Address by Ambassador Anil Wadhwa at Devawongse...
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Address by Ambassador Anil Wadhwa at Devawongse Varopakarn Institute of Foreign Affairs on the topic of “India as a superpower and its engagement with South East Asia”
2 July 2013

Mr. Dhiravat Bhumichitr, Director of Devawongse Institute,

Dear Colleagues

          It is a pleasure for me to be speaking to you today. I am delighted to be amongst you all – fellow diplomats from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and from Thai Embassies, officials from other Ministries and Departments, and the private sector. Both names - that of the Director and of the Institute, have beautiful Sanskrit meanings, `Bhumichitr’ means a sketch of the land, while `Devawongse’ means from the ‘Dynasty of the Gods’ in Sanskrit, which has strong lineage with the Thai language.  I believe my predecessors have addressed participants in earlier courses, and I look forward to this opportunity to interact with you all. Today, I will speak on the topic given to me for about 25 minutes, and subsequently, we can have a free flowing discussion. I understand that you are also planning a study visit to India. I hope that today’s session will provide an interesting perspective and backdrop for your visit.  We have also distributed some material today which would be helpful in this regard.

2.       The title given to me today is “India as a Superpower and its engagement with South-East Asia”.  Let me, at the outset, mention that I am wary of using terms such as ‘Superpower’ that are a legacy of the Cold war. Such phrases indicate a mindset that is perhaps out of place in our globalized, inter-connected, and inter-dependent world.  Let me first share my thoughts on what constitutes India’s strengths that help us play a meaningful role in the global comity of nations. I will then speak about our engagement with this region in the second part of my address.

3.       As most of you know, India is one of the oldest civilizations, but a very young nation. We attained independence from colonial rule in 1947. The ideals and the values that guided our freedom movement, led by Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi also became the cornerstone of the Indian Republic. We completely rejected any attempts to define the Indian nation in narrow, parochial terms, least of all one that was based on religion.

4.       The preamble of our Constitution describes India as a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic. These are the core values of the modern Indian nation.

5.       As you are aware, India is the world’s largest democracy.  Democracy ensures that India remains an inclusive nation where every individual has a right to participate in governance as a matter of right. While democracy has floundered in many places in the region, it has gone from strength-to-strength in India, and is today held as an example across the world.  Our general elections are a unique exercise in itself, as the logistical arrangements required are mind-boggling. More than 700 million people exercise their right to vote. These require more than 800,000 polling stations. The voting process is fully electronic, using nearly 1.4 million Electronic Voting Machines that have been developed within India. Elections are supervised by more than 5.5 million officials. As civil servants, you are in a position to truly appreciate how complex the task can be.

6.       In India, the policy decisions may take time to be finalized because of the vigorous debate that is a hallmark of democracy. However, such decisions are also long lasting, because they are based on consensus that emerges from this discussion.  Our democracy is supported by an enlightened judiciary that enforces rule of law, and a vigorous and vigilant media. Media in India is huge. With 70,000 newspapers and 100 million copies printed daily, it is the world’s largest newspaper market. There are over 80 TV channels of news alone, along with hundreds of entertainment, lifestyle and educational channels.  Media ensures that organs of government are on their toes, and perform their duties. We unsparingly analyze ourselves in fine traditions of what Noble Laureate Prof. Amartya Sen calls “the argumentative Indian”.  I see this ability to scrutinize ourselves in full public glaze as one of the strengths of our democracy. 

7.       India is plural, and pluralism is an integral part of Indian identity. Pluralism is an acknowledgment of diversity. In India, it is reflected in every aspect. Be it religion, language, ethnicity, political ideology, cuisine, or even geography - you will find a breathtaking diversity of all in India that co-exists peacefully.

8.       To understand how pluralism came to be so deeply ingrained in the Indian way of life, it is enough to have a cursory look at our history since the Indus valley civilization began over 5,000 years back. Over thousands of years, the Indian sub-continent has played host to many streams of migrant groups and communities from different parts of the world. After the advent of the Aryans –whose origins are still being debated - waves of Greeks, Huns, Arabs, Persians, Turks and the Mongols have swept into India. Each of these groups brought their own traditions and cultural norms from their native lands. Over time, they lost contact with their places of origin and underwent an extensive process of indigenization. This process of adaptation and interaction among various groups brought about, on the one hand, India’s characteristic diversity and, on the other, a composite cultural tradition. 
9.       One writer has described India as the ‘cross-roads of culture’, as it has been the intersection point of both major land and sea routes. As a result, throughout the history, India has influenced – and in turn been influenced - by other cultures. Not surprisingly, the average Indian considers engagement with the world a familiar activity. We are comfortable with other cultures and remarkably adaptable to different environments,
10.     Religion is an important, though only one of many, components of India’s cultural landscape and identity. As you know, India is the birthplace of some of the great religions of the world – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, to name just a few. But what is truly remarkable is that it has been home to every major religion of the world since long. For example, Christianity in India is almost as old as Christianity itself. It spread in India even before it spread in many of today’s predominantly Christian nations of Europe. Tradition ascribes arrival of Saint Thomas on the Western coast of India – what is Kerala today – in 52 CE, i.e. a mere 52 years after the birth of Jesus Christ. Jews, fleeing persecution in their homelands landed in India over 2,000 years back, and found shelter. They have flourished there since, India being the only country in the world where Jews have never ever faced any discrimination or persecution.

