‘Our world is in the midst of multiple and transformational transitions’: Dr. Manmohan Singh
Address by Dr. Manmohan Singh, Former Prime Minister on the Occasion of Receiving the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development ; New Delhi 19 Nov. 2018
I am honoured and at the same time deeply humbled at receiving this most prestigious award instituted in the memory of Shrimati Indira Gandhi, one of India’s most accomplished leaders and a deeply respected international statesman. Shrimati Indira Gandhi understood the exercise of power, but tempered it with compassion. She was a fervent nationalist and a true patriot, safeguarding the interests of her beloved country with passionate conviction. But she was also a statesman, always conscious that to be truly great her India must stand for something more than itself. Her idea of India anchored itself in the pursuit of the larger goals of international peace, development and nurturing the fragile, life-sustaining ecology of our planet Earth. Today when our world is confronted with an unprecedented ecological crisis, exacerbated by accelerated Climate Change, let us recall that it was as far back as in 1972, when Indiraji sounded an early warning about this impending global challenge at the First World Environment Summit at Stockholm. She emphasised the inter-connectedness of our planet’s ecology, declaring that, “There is no first, second or third world, we are all part of one world.” She shook the world’s conscience when she asked, “Are not poverty and need the greatest polluters?” Long before international discourse began to focus on environmental sustainability, Indira Gandhi drew from India’s ancient wisdom to argue for treating Nature as a source of nurture rather than as a dark force to be conquered and harnessed to satisfying human greed.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, Our world is in the midst of multiple and transformational transitions political, economic and social. It is technology which is driving change and technological change itself is occurring at an accelerated pace. However, there is a considerable lag between technological change and the capacity of the human mind to absorb the implications of such change. New technological marvels are adopted speedily because they enhance convenience or efficiency or perhaps they attract human interest through because of their novelty. But adoption is not the same as adaptation and certainly even further from assimilation. It should come as no surprise therefore that political institutions and processes, economic behaviour and systems and social attitudes and structures that emerge from and reflect human understanding, struggle to manage the new and powerful forces unleashed by unprecedented pace of technological change.
At the end of the Cold War, representative democracy and free markets seemed to emerge as the unassailable hallmarks of the new age. And yet within a generation, even democracies are being seduced by new authoritarianisms while the votaries of free markets have become its worst offenders. The global financial and economic crisis of 2007-8 not only overturned long held assumptions about capitalism’s strengths but also raised questions about the capacity of democracies to handle the forces unleashed by rapid technological change. For India which is a successful and vibrant democracy, there is an even greater responsibility to keep faith in the liberal values enshrined in its Constitution and more importantly, ingrained in the sensibilities of its people. We must not fall prey to the argument that India’s development requires a restriction of the freedoms of its people and a concept of nationhood which demands a contrived unity rather than embrace the reality of India’s diversity.
The defining characteristic of our age is globalization propelled by advances in information and communication technologies, the revolution in highspeed transport and more lately the pervasive use of the digital medium across the world. Globalization is here to stay as it is driven by technology and we are unlikely to dispense with our smartphones or abandon the internet. But globalization has also led to the emergence of a whole new set of challenges which are cross-national in character. Tackling these challenges demand global and collaborative responses. They are not amenable to national or even regional solutions. Such challenges include the scourge of international terrorism, international criminal activities such as drug trafficking or trafficking of human beings in particular women and children, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, global Climate Change, the management of global commons such as the high seas, cyber space and outer space, global pandemics such as Ebola or Avian Flu and several other similar concerns. Technology has also empowered non-state actors who are not always amenable to national control. The exponential growth of social media has undermined state authority but in the hands of a predatory state it can also become an instrument to undermine the fundamental freedoms that citizens aspire to. It has empowered ordinary citizens and therefore democracy. But it has also empowered extremist movements and those who preach violence and hatred. Technology has vastly increased the destructive power of weapons, resulting in more violent conflicts and human suffering. The wholesale destruction of Syria and the inhumanity that has been visited on its unfortunate people is a reminder how the refined instruments of war are being harnessed to violent propensities unleashed in the multiple conflicts that define our era. The sense of common humanity and compassion have been overlaid with a definition of national interest which brooks no restraint.
The paradox of our age is that just when the need for international cooperation and a spirit of internationalism has become urgent and compelling in order to address new and more complex challenges, we are witnessing a retreat into narrow nationalism across the world. If each country demands that its own interests be paramount and non-negotiable then what room is left for mutually beneficial cooperation? Indira Gandhi’s quest for India’s destiny anchored this quest in a frame of larger humanity. It is this fundamental balance which is being lost.
