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'India is a model of peaceful co-existence'
September 25, 2006
We are in a period of good cheer in India on the eve of our annual festive season, when we will be celebrating festivals of many great faiths which have enriched our heritage over the centuries and millennia. The holy month of Ramzan has just begun. We have marked the beginning of the Jewish new year.
Not many people are aware that while the great religions of the East -- Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism and many others -- grew from the soil of India, the faiths from West Asia were also embraced with equal respect and reverence.
It was as early as the middle of the first century AD that Christianity came to India; that is about a thousand years before it took root in most of Europe. Jewish people lived in India with dignity and respect for centuries. Islam came first to India with Arab traders and enriched our civilisation. Zoroastrians sought refuge and thrived in India for centuries. This rich heritage became an integral part of our identity.
In contemporary India, it is reflected in our commitment to secularism, which is enshrined in our Constitution.
Similarly, ships from the Malabar coast of India sailed to the Gulf and the Red Sea for further movement to the west. Ships from the eastern coast of India also travelled great distances to the Far East for trade and other exchanges. This overland and maritime trade connected our land with distant peoples and cultures. India has never been an insular land unused to trade and commerce with others. It is, therefore, not surprising that we see merit today in an increasingly inter-dependent and globalised world. The logic of our economic reforms was to strengthen ourselves to compete, and by competing, further strengthen our nation.
I am aware that you represent the fastest growing and third most populous Asian group in the United States. Indian-Americans are the best educated and among the wealthiest ethnic groups in this country. The largest number of foreign students in US universities is from India. Thousands of prominent Indian-American scientists, faculty members and research workers are contributing to the intellectual capital in American universities and other institutions.
Indian-Americans have made their mark in areas of high technology and innovation, real estate development, journalism, legal practice, literature, music and art. They run a number of successful small businesses, head some large corporations and control about 40 per cent of hotels in America.
With over 40,000 doctors and more than 12,000 medical students and interns, Indian Americans contribute significantly to healthcare in the United States.
A society as diverse as India can only be governed as a democratic, federal and pluralistic polity. Since, for most of you, your country of origin and your country of adoption are both democracies, I am sure that your participation, as good American citizens, in the political process will serve your and America's long-term interests.
I have thus been heartened to learn of the contribution of the Indian-American community to the political life of the United States. I am sure that, with each passing year, your participation in the political processes at the local, state and national level, will continue to increase and be commensurate with your contributions to other aspects of life in the United States.
In a relatively short span of time, you have traversed a vast distance. The rise of the influence of the Indian-American community has occurred in parallel with the strategic, economic and technological resurgence of India.
India has experienced a noticeable growth of its GDP in the last few years, which reached 7.5 per cent in fiscal 2004 and 8.4 per cent in fiscal 2005. Our economy continues to remain buoyant and we hope to have sustained growth at higher levels. In the first four months of fiscal 2006, our exports have grown by nearly 34 per cent.
During the first quarter of 2006-07, foreign direct investment inflows into India have grown 47 per cent. India's industrial growth was 12.4 per cent in July 2006; the fastest in the past decade. It will perhaps not be inaccurate to say that India is today the fastest growing democracy in the world.
India has, and will, continue to be a responsible member of the international community. We are one of the largest troop contributing countries to UN peacekeeping operations. Within our capabilities, we have always responded to the need for relief and supplies in case of natural disasters in any part of the globe. Even as a country affected by the tsunami of December 2004, we were the first to provide help to neighbours such as Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia.
When Hurricane Katrina caused death and devastation in the United States, we made a modest contribution in money and relief supplies flown abroad Indian Air Force aircraft as a gesture of our sympathy and solidarity with the American people. When an earthquake struck the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and parts of Pakistan, we offered assistance to our neighbour.
India has also been a responsible member of the international community in other ways. Despite being the first Asian country to have built a nuclear reactor indigenously and then developing full nuclear fuel cycle activities, we have always used these sensitive technologies with great caution and care. There has not been even one case of outward nuclear proliferation from India to any country. This is the premise on which the international community today is prepared to cooperate with us in developing civil nuclear technology. Avenues for this cooperation were opened by the July 18 understanding reached during the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the United States last year, and the March 2 agreement reached during the visit of President Bush to India this year. The India-US civil nuclear agreement is emblematic of the new relationship. Let me state clearly that this agreement pertains solely to civilian power generation. The agreement does not pertain to and will not in any way affect our strategic programme nor our indigenous research and development programme. We look forward to the completion of the legislative and other processes to permit the commencement of civil nuclear cooperation.
We concluded the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership, or the NSSP process. This has made licensing procedures for export of sensitive goods and technologies from the United States to India easier and more predictable. We have established an Energy Dialogue that aims at boosting cooperation across the whole spectrum of energy sources. We have established a new Economic Dialogue between our two Governments, and launched a CEO's Forum representing top Indian and US companies.
The New Framework for the India-US Defense Relationship that Defence Secretary Rumsfeld and I concluded in June last year laid the foundation for cooperation, including in the defence industry. India and the United States have also signed a bilateral Science and Technology Agreement and established a Bi-National Science and Technology Commission with the objective of vastly enhancing cooperation in basic and applied sciences.
We have decided to cooperate in the field of space. We have established a Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture aimed at generating a second Green Revolution in India. We have also taken various India-US initiatives which will have a positive global impact -- in promotion of democracy