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Ambassador’s address at the American University on ‘India’s role in a Changing World’

Washington, DC
(American University: 9 November 2011)

• I am very privileged to have this opportunity to address the faculty and students of the American University. In recent years, I understand American University has sought to expand its engagement with India in a focused manner. Indeed, both our countries have attached importance to strengthening the linkages in the area of higher education and only last month, our Minister for Human Resource Development, Kapil Sibal and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had co-hosted the first India-US Higher Education Summit in Washington D.C. It is our hope and expectation that in the future we would be able to make our existing linkages much stronger and expand their reach across a wide range of educational institutions across the length and breadth of America. It is in this context, I am very pleased to know about the efforts that American University had taken to expand its connections with India.

• I have been asked to speak about India’s role in a Changing World. Before I talk about India’ role it might be useful to have a snap-shot of the state of the world today. The world is in the throes of unprecedented change, change  unprecedented in history. The pace of this change has accelerated manifold – spurred by advances in technology and global communications. Globalisation has brought in new opportunities, enhanced productivity and higher living standards across the world. The revolution in information technology means that people can be in touch with each other in any part of the world almost instantly, in real time. Developments in distant places, which once took time to disseminate to other parts of the world, are now known almost instantaneously. Technology is empowering people and one example of that change is how events relating to the Arab Spring were triggered early this year.

• But this is also the season of serious challenges.  The very same processes of globalization and technological revolution that have brought with them so many benefits have also exposed our collective vulnerability. While globalization has in general brought more prosperity to peoples across the world in the last two decades, the benefits of globalization have been uneven and new challenges have been thrown up like growing inequity and inequality across and within nations, volatility in the financial market and environmental deterioration; and groups of radicals, extremists, hackers, pirates and terrorists have sought to utilize the technology to gain asymmetrical advantage. The new global order is as yet not fully formed. Asia is emerging as the new engine of the global economy and increasingly the center of our planet's opportunities and challenges.

• Only about two weeks ago, the global population crossed the seven billion mark. Speaking on that occasion, Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary General said that the world today is filled with immense contradictions. While the new digital age co-exists with problems left over from history in many parts of the world, it is also a fact that now, more than ever before, we have the means and the tools to meet these challenges collectively and to take advantage of these new opportunities.

• It is in this overall context, that I would like to talk about India’s role. In recent times, there has been a considerable interest in India and the developments there. The focus generally has been on India’s sustained economic growth particularly against the backdrop of the international financial and economic crisis. But an interest that focuses only on the economic growth or on the opportunities that India offers might be too narrow. To better appreciate India’s global role, I feel that there is a need to take a broader look at India’s experience as a modern nation state since her independence in 1947.

• India today represents a unique model of development in the world. Nowhere else can you find a country of India's diversity, of India's complexity. Sixty five years into India’s journey as a vibrant democracy, I would say that it is the Indian model of democratic governance together with its economic strength, resilience and dynamism of its people that propels the promise and the potential of India’s role on the global stage.

• Since our independence and particularly in the past twenty years India’s sustained economic growth has led to dramatic transformation in India, lifted millions of people out of poverty and has led to the rise of a large middle class. But there still remain enormous development challenges. A large section of our population still remains below the poverty line. We need to create modern infrastructure, improve agriculture productivity, manufacturing capacities and services to benefit from our demographic asset. Therefore, for the foreseeable future, our foremost task is to ensure a sustained and inclusive economic growth to improve the well being of our people.

• But this does not mean that India will be only inwardly looking. On the contrary, our engagement with the world has increased considerably in recent years and this is only bound to grow as India actively pursues its interests in the world and remains ready to contribute within her capacity.

• The challenges that we face – the need to abolish poverty that still afflicts a large section of our population; the need to ensure a healthy and well-educated population; and securing sustainable sources of energy to fuel our growth are also the problems that the global community needs to address. With 1/6th of global population, if India is able to successfully tackle these challenges, the beneficial impact of that would register globally.

