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India is the toast at WEF meet

BS Correspondent in Davos | January 22, 2004 08:37 IST

India was the toast at Davos on Wednesday, with an unprecedented celebration of the World Economic Forum's 20-year relationship with India and the Confederation of Indian Industry, followed by an inaugural address by Bill Clinton that made India the metaphor for the pro- and anti- debate on globalisation.

Forum President Klaus Schwab began the proceedings in the company of Arun Shourie, N K Singh, Rahul Bajaj and Tarun Das, and then asked every Indian present in the main congress hall to stand up to a round of applause.

India & the World Economic Forum: Complete Coverage 

Shourie responded by saying that these 20 years had seen India change its view of the world, its view of itself and the world's view of India. "We are now able to deal with the world as equals," he said.

Bajaj added that the Forum had stood by India and brought the world to India through the annual India business summits, even when the business climate was not the best.

"We in India don't believe in divorce," he said, and hoped that the next 20 years would be better than the last 20.

Clinton, jetlagged and short of sleep, then took centre-stage with a virtuoso performance that linked the celebration of India to the grand debate of the day, on globalisation.

Referring to the meeting of the World Social Forum in Mumbai, the former US president argued that while he understood and sympathised with the criticisms levied against globalisation, he did not think that the anti-globalisers had the right answers.

They want to take the world back to a past that did not exist, they want to de-integrate the world when the need was to integrate, he said.

Arguing that India had within itself both the winners and losers in the age of globalisation, he developed his key theme that while the world was interdependent, it was not integrated.

Similarly, the two years since 9/11 had seen every part of the world re-assert ethnic, tribal and religious identities and divisions.

And consequently, the Davos theme this year of progress and security could not be realised without achieving greater integration and without addressing the problems that globalisation had not solved, so that both poverty and alienation were addressed.

Reeling out statistics on child mortality, AIDS victims, deaths from diarrhoea and TB and malaria and illiteracy, Clinton defined the task before the rich and powerful assembled in Davos as mounting a systematic challenge to the problems that the poor faced.

He recalled that he had worked with the Indian pharmaceutical companies that made generic drugs to sharply bring down the cost of AIDS medicines, and then listed projects by the Gates Foundation and others, to make the point that none of this was enough because isolated efforts were not the same as a systematic response that made a difference to the total picture.

Developing the theme of integration in the Indian context, and recalling his involvement with bringing relief to the victims of the Gujarat earthquake, he said if India and Pakistan could get Kashmir behind them and integrate along with Bangladesh into a single economic unit, and if the Hindus and Muslims could learn to live together instead of fighting over a mosque/temple, then India could grow faster than China over the next 20 years.

It was a speech that brought the audience to its feet, and contrasted for vision and sweep with President Bush's state of the union message a day earlier.

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