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'There is much we can accomplish together'

Last updated on: July 19, 2005 18:45 IST
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Mr Speaker, Mr Vice President, distinguished members of the US Congress, ladies and gentlemen

I deem it a privilege to be invited to address this Joint Session of the US Congress. I thank you for the invitation. I bring you the greetings and good wishes of the people of India.

India and the United States have much in common that is very important to both countries. You are the world's oldest democracy, we are its largest. Our shared commitment to democratic values and processes has been a bond that has helped us transcend differences.

We admire the creativity and enterprise of the American people, the excellence of your institutions of learning, the openness of the economy, and your ready embrace of diversity. These have attracted the brightest young minds from India, creating a bridge of understanding that transcends both distance and difference between us.

In addition to the values we share as democracies, there is also a convergence in our perceptions of a rapidly transforming global environment, bringing us much closer together than at any time in the past.

Globalization has made the world so inter-dependent that none of us can ignore what happens elsewhere. Peace and prosperity are more indivisible than ever before in human history. As democracies, we must work together to create a world in which democracies can flourish.

This is particularly important because we are today faced with new threats such as terrorism, to which democracies are particularly vulnerable.

Indian democracy has been fashioned around India's civilizational ethos which celebrates diversity. Our society today is the culmination of centuries of assimilation of diverse peoples and ethnic groups. All the major religions of the world are represented in India.

We have a tremendous diversity of languages, customs and traditions. The Father of our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, called for universal adult franchise as early as 1931, long before India became independent. Our political leadership remained true to this commitment and the Constitution we adopted after Independence enshrined democracy based on free elections and the associated principles of tolerance of dissent, freedom for political activity, protection of human rights and the Rule of Law.

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Our first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, addressing this very forum in 1949, acknowledged our debt to America on this score. He said that you could hear in our Constitution the echo of the great voices of the Founding Fathers of your Republic.

Ladies and Gentlemen

The real test of a democracy is not in what is said in the Constitution, but in how it functions on the ground. All Indians can be proud of what we have achieved in this area and our experience is also relevant beyond our boundaries. Free and fair elections are the foundation of a democracy.

Over the past six decades, governments in India, at both the national and state level, have regularly sought the mandate of the people through elections. Our elections are conducted under the supervision of a statutory independent Election Commission, which has earned respect for its fairness and transparency, both at home and abroad. The independent judiciary has been a zealous defender of our Constitution and a credible guarantor of the Rule of Law.

The Press is a key institution in any democracy and our media has a well-earned reputation for being free and fearless. Our minorities, and we have many, participate actively in all walks of national life -- political, commercial and cultural.

Civil society organisations are thriving and are vigilant in protecting human rights. They are also watchful of threats to the environment. Our Army has remained a professional force, subject throughout to civilian control.

Recently, the Constitution was amended to ensure constitutionally mandated elections to village and municipal councils. This process has produced no less than three million elected representatives in the country, with one million positions reserved for women.

This has brought democracy closer to the people and also empowered women and promoted gender balance.

View from Washington

Our commitment to democratic values and practices means there are many concerns and perceptions that we share with the United States. The most important common concern is the threat of terrorism. Democracy can only thrive in open and free societies. But open societies like ours are today threatened more than ever before by the rise of terrorism.

The very openness of our societies makes us more vulnerable, and yet we must deal effectively with the threat without losing the openness we so value and cherish. India and the United States have both suffered grievously from terrorism and we must make common cause against it. We know that those who resort to terror often clothe it in the garb of real or imaginary grievances. We must categorically affirm that no grievance can justify resort to terror.

Democracies provide legitimate means for expressing dissent. They provide the right to engage in political activity, and must continue to do so. However, for this very reason, they cannot afford to be soft on terror. Terrorism exploits the freedom our open societies provide to destroy our freedoms.

The United States and India must work together in all possible forums to counter all forms of terrorism. We cannot be selective in this area. We must fight terrorism wherever it exists, because terrorism anywhere threatens democracy everywhere.

We know from experience that democratic societies which guarantee individual freedom and tolerance of dissent provide an environment most conducive to creative endeavour, and the establishment of socially just societies. We therefore have an obligation to help other countries that aspire for the fruits of democracy. Just as developed industrial countries assist those that are less developed to accelerate development, democratic societies with established institutions must help those that want to strengthen democratic values and institutions.

In this spirit, President Bush and I agreed yesterday on a global initiative to help build democratic capacities in all societies that seek such assistance.