• Let me elaborate on how India is trying to meet these challenges in order to ensure sustainable growth, prosperity, peace and security. In the process we are also working with the international community to ensure a better future for everybody.

• India’s socio-economic transformation is being driven not only by resources but also by innovation in the broadest sense. New developments in design, processes and systems are creating new products that suit our circumstances and developmental context. Indeed the solutions that we are devising are not just helping India meets its challenges but can be increasingly adapted for other developing countries who also face similar problems.

• One of the most important developmental challenges is the interlinked issue of energy security and climate change. In addressing the shortfall in meeting our energy requirements, we do not intend to follow the business as usual approach or the conspicuous consumption pattern that may exist in some developed countries – a pattern which in some ways had contributed to the problem of climate change. It is important to underscore that despite our accounting for about 17% of the global population, our own green house gas emissions are currently only 4% of the global level of emissions.

• We have therefore set out ambitious goals for solar energy, wind energy, nuclear energy and clean coal technology as well as energy efficiency, including through commitments to keep the per capita emissions below the average of those in the developed countries and to reduce the emissions intensity of India's GDP by 20 to 25% by 2020 as compared to 2005. We are also working with the international community to meet this challenge. With the US for example, we have established a Joint Center for Clean Energy Research, which will encourage development of new technologies which are affordable and reliable. India believes that we need to address this common challenge through a collective response, based on equity and fairness, historical responsibilities, resources and capacity.  We have worked with the international community such as at the Climate Change summit to move towards such an outcome.

• Ensuring food security is another challenge that we share with the global community. Thanks to the Green Revolution in 1960s we have become self sufficient in the production of food grains. But we do need to improve our productivity further and improve the incomes of our rural population. India has launched a National Agricultural Innovation Project to contribute to the sustainable transformation of Indian agricultural sector.

• And increasingly we are using technology to find innovative solutions. Satellite imagery is being used for better crop productivity, efficient development of irrigation and drinking water projects; IT and cell-phones are being used to connect farmers to markets directly. It is these developments that have prompted American commentators such as Thomas Friedman to write about India’s innovation stimulus most recently in New York Times on Sunday (6 November).

• Our efforts now span across borders as we assist countries in our region to strengthen food security. In Afghanistan we are on the one hand providing wheat, and on the other hand through our development cooperation with the Afghan people, we are developing their capacities to market their agricultural produce. In Africa, India has committed to establish an India-Africa Institute of Agriculture and Rural Development and an India-Africa Food Processing Cluster. We are also working with the US in three African countries in this area. And together we are exploring ways to increase agricultural productivity and strengthening food security in the region and the world. As part of our strategic partnership both our countries have agreed to intensify collaboration to increase agricultural production, develop efficient marketing systems, and reduce malnutrition for a sustainable and inclusive Evergreen Revolution.

• We also need to ensure that our population remains healthy and productive. India is investing in upgrading its health delivery infrastructure. Our pharmaceutical industry is making significant investments in innovative R&D and according to a study we have generated the largest new drug pipelines among generics companies worldwide in the years between 2006 and 2010. India-based generics companies are now leading the rest of the world’s generics companies in discovering and developing new biopharmaceutical entities that have not been previously available for therapeutic use. The retro-viral drugs made by Indian companies have contributed significantly to controlling the spread of HIV-AIDS for instance. Another example is GE Healthcare’s development of a portable ECG machine for the Indian market, which can give an ECG report for about one US dollar. Our experience in providing affordable healthcare would also be relevant for other developing countries.

• With the US too we have had a history of fruitful cooperation in health sector and we are building on that foundation. Our scientists are already working with the US institutions such as National Institution of Health and Center for Disease Control capitalizing on each other’s comparative advantages and skills. We have also agreed to establish a Global Disease Detection Centre in India that would help control the spread of pandemics.