11.     Of course, this is only one part of the Indian story. To give you another example of the staggering array of ethnicities, tribes and communities in India, the atlas on ‘People of India’ published by Anthropological Survey of India runs into no less than 40 volumes.  It is not difficult to imagine that all these people would not speak a single language – so we have 22 major languages – each with linguistic traditions, history, script and grammar of its own - that are recognized by the Constitution of India. There are 844 different dialects that are practiced in various parts of the country. An Indian currency note reflects this diversity – you can find no less than 17 languages on it. It is therefore natural that pluralism is deeply entrenched in Indian civilization and is a source of our strength.

12.     I have spoken about the core values of democracy and respect for diversity, pluralism and tolerance that India has always stood for. Since these are universal values for the world, it is but natural that these give us an innate, natural strength when we deal with the world.

13.     This is not to say that the course we’ve charted so far has been completely free of turbulences. The challenges of development and sheer pressure on resources pose problems for the Indian society, government and people,

14.     Though a large population creates considerable pressure on resources, there is no doubt that our people are our  strength and our real resources to achieve rapid development. India is a young nation, with more than 50% of our people being younger than 25 years.  Even by 2020, the average age in India would be only 29 years, as compared to 37 years in the US and China, 45 in West Europe, and 48 in Japan. With proper training, the economy is assured of a continuous supply of productive and competitive work force.  The Indian economy, which is the world’s third largest economy by purchasing power parity, slowed down in recent past due to its increasing integration with the world economy. However, thanks to its innate resilience, derived from a strong domestic consumption base and stringent regulatory mechanisms, the impact has been moderate, and an early recovery is in sight.  To put the growth back on track, Government has undertaken many bold policy reforms recently, such as opening up of the retail sector and aviation to FDI, and insurance and pension reforms.  The National Manufacturing policy announced recently is meant to give a much needed boost to the manufacturing sector in India.

15.     Though raising the standards of living for a large number of people remains a key issue, meaningful strides have been taken in meeting the challenge. An immense achievement has been complete self sufficiency in food production thanks to the Green Revolution.  As a result of our own R&D efforts, India produces not only enough food for its own large population, but also exports a large amount over the past few years to help achieve food security across the world.  India is the largest producer of milk and second largest producer of fruits and vegetables. We now want help of Thai companies to process part of the foodstuff that we produce. 

16.     In our quest for rapid growth, technology has been a great help.  Many of you would have heard of the ICT skills that India has developed.   I encourage you to visit, as part of your study tour, the Indian IT and biotech companies in cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad whose establishments are some of the best in the world.  Most of the world’s Fortune 500 companies have their development centers in India that undertake cutting edge innovation.

17.     Technology has actually helped us to leapfrog certain stages of development.  For example, with nearly 800 million mobile phones, India has one of the world’s largest mobile phone network. This has allowed unprecedented connectivity to the remotest part of the country.  While mobile phones earlier bypassed the need for fixed line telephony, they have now also made redundant the need to have computers to access internet. In India, majority of people access internet through mobile applications. There are some very basic, but useful apps available even in remote areas, which for example allow farmers to know the prices of their crops in faraway markets. Technology has also enabled us to develop the world’s largest biometric database to create a national Unique ID called AADHAR.  It has enrolled more than 350 million Indians in less than three years.  In a revolutionary step, this Unique ID scheme is going to be used for direct cash transfers to beneficiaries under various government welfare schemes.  In one fell swoop, technology will ensure that the benefits of the welfare schemes worth hundreds of billions of dollars reach quickly and directly to the target people.

18.     India has embraced technology to develop a comprehensive space programme resolutely dedicated to development.  India today has the world’s largest network of remote sensing satellites in the world and our satellite launch vehicle, having done more than hundred successful space launches, has placed as many as 10 satellites in the orbit at one go. Yesterday we launched first of our navigation satellites in a seven satellite network that will provide a regional “GPS” of our own. In the pack that we have distributed today, you will find the autobiography “Wings of Fire” of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, famously known as the India’s missile man, who also contributed immensely to our space effort and went on to become a widely respected and admired President. The benefits of our space programme are available to all our partners. A satellite tracking and data reception centre and imaging facility station is being set up by India in Vietnam for space application projects between India and ASEAN. We have recently also signed agreements with GISTDA of Thailand for urban mapping using space technologies and developing an archaeological atlas of Buddhist sites.