The capacities we have in mind are those related to the electoral, parliamentary, judicial and human rights processes of emerging democracies. Respect for cultural diversity, minority rights and gender equality is an important goal of this initiative.

Democracy is one part of our national endeavour. Development is the other. Openness will not gain popular support if an open society is not a prosperous society. This is especially so in developing countries, where a large number of people have legitimate material expectations which must be met. That is why we must transform India's economy, to raise the standard of living of all our people and in the process eliminate poverty.

India's aspirations in the respect are not different from those of other developing countries. But we are unique in one respect.

There is no other country of a billion people, with our tremendous cultural, linguistic and religious diversity, that has tried to modernise its society and transform its economy within the framework of a functioning democracy.

To attempt this at our modest levels of per capita income is a major challenge. We are determined to succeed in this effort. To achieve our developmental goals, our policies and strategies must be in step with changed circumstances and especially the opportunities now available in the global economy.

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, standing at this very podium two decades ago, spoke of the challenge of building anew on old foundations. He started a process of reorienting India's economic policies, which has been continued by successive governments.

The economic policy changes that have been made in India have far-reaching implications. They have liberated Indian enterprise from government control and made the economy much more open to global flows of trade, capital and technology. Our entrepreneurial talent has been unleashed, and is encouraged to compete with the best. We will continue this process so that Indian talent and enterprise can realize its full potential, enabling India to participate in the global economy as an equal partner.

We are often criticised for being too slow in making changes in policy, but democracy means having to build a consensus in favour of change. As elected representatives, you are all familiar with this problem. We have to assuage the doubts and calm the fears that often arise when people face the impact of change. Many of the fears we have to address are exaggerated, but they must be addressed. This is necessary to ensure sustainability. India's economic reforms must be seen in this light: they may appear slow, but I assure you they are durable and irreversible.

I am happy to say that our efforts at transforming India into an economy more integrated with the world have borne fruit. Our rate of growth of GDP has increased steadily, and has averaged around 6.0 per cent per year over the past two decades. Poverty has declined although more slowly than we would like. We are determined to improve on this performance. We hope to raise our growth rate to 8 per cent or so over the next two years, and we will ensure that this growth is "inclusive" so that its benefits are widely spread.

For this we must act on several fronts. We must do much more in health and education, which are crucial for human development. We must continue to open up our economy. We must impart a new impetus to agricultural development. We must expand investment in economic infrastructure which is a critical constraint on our growth prospects.

India's growth and prosperity is in American interest. American investments in India, especially in new technology areas, will help American companies to reduce costs and become more competitive globally.

Equally, India's earnings from these investments will lead to increased purchases from the United States. The information technology revolution in India is built primarily on US computer related technology and hardware. There are many other examples of such two-way benefits, with both sides gaining from the process.

US firms are already leading the foreign investment drive in India. I believe 400 of the Fortune 500 are already in India. They produce for the Indian market and will hopefully also source supplies from India for their global supply chains. We welcome this involvement and look forward to further expansion in the years ahead. India needs massive foreign direct investment, especially in infrastructure. I hope American companies will participate in the opportunities we are creating.

The 21st century will be driven by knowledge-based production and India is well placed in this area. We have a large and relatively young population with a social tradition that values higher education. Our educated young people are also English-speaking. This makes us potentially an attractive location for production of high-end services whether in software, engineering design or research in pharmaceutical and other areas.

Our laws on intellectual property rights have been recently amended to comply fully with our international obligations under the WTO. We look forward to attracting business in these areas from the United States.

The presence of a large number of Indian Americans in high technology industries here makes the US and India natural partners. It gives you confidence about India's human resource capability. It also gives you an edge over your competitors in the ease with which you can operate in India. We are proud of what the Indian American community have done in this country.

I was touched, as were many of my countrymen, by the news that a Resolution of this House celebrated the contribution of Indian Americans to research, innovation, and promotion of trade and international cooperation between India and the US.

Ladies and gentlemen

To fully exploit potential areas for cooperation between our two countries, we need to make special efforts to bring our private sectors closer together. To this end, President Bush and I have constituted an India-US forum of chief executive officers. I hope this forum will promote greater understanding of each other's perspectives and also a better assessment of prospects for future cooperation. The two governments will draw on their experience and advice on how to realise the full potential of our relationship.

The bulk of our population still depends upon agriculture for a living. The United States was an early partner in this area, helping to establish agricultural universities and research institutions in India in the 1960s.

It was an American, Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug, supported by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, who developed high yielding varieties of wheat in Mexico which were then adapted to Indian conditions in the Agricultural Universities you helped establish.