• The global economic outlook continues to remain uncertain as the international financial and economic crisis continues to pose a challenge to a sustained recovery for  the global economy. While we have been able to sustain our economic growth we do remain aware of and vulnerable to risks. As a responsible member of the G20, India has tried to shape collective responses in meeting the challenges posed by the crisis and to send a message for building confidence and stability.

• As we work to meet developmental and economic challenges, we are also working to ensure peace and stability not just in our neighbourhood but in the world at large.

• Terrorism constitutes greatest threat to our collective peace and security. In India we have and will take appropriate domestic measures to strengthen our security, but the global nature of the threat requires that global efforts to tackle the problem be intensified. In our region for example we are helping build Afghan institutions and capacities in order to deal with such threats. But to be effective, the fight against terrorism must be long-term, sustained and it must tackle not just the perpetrators of those acts but more importantly work for elimination of safe havens and infrastructure for terrorism and violent extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as to target those who sponsor them. With its growing economy and expanding markets, India can and is willing to partner with other countries and play the role of an anchor for long term peace, prosperity and stability of the region.

• On the global stage, in the United Nations, India has championed efforts to increase our collective ability to effectively deal with this challenge. One of the initiative taken by India is to pilot a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism or the CCIT in the United Nations, with the objective of providing a comprehensive legal framework to combat terrorism.

• The threat of terrorism is compounded today by the risk of proliferation of nuclear materials. India remains committed to strengthening the non-proliferation regime. And it was our exemplary record on non-proliferation that led to the decision by the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2008 to restore international civil nuclear cooperation with India. During President Obama’s visit to India last year, the US extended its support for India’s membership in various multilateral export control regimes. This support was borne out of our shared belief that India can contribute to enhancing international non-proliferation efforts. India has consistently advanced the cause of universal and non-discriminatory disarmament.

• India has taken the lead at the UN General Assembly on an effective law-based international response including on WMD terrorism. The first Nuclear Security Summit hosted by President Obama in April 2010 was an important milestone in our efforts. India is constructively engaged in these international efforts.

• The continuing economic development in India and that of other countries also depends on keeping sea lanes free for flow of trade, commerce and energy. India has supported and contributed to the international efforts to counter piracy off the coast of Somalia. India is among the founding members of the Contact Group on Piracy off the coast of Somalia. As piracy is increasing and spreading from the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin to the larger Indian Ocean, our Navy is working with other navies in order to better coordinate the international effort to combat this scourge.

• More broadly, India has advocated the development of an inclusive world order where all the major stakeholders can work together to strengthen our overall security.

• Let me say a few words about our expanding strategic partnership with the US. I believe, in a globalised world, all countries, small and large, will need to work more closely together. In this context, closer partnership between India and the United States will be of great value both for the two countries, but also for forging global consensus and cooperation.

• Our bilateral engagement with the United States has witnessed remarkable transformation and has matured into a strategic partnership of global dimensions. Our multi-faceted strategic partnership is based on our converging strategic and economic interests, the vibrant ties between our peoples and businesses, and our shared values as two of world's largest democracies.

• The visits of Indian Prime Minister to US in 2009 and President Obama’s visit to India in November last year were landmark milestones in the development of our relations. Today we are not only discussing issues such as strategic cooperation, counter terrorism, defence, high technology, civil nuclear and space sectors cooperation but also a broad range of development issues that directly and positively impact on the lives of our citizens including cooperation in education, health, agriculture, weather forecasting, innovation. We are engaging with each other and cooperating on most major global issues as also on capacity building in third countries.

• As President Obama put it, the India-US partnership will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.

• I have tried to reflect on broad trends and critical issues both India and the global community faces. In an Asia-centred century, India will continue to play a role that is commensurate with its size, its growing economic strength, its proven capacity to manage its enormous diversity within a democratic polity, its contributions to global peace and security, and its justified quest for a greater voice in a multilateral system that is balanced, equitable, and representative of new global realities.

• With these words, I will be happy to take a few questions (Brief Q&A session followed Ambassador's address).