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September 14, 2000
Forces outside India trying to destroy country, PM tells US Congress
Amberish K Diwanji in Washington DC
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said there are forces outside India that believe that they can use terror to unravel the territorial integrity of India and show that a multi-religious society cannot exist. "They pursue a task in which they are doomed to fail," he added.
Addressing the United States Congress at Capitol Hill, Washington DC, on Thursday, the prime minister said no country had faced as ferocious an attack of violence as India had over the past two decades. This included 21,000 people killed by foreign terrorists in Punjab alone and 16,000 killed in Jammu and Kashmir.
The prime minister also emphasised that India and the US had taken a decisive step away from the past with the new century seeing a new beginning in Indo-US relations. He said the two countries were common partners in the Information Age and proposed a Global Dialogue on Development to ensure equitable development across the world.
Stressing on terrorism, Vajpayee told the House, "As many of you here in Congress have in recent hearings recognised a stark fact: No region is a greater source of terrorism than our neighbourhood."
He pointed out that in India's neighbourhood – in the 21st century – religious war has not just been fashioned into, but has been proclaimed to be an instrument of State policy.
"Distance offers no insulation. It should not cause complacence," Vajpayee warned his American audience, adding, "You know, and I know: Such evil cannot succeed. But even in failing, it could inflict untold suffering."
The prime minister said while the US and India have begun to deepen their co-operation for combating terrorism, he insisted that the two must redouble their efforts.
However, the main thrust of Vajpayee's speech was the deepening Indo-US friendship, and the need to strengthen it even further. He said he was deeply touched by the resolution adopted by the House two days ago welcoming his visit and the prospect of closer Indo-US understanding.
He told the bipartisan audience that those who saw the warm response to US President Bill Clinton's speech to the Indian Parliament in March 2000 will recognise that similar cross-party support exists in India as well for deeper engagements with the US.
The prime minister said the US had shown that democracy and individual liberty provide the conditions in which knowledge progresses, science discovers, innovation occurs, enterprises thrive, and ultimately, people advance.
Talking about the bustling Indian community in the US, he said that to more than a million-and-a-half "from my country, America is now home. In turn, their industry, enterprise, and skills are contributing to the advancement of American society."
"I see in the outstanding success of the Indian community in America a metaphor of the vast potential that exists in Indo-US relations of what we can achieve together," Vajpayee stated.
He said just as American experience has been a lesson in what can achieve in a democratic framework, India has been the laboratory of a democratic process rising to meet the strongest challenges that can be flung at it.
"In the half century of our independent existence, we have woven an exquisite tapestry. Out of diversity we have brought unity. The several languages of India speak with one voice under the roof of our Parliament," he declared.
Vajpayee pointed out that America's experiment as a nation state had proven the same truth. "Out of huddled masses that you welcomed to your shores, you have created a great nation," he told Congress.
Stating that the most gratifying of the many achievements of Indian democracy has been the change it had brought in the lives of the weak and the vulnerable, he said, "In recent years, (democracy) has enabled more than a million women in small towns and distant villages to enter local elected councils and to decide on issues that touch upon their lives."
He reminded his audience that in the last 10 years, India's economy grew at 6.5 per cent per year, making it among the 10 fastest growing economies of the world. "Economic activity gets diversified more and more by the year. President Clinton and many among the friends gathered here have had occasion to glimpse our advances in information technology," he stated.
The prime minister insisted that to sustain the momentum of India's economy, the aim is to double India's per capita income in 10 years, which means that India must grow at nine per cent a year.
"To achieve this order of growth, we have ushered in comprehensive reforms. We are committed to releasing the creative genius of our people, the entrepreneurial skills of the men and women of the country, of its scientists and craftsmen. At the same time, we in India remain committed to the primacy of the State in fulfilling its social obligations to the deprived, the weak, and the poor," he declared.
Vajpayee added that important infrastructure sectors – power, insurance, banking, telecom – were being opened to private initiative, domestic and foreign, while trade barriers were being lowered.
Pointing out that India and the US had taken the lead in shaping the Information Age, he said that over the last decade, this new technology has sustained American prosperity in a way that has challenged conventional wisdom on economic growth.
"We are two nations blessed with extraordinary resources and talent. Measured in terms of the industries of tomorrow, we are defining together the partnerships of the future," the prime minister told his audience.
However, he pointed out that the two countries also have the potential to do more to shape the character of the global economy and said their co-operation should be turned into a partnership to use the new technologies to fighting poverty, illiteracy, hunger, disease, and pollution.
Declaring that India and America can and should march hand in hand towards a world in which economic conditions improve for all, Vajpayee warned that a situation that provides comfortable living standards to one-third of the world's population but condemns the remaining two-thirds to poverty is unsustainable.
Stating that the foremost responsibility of the 21st century was to change this unacceptable legacy of the past, Vajpayee proposed a comprehensive Global Dialogue on Development, adding that New Delhi could host the dialogue.
The prime minister declared that India sought an Asia where power does not threaten stability and security. "We do not want the domination of some to crowd out the space for others. We must create an Asia where co-operative rather than aggressive assertion of national self-interests defines behaviour among nations."
Vajpayee told his American audience that it was imperative for India and the US to work together in pursuit of the goal of a peaceful Asia and pointed out that India, standing at the crossroads of all cultural and economic zones of Asia, will be an indispensable factor of stability in the region.
The prime minister said India and the US must "have the mutual confidence to acknowledge our respective roles and complementary responsibilities in areas of vital importance to us."
Vajpayee dismissed the fears voiced over security disputes in the bilateral relationship, saying the two countries had too much in common and no clash of interests.
"We both share a commitment to ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons," he said, adding that India had no intention of unravelling America's non-proliferation efforts but only wanted New Delhi's security concerns understood.
The prime minister called on the two nations to give practical shape to their shared belief that democracies can be friends, partners and allies. "As we talk, we open the doors to new areas of co-operation – advancing democracy, combating terrorism, in energy and environment, science and technology, and in international peacekeeping," he stated.
Asking India and the US to work together, he said the two countries should work towards removing the shadow of hesitation and build together a future that "we wish for ourselves and for the world we live in."
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rediff.com has assigned Associate Editors Amberish K Diwanji and Savera R Someshwar to cover Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to the United States. Don't forget to log into rediff.com for news of this historic visit as it happens!
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