This was the start of the Green Revolution in India that lifted countless millions above poverty.

I am very happy to say that President Bush and I have decided to launch a second generation of India-US collaboration in agriculture. The new initiative will focus on basic and strategic research for sustainable development of agriculture to meet the challenge of raising productivity in conditions of water stress. It seeks to take information and knowhow directly to the farming community and promote technologies that minimise post harvest wastage and improve food storage.

It will also help Indian farmers to meet phyto-sanitary conditions and enable them to participate more fully in global agricultural trade.

Energy security is another area where our two countries have strong common interests.

The world's reserves of hydrocarbons are finite and we must tap new energy sources. India's reliance on coal and hydro-power will increase. We have to invest in new oil and gas exploration and in enhanced recovery of oil and gas from available fields. We must also tap the full potential of nuclear energy. The US can help in all these areas.

I am happy to say we have initiated an Energy Dialogue with the US to explore the scope for cooperation in each of these areas in the years ahead.

The field of civil nuclear energy is a vital area for cooperation between our two countries. As a consequence of our collective efforts, our relationship in this sector is being transformed.

President Bush and I arrived at an understanding in finding ways and means to enable such cooperation. In this context, I would also like to reiterate that India's track record in nuclear non-proliferation is impeccable. We have adhered scrupulously to every rule and canon in this area. We have done so even though we have witnessed unchecked nuclear proliferation in our own neighbourhood which has directly affected our security interests.

This is because India, as a responsible nuclear power, is fully conscious of the immense responsibilities that come with the possession of advanced technologies, both civilian and strategic. We have never been, and will never be, a source of proliferation of sensitive technologies.

We are conscious that plans to meet our energy requirements will have implications for the environment. This is especially so since any energy scenario for India will involve heavy dependence on coal. Clean coal technologies that can make an impact need to be developed and should be affordable for poorer countries. We need to find ways whereby sufficient resources can be devoted to ensure the development of these technologies. We must also find ways of allowing greater access for developing countries to these technologies including ways of undertaking cooperative research.

We stand ready to explore new partnerships in this area with you, which will help enable a more efficient use of our hydrocarbon resources.

There are other areas too where we can collaborate. Our combined effort in providing relief and succour to the millions affected by last December's tsunami is an example of what partnership can achieve.

Building on this experience, President Bush and I have launched a joint initiative to ensure that our capabilities will be readily on call for those in need in similar situations in future. The global challenge of HIV/AIDS is another area for India-US cooperation. President Bush and I have agreed on the need to provide increased international access to safe and effective anti-retroviral drugs.

Ladies and gentlemen

Globalisation has woven a web of inter-connections across the world. This makes it all the more necessary that we evolve a system of global governance that carries credibility and commands legitimacy.

Such a system must be sufficiently participative to be able to generate a global consensus. It must also reflect contemporary reality. The Doha round of world trade negotiations and the reform of the United Nations are two major processes in the international arena where we need to work together to strengthen the system of global governance.

India is committed to strengthening the multilateral trading system and we will work with the US and other partners for a successful outcome of the Doha Round. I am sure that we can find a reasonable and balanced outcome that is mutually beneficial. We will make every effort to do so.

On the reform of the United Nations, we believe that it is time to recognise the enormous changes that have occurred since the present structure was established. There must be comprehensive reform of the United Nations to make it more effective and also more representative.

The UN Security Council must be restructured as part of the reform process. In this context, you would agree that the voice of the world's largest democracy surely cannot be left unheard on the Security Council when the United Nations is being restructured.

Mr Speaker, Mr Vice President, distinguished senators and members of the House of Representatives, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to conclude by saying that the Indian people look forward to a bright future, full of confidence, based on a growing recognition of our economic capabilities and the readiness of our society to meet the challenges before us.

We have had some success in improving the quality of life of our own people and we will redouble our efforts to this end. We will also work towards securing a world order in which democracy can flourish, and in which developing nations can strive for greater prosperity.

As two democracies, we are natural partners in many respects. Partnerships can be of two kinds. There are partnerships based on principle and there are partnerships based on pragmatism.

I believe we are at a juncture where we can embark on a partnership that can draw both on principle as well as pragmatism. We must build on this opportunity.

My objective on this visit was to lay the basis for transformed ties between our two great countries. I believe that we have made a very good beginning. With the support and understanding of the Congress, the full benefits of our partnership will be realised in the months and years to come.

India is today embarked on a journey inspired by many dreams. We welcome having America by our side. There is much we can accomplish together.

Thank you

This is the text of the speech Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made to a joint session of the United States Congress, on July 19

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