people. The strengthening of democracy in our region will, I am convinced, restore to South Asia as a whole a unique place, and a place of great importance, in the community of nations. The countries of our region can and must help each other grapple with the challenge of change and the challenges of our times.

I am sure you are all waiting to hear President Hamid Karzai, for whom I have the highest regard. I am greatly inspired by the heroic attempt of the Afghan people to carve out a new place for themselves in the modern world. President Karzai has set his eyes on re-building Afghanistan into a strong, democratic nation.

I hope your conference helps us understand better how we can grapple with the challenge of building a better future for our people so that we can help build a better India, a stronger India, a more open and dynamic India, and an inclusive India.

Thank you.

See: PM for more foreign investments to hasten development

also see : PM for more foreign investments to hasten development

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Theme - "India: The Next Global Superpower?"