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'India will lead in the Asian century'

By Ramananda Sengupta in Mumbai
March 20, 2006 16:58 IST
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"Fifty-nine years after we made our tryst with destiny, India stands today on the threshold of a new journey, to becoming a responsible global player, willing and able to play its rightful role in the shaping of a new multipolar world order."

So declared Minister of State for Industry Ashwani Kumar at the Ballroom of the Grand Hyatt, Mumbai. He was delivering the keynote address on 'A look at India's trade partnerships' at the Asia Society Corporate conference being held in the city.

"As we enter the 21st century, a confident India, basking in the glory of its heightened relevance in the comity of nation, seeks, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated, a 'new paradigm of international cooperation relevant to an emerging multipolar world," said Kumar, a lawyer and former additional solicitor general.

"We have thus forged strategic partnerships with the United States, European Union, Russia, China and Japan. The government's Look East policy has enabled India to achieve a much closer economic interaction with the ASEAN," he said. "The centre of economic gravity having shifted to Asia, India is determined to be a leader in this century that beckons Asia."

"The recently concluded Indo-US civil nuclear energy agreement is aimed at ending India's nuclear isolation and will ensure our capabilities across the entire energy spectrum -- from clean coal and coal-bed methane gas to gas hydrates and wind and solar power."

Kumar, who was a 2003 fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC, then went on to assert that as far as economic indicators went, the facts spoke for themselves.

"Available empirical evidence about the expanding reach and depth of our economy tells a convincing story. The Indian economy has grown by over 6 per cent per annum in the post-reform period. It has grown by 8.5 per cent in 2003-04, 7.5 per cent in 2004-2005, and is projected to grow further by 8.1 per cent this year," he said.

"India is home to some 27 billionaires and 70,000 millionaires with foreign exchange reserves at $145 billion. Exchange rates are stable and inflation is under control."

Investments proposed, "vide the Industrial Entrepreneur Memorandum, in 2005 is of the magnitude of Rs 354,000 crore (Rs 3,540 billion), three times the amount in 2003."

He then went on to quote a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which predicted that the "Indian economy is expected to be the second largest in the world by 2050 in purchasing power parity terms, after China. According to one forecast, India could achieve a per capita income of $30,000 by 2047 assuming a dollar-rupee exchange rate based on purchasing power parity."

The National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) Bill, passed by the Indian Parliament in August 2005, "makes gainful employment as an enforceable legal right for millions of our unemployed involving an expenditure of thousands of crores (billions). But "even while committing huge resources in the cause of serving overarching national goals, we have ensured that the fiscal deficits is contained," Kumar said.

"Challenges remain, however. High oil prices, rising interest rates, imponderables of the external environment Naxal (Maoist) violence, acute poverty of a large sector of its population and the infrastructure deficit in roads, ports and power need to be addressed on an urgent basis," he continued.

"This indeed is the moment for India to seize, when most factors of national power seem to converge in its favor. We need to proceed on the basis that our future will be shaped by a relentless pursuit of enlightened self-interest, defined by the nation's ability to marshal its religious, cultural and social values to secure the foundations of our republic. I urge that we invoke our 'soft power' alongside the nation's economic strength to play a larger role in the comity of nations. At home, we must not mistake 'living standards' for standards of life."

But, he warned, "while we bask in glory of our national accomplishments, we must not allow our the 'frenzy of the forces of change' to distract us from a vision centered on those who live on the margins, nor must we fail to cherish diversity in our unity."

He concluded with a quote from Jawaharlal Nehru: 'We cannot rest, for rest is betrayal of those who have gone and in going handed the torch of freedom to us to keep it alight, it is betrayal of the cause we have espoused and the pledge we have taken; it is betrayal of the millions who never rest; we cannot rest.'

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Ramananda Sengupta in Mumbai