Manmohan SinghMANMOHAN SINGHPRIME MINISTER I am happy that the Conclave began with the opening remarks of His Excellency, the former president of Iran, Mohammad Khatami. I have the highest regard for his wisdom, his scholarship and his statesmanship. He is a great citizen of the world, a great leader of,Manmohan SinghMANMOHAN SINGHPRIME MINISTER I am happy that the Conclave began with the opening remarks of His Excellency, the former president of Iran, Mohammad Khatami. I have the highest regard for his wisdom, his scholarship and his statesmanship. He is a great citizen of the world, a great leader of the Iranian people and a great friend of India. I recall his words at the UN”Conference on Dialogue amongst Civilisations” in September 2000. “The ultimate goal of dialogue among civilisations is not dialogue in itself, but attaining empathy and compassion.” I fully endorse these sentiments of our distinguished guest and today his sentiments have acquired renewed relevance in international affairs and we in India appreciate them more than any other people. Such a dialogue among civilisations has been the living reality for more than a millennium. India is home to all the great religions of the world, home to scores of languages, hundreds of dialects, dozens of cuisines, a medley of races, colours, landscapes and cultures. The idea of India is shaped by this notion of “unity in diversity”. That is why I often say that the success of the Indian experiment is vital to the survival of mankind as a whole.PEOPLE SAY INDIA IS AN OPEN SOCIETY WITH A CLOSED MINDSET. WE HAVE TO BE OPEN TO IDEAS FROM ACROSS THE WORLD. The Conclave theme this year is: “Challenges for the Brave New World: Can India Take the Lead?” I believe India is one of the forerunners in showing the world a way forward in dealing with one of the biggest challenges facing humankind in the modern world. This is the challenge of preventing the so-called “clash of civilisations” and enabling not just a “dialogue” between civilisations but creating a “confluence of civilisations”.India is indeed a confluence of civilisations. In building an open and pluralistic society within the framework of a liberal and secular democracy, we have shown the world a way to deal with the complex heterogeneity of the modern societies. Every nation must endeavour to be an open society in which the plurality of the human experience can find full and free expression. I am not talking of majorities tolerating minorities. I am talking of all groups, big and small, living together in harmony.advertisementIn seeking to build a democratic society, the leaders of our freedom movement grappled with the challenge of a brave new world they were forced to confront. Ours is an ancient civilisation, but we are a very young nation. The survival, growth and vibrancy of our nation has vindicated the faith of our founders in the democratic values of pluralism, liberalism and secularism. It has enabled us to show many embattled corners of the world a practical way forward in “enabling the confluence of civilisations”.If India has a message for the world, it is this: Humankind must shun all extremes and all forms of extremism. We must reject all ideologies of exclusion for nature’s way has been to be inclusive. Nature of course had willed the survival of the fittest, but human societies have come to accept the idea of live and let live. Our concept of an inclusive society is based on this very principle.This conference wishes us to focus on the challenge of dealing with a “brave new world”. Every generation would like to believe that it is entering a “brave new world”. That spirit is natural and welcomed. It inspires each generation to seek new horizons and find new answers to problems old and new. Many, however, will rest content reinventing the wheel and pouring old wines into new bottles. But some will strike out and truly find new paths. A society that encourages creativity, enterprise, innovation, and risk taking will be a vibrant society and the future belongs to such a society, which will be capable of dealing with the challenges of a brave new world. I believe we must do all that is possible to allow the full expression of such human creativity and ingenuity to flourish in our country. This we can do best within the framework of an open society. But such a society will have to be a literate and educated one. It will have to be healthy and caring. It will have to be a knowledgeempowered society. A free and egalitarian society functioning within the parameters of the rule of law and civilized conduct and discourse. Above all, it will have to be an inclusive society. It has been our endeavour to make ours such an inclusive society.advertisementBut we have a long way to go, there are unfortunately no shortcuts in history. The management of human affairs requires patience as well as effort, not just vision and leadership. Humanity has often been led astray by those who claimed a unique vision and offered bold leadership. We live in a highly interdependent and complex world where dialogue and patient consultation are required to deal with the challenges humanity faces today. To appreciate and participate in a honest and constructive dialogue is the most effective way to deal with the challenges we face today.I WANT OUR NEIGHBOURS TO FEEL SECURE AND CONFIDENT…..WE SEE THEIR PROSPERITY AS A GUARANTEE OF OUR PROSPERITY.I have often said, both in the context of domestic politics and international conflict that there is no issue that cannot be resolved through dialogue and discussion. The approach of seeking an eye for an eye, as Mahatma Gandhiji taught us, can only leave us all blind. Violence and force have never offered lasting solutions to human problems. This consultative and consensual approach is what has kept our diverse nation together.My friend Amartya Sen has written about the “Argumentative Indian”, but our real strength has always been our willingness to live and let live. It is not our argumentative nature that we must celebrate, but our assimilative nature, our consensual nature, our accommodative nature. That is what has contributed to the richness of our composite culture and durability of our civilisation. This is why I also believe that India can bring to the global high table, to institutions like the United Nations and its Security Council, it can bring a new approach in dealing with global challenges whether these be challenges of environment, energy security, food security or empowerment of the under privileged sections of society.Much is often made of our attitude to globalisation. Let me say that I sincerely believe that we Indians have always opened global influences and that ours will always be an open society. Even in the economic sphere, we are today as open as any free market democracy in the world. The numbers of course are there to tell the story. The share of foreign trade in our national income is today comparable to that of many developed market economies. But our openness is not just about these numbers. Our openness is defined by our attitudes and our confidence in ourselves. Our media is free and open. Our popular culture has always been welcoming of outside influences. Yet, we have stood securely on our feet. As Mahatma Gandhiji used to say, we have our doors and windows open to the free flow of ideas, yet we have confidence in ourselves that we will not be overwhelmed by any of them. I want more of our citizens to appreciate this reality. I am often surprised by the insular outlook of some of our political and intellectual leaders. Their narrow-mindedness betrays a lack of self-confidence. It is an attitude I do not associate with being an Indian.advertisementWe must make better use of the opportunities the world offers us. We must be more open to our own neighbourhood. India will be hosting the SAARC Summit on April 3-4 in Delhi.I want India to be more open to all our neighbours. I want our neighbours to feel secure and confident that in India they have a well-wisher. We see their prosperity as a guarantee of our own prosperity. The destiny of the people of South Asia is interlinked and inter-dependent.I see a similar mutually beneficial inter-dependence between India and the wider neighbourhood of the Indian Ocean and the Asia-Pacific regions. For centuries our forefathers sailed westwards and eastwards-as teachers and traders, as merchants and monks. That is how we should once again approach the world at large.We must rekindle this interest in the world outside and be willing to deal with the opportunities and challenges it presents. I do believe, however, that to be able to do so with greater confidence we must invest much more in our capabilities. This is the real challenge before us. We need a new revolution in education. It must equip us better to deal with an ever-changing world. We must harness the full potential offered by development in modern science and technology. We need world class academic and research institutions and infrastructure. We need a more competitive industry and a more dynamic agricultural economy.If we need to learn from each other and tread into unknown territory, we need an open mind. I am troubled when I hear people say that India is an open society with a closed mindset. That is not the India I know. The India I know and I cherish, has been open to ideas from across the world. The India I know values knowledge and creativity, respects learning and scholarship. If we can approach the world and our future with that self-confidence, we can also regain the glory of our wondrous past.I hope your Conclave and other such gatherings encourage us to be more open minded, more willing to learn, to be more creative, more enterprising and more courageous. In that lies the road to a brighter future for our children and our grandchildren.DiscussionQ. Mr. Prime Minister, you are in many ways the father of reforms in this country. But the economy has grown in areas where the government has nothing to do, be it telecom, civil aviation, IT industry. So my question is this: while politicians are accountable to the electorate, businessmen are accountable to the shareholders, the bureaucracy is not accountable to anybody. Do you have any plans of making the bureaucracy more responsive and more atuned to public needs? Manmohan: I do not want to claim that everything is right with our bureaucracy but having been a bureaucrat for a large part of my life, I sincerely believe that our bureaucracy is often unnecessarily maligned. What impresses me is that despite low salaries, they have such great commitment to national goals, national ethos in our bureaucracy. A year ago, I had appointed the Administrative Reforms Commission and they are in the process of looking at our administrative system, our administrative structures and I sincerely hope that before long we will have a blue print of action.Q. Two months back, at a conference on infrastructure, you had stated that we are going to spend in our next Five Year Plan, starting from April 1, about $350-360 billion. I think the growth of India is dependent on infrastructure. But our worry is that how you are going to finance it and will the policy framework of this infrastructure be made public as soon as possible. I would also like to ask you, since you talked about SAARC, can Asian countries create a Asian currency which could finance Asia? Manmohan: I do not believe that the time is right for an Asian currency like the Euro. I think, having a common currency requires a degree of coordination of domestic economic policies which is not clearly in sight in Asia today, but that is a dream, that is an ambition we all should have. As for your first question, a lot of good things are happening. Five years ago I could not have imagined that our investment rate would rise to 34 per cent of our GDP, that our savings rate would rise to about 32 per cent of our GDP. I am confident that if we continue to create an environment conducive to promotion of risk taking, lack of resources is not going to be a problem for financing the needs of infrastructure. I am hopeful that whether it is roads, telecommunications, airports, seaports or our Railways, there will be new experiments of private public participation.Q. The policy on Special Economic Zones (SEZ) was supposed to take India to the brave new world where we could take on the manufacturing might of China. But today there is a lot of controversy over it. Are there flaws in the SEZ policy and would you be overhauling it? Manmohan: Well, let me say that the SEZ, as an instrument of economic policy has come to stay. But its implementation has brought certain problems which cannot be dismissed. Our strength is that we have the mechanisms to correct those. There have been inadequacies in compensation for land acquisition. We will redress these concerns. India is a democracy, democracy sometimes seems to be fickle minded. But I do believe that it is our strength. These are the decisions which are in many ways irreversible and therefore it is very important that before we move on, we should check if there are any gaps in performance, gaps in design and implementation, we should halt a little bit even though it takes time but the cost of delay is going to be much less than the cost that would arise if wrong headed policies are bulldozed regardless of the social and economic consequences.Q. My question pertains to the demand for demilitarisation, troop reduction in Jammu and kashmir. How do you look at this? Secondly, we would like to have your assurance that professional advice on such matters will not be marginalised for political expediency. Manmohan: Let me say very unambiguously, professional advice, wherever relevant, will be given full scope. We are in the process of discussing these matters with Mufti saheb. He has come at my invitation and I would not like to conduct a dialogue with him through the media or a public platform.