Globalization has created unprecedented opportunities for development of developing countries. India’s own recent history is an example. It is the economic reform and liberalisation policies adopted in the early nineteen nineties which brought about a steady globalization of the Indian economy and put it on a high growth trajectory. But globalization may generate uneven levels of prosperity even as it enlarges the size of the cake overall both within nations as well as among nations. To deal with inequality the answer is not to try and reverse globalization-which in any case is not possible, driven as it is by unrelenting technological change- but to use public policy to spread its benefits more evenly. The failure to deal with inequality is a failure of public policy not the inherent consequence of globalization. By the same token, globalization as an international phenomenon, requires global institutions and processes to manage its dynamic evolution and enable all countries to derive its benefits. The World Trade Organisation needs to be a more powerful multilateral institution and the upholder of a rule-based order. It is becoming increasingly evident that regional trading arrangements are not delivering the benefits they were expected to. This is evident in Brexit as it is in the collapse of the proposed mega-trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). It is only a firm recommitment to the multilateral rule-based trade order which would enable the efficient management of an increasingly inter-connected and interdependent global economy. This must be high on India’s international agenda.
I believe that the future will belong to countries that stay ahead of the globalization curve. At another infexion point in history, when the Cold War had ended and political and economic uncertainties loomed large, India chose the right path in reorienting its economic strategy and in adjusting its foreign policies to a new geopolitical environment. This paid handsome dividends as India emerged as a major emerging economy and an influential international actor. As a new set of transitions take us to yet another inflexion point we must learn the lessons of history and continue to make the right choices.
If globalization is a continuing and reinforcing trend, then the emergence of an increasingly multipolar world is another. The two are integrally interlinked. Multipolarity is evolving in two related dimensions. One is the steady shift of the centre of gravity of global economic and military power from the trans-Atlantic to the trans-Pacific. Asia today is home to a cluster of major existing and emerging powers, including India, China, Japan, Australia, South Korea and the increasingly prosperous nations of South-East Asia. This is also the region where countries are adding steadily to their security capabilities, even as the United States continues to maintain a formidable military presence in the region. This shift of the centre of gravity of global power to Asia is accompanied by a parallel diffusion of power within the region itself even though the growth of Chinese power has been the most spectacular. Structurally speaking the Asian landscape is already multipolar and demands a security and economic architecture which is open, inclusive, transparent and balanced. Countries of the region, including India, are entitled to safeguard their security interests such as the security of the sea lines of communication. The question is whether countries will seek such security in unilateral assertion of power or through multilaterally negotiated set of mutual assurances. I believe that if Asia is to sustain its remarkable trajectory of growth and dynamism, acknowledging and learning to manage its emerging multipolarity will be the key. If not, peace will inevitably be the casualty and so would development.
If Asia is the multipolar hub of the world, there is little doubt that the international order will be multipolar of necessity. This will not only reflect the very real diffusion of economic and military power across the world but will also acknowledge what I pointed to earlier: that the series of new challenges the world confronts today being global in dimension, require global and importantly collaborative responses. Collaboration cannot be coerced. On the other hand collaboration can only be effective if it is on the basis of equity and justice. It is only multipolarity channeled through multilateral institutions and processes which could generate a collaborative impulse. Right from the day it became an independent nation, India has been a steady champion of multilateralism and the spirit of internationalism without which it would lack its driving impulse. We are now at a point in history where there is an urgent need to strengthen institutions of global governance, including the United Nations, promote multilateralism as a process for transforming global collaboration on a whole series of global challenges which threaten to fragment and undermine international order. We must lead in reviving the spirit of internationalism to temper the narrow urgings of nationalism now sweeping across the world.
If globalization is an inevitability and India needs to stay ahead of the curve, what are the assets it can draw upon? A globalized world is a congested space with intense interaction among widely differing cultures and societies and ways of thinking. Successful societies of the future will be those which can handle immense diversity and have an innate cosmopolitan temperament. One of the most admired qualities of India is its success as a plural democracy which celebrates diversity rather than equate unity with monochromatic dispensations. The framers of India’s Constitution were wise men and women in articulating a concept of citizenship which transcended, but did not seek suppression of India’s diversity. The more narrowly we seek to destiny our identity the less capacity we will have in dealing with a globalizing world outside our borders.
Indira Gandhi saw herself as a global citizen even as she strove to make India a land of peace and prosperity. Throughout her years as India’s leader she was constantly balancing India’s national interests with its international responsibilities. India’s interests always came first. She had no hesitation in standing alone in rejecting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty in 1968 despite intense international pressure and her own commitment to the cause of nuclear disarmament. Nor did she hesitate when war with Pakistan became inevitable in 1971 in the aftermath of Pakistani aggression. She did not hesitate to secure India’s defence in incorporating Sikkim formally into the Indian Union in 1975. And yet throughout her tenure as India’s Prime Minister, she remained a highly respected international statesman, a persuasive interlocutor on behalf the constituency of developing and non-aligned countries, a passionate advocate of ecological sustainability and a votary of world peace. As we pay homage to her memory today let us follow her example in constructing a future for India in step with the advance of humanity.
I would like to end the address with her inspiring remarks as Chairperson of the Non-Aligned Summit in 1983, “The earth belongs to us all, let us cherish it in peace and true brotherhood, based on the dignity and equality of man.”
I thank you for your attention.