 

19.     I had earlier talked about India’s pluralistic ethos. Speaking of India’s engagement with South East Asia, I would say that India has added to flowering of pluralism in this region by contributing ideas, thoughts and traditions of two great religions - Hinduism and Buddhism over centuries. These have not remained confined to the realm of religion alone but are now manifest everywhere – in literature, arts, architecture, indeed in everyday life.  From Borobudur in Indonesia to Angkor Wat in Cambodia - our shared heritage finds an exuberant manifestation. In a true celebration of pluralist ethos - people in South-East Asia have not only adopted these traditions, but have contributed to them and built upon them - thus enriching these further.

20.     This close, historical connect between India and South East Asia is the foundation stone on which our robust contemporary relations are taking shape today.  Our Look East Policy, which was announced in year 1991, has driven this process and over the years, has expanded to cover not just ASEAN but Japan, Korea and even Pacific.  We have built solid partnerships in the region, bilaterally and with ASEAN as a whole group. We celebrated 20 years of this enhanced partnership last year with a special commemorative summit in New Delhi in which ASEAN, heads of States and Government participated.  A blueprint for a strategic partnership between India and ASEAN has now been laid down. 

21.     There is all round realization that enhancing connectivity remains the key to sustain the momentum of our regional integration.  There is unprecedented air connectivity that exists today and that in turn is fuelling people to people contact. For example, between India and Thailand alone, there are more than 150 flights per week connecting 9 Indian cities.  These help over 1 million Indian tourists travel to Thailand. For connectivity through land, the Thailand – Myanmar – India Trilateral Highway should be completed by year 2016 and would help containerized cargo move between India’s north east and the region.  ASEAN, and in particular Thailand, is well placed to reach out to Indian markets through ports like Chennai and Kolkata on India’s eastern seaboard when projects such as Dawei take shape.  The East-West corridor can link to the Services corridor between Chennai and India’s ICT hub Bangalore that is being developed.  Last year, India and ASEAN jointly organized a car rally in which teams of all countries traversed 8000 kms through 9 countries in 22 days.  India’s sail ship Sudarshini also traced the routes of ancient maritime voyages by traversing 13,500 nautical miles in ASEAN waters and touching 9 ports.  These epic projects, in which MOFA and many Thai agencies worked closely with us, highlighted that India and ASEAN, joined together on land and by water, with shared borders and shared cultures, are neighbours.

22.     The priority that India attaches to this region is evident in the fact that today India trades more with its eastern neighbours than with EU or the US for example.  Our trade with ASEAN last year stood at US $ 80 billion.  The India – ASEAN FTA in goods is already operational.  With conclusion of this FTA’s Services and Investment chapters and the forthcoming Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the trade is to grow to US $ 100 billion by 2015 and US $ 200 billion by 2020.   India is also a large investor in ASEAN.

23.     There exists now an intensive engagement between our experts, think tanks, private sectors, academia, diplomats, farmers, students and media.  We have intensified our dialogue in new areas of agriculture, trade, tourism, new and renewable energy and environment. The USD 50 million India-ASEAN Cooperation Fund underpins a vast array of activities under our joint Plan of action for 2010-15, while the USD 1 million India-ASEAN S & T Fund helps collaborative Research and Development. The USD 5 million India – ASEAN Green Fund promotes adaptation and mitigation projects to tackle climate change. We organize exchange programmes for  ASEAN youth and media persons, and special training courses for ASEAN Diplomats. For CLMV countries, India has an extensive capacity building programme in place through Vocational Skills and English Language Training Centres, Entrepreneurship Development Centres, and scholarships. We work closely with Thailand though our Mekong- Ganga Cooperation (MGC) Initiative for Lower Mekong countries. 

24.     When it comes to defence and security, India’s presence in the region is seen as a stabilising one.  As an expert remarked once, India is a net manufacturer of peace and stability and not its consumer.  The Indian Navy, for example, coordinates closely with the other navies of the region in areas such as anti-piracy and disaster management and enhancing maritime security.  We are fully engaged in working towards a collaborative, inclusive and open security architecture in the region through mechanisms such as ARF, ADMM plus and the East Asia Summit.  There is a special publication on ASEAN-India relations we published recently which you may want to go through (may like to show

25.     Let me add here that India’s excellent relations with Thailand are an important and integral component of our overall relations with ASEAN.  Prime Minister Yingluck’s visit to India as Chief Guest for our Republic Day last year and very successful visit of our Prime Minister to Thailand last month has given a new dynamism to our ties. Our cooperation has grown in multiple dimensions, and each are holds enormous potential. We see Thailand as a springboard for India’s engagement with South East and East Asia and it remains a vital link in our strategic partnership with ASEAN.

26.     I would like to conclude by quoting our Prime Minister during his recent visit here. He said “We are part of an Asia experiencing unprecedented change, confident about its future, but also concerned about the uncertainties and challenges that change inevitably brings. Asia has an ancient wisdom drawn from a civilizational heritage of peace, pluralism and co-existence. Asia also has the energy and excitement of youth to shape a future defined by cooperation, integration and shared prosperity. It is a task that India and Thailand must rededicate themselves to in their own interest and for the good of our region”.
I thank you all.
***


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