Former United States president Bill Clinton called for reduced communal violence in India and greater interaction with Pakistan.
Clinton was the guest of honour at Monday's annual dinner of the Asia Society.
Referring to the America-India Foundation, which Clinton initiated at the request of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee following the Gujarat earthquake to raise relief funds, he hoped the foundation would 'do for India what the all the American Jewish organisations have done for Israel for decades'.
Clinton, however, warned, all the good work done following the earthquake can easily be wrecked. "At the time that I visited India, the per capita income was $500 and yet the Parliament approved a 22 per cent increase in the defence budget," he said. "And you know what has happened in the past couple of years. So now Prime Minster Vajpayee, at the age of 78, said 'One more time I am going to try to resolve this promise with Pakistan.'"
It is very important, he said, for the US to support this process. "It is the only place in the world where there is continuing hot conflict with two nuclear powers who have less than perfect knowledge about each other's prowess."
He also lauded the Bush administration's decision to continue with the policy of rapprochement 'with the biggest democracy in the world' that his own administration had started.
At the same time, he pointed out that since the US and India were now friends, it was the US's duty as a friend to tell India when something was amiss. Referring to last year's communal riots in Gujarat, Clinton said such incidents 'made a mockery of Gandhi's vision'.
"These things look bizarre next to the breathtaking advances in technology that are going on all over India," he said. "Gandhi wanted India to be for the Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians and anybody else who showed up."
On the Kashmir issue, he said, "I personally believe that it will be impossible to find a rapprochement over Kashmir if Indian politics itself is still riven by sectarian violence and if there are perceived benefits to Indian nationalists by continuing policies of estrangement."
The evening also saw the first Osborn Elliot Prize for Excellence in Journalism in Asia being awarded to Elisabeth Rosenthal of the New York Times. Her articles on the AIDS crisis in China, particularly in Hunan province, literally forced the government to address the crisis. Recently, she has also extensively covered the SARS crisis.
Other speakers included Rajat Gupta, managing director at McKinsey & Company, Nicholas Platt, president of the Asia Society, Richard Holbrooke, chairman of the board of trustees at the Asia Society, Bernard Schwartz, chairman and CEO of Loral Space & Communications and David A Coulter, vice president of JP Morgan Chase & Co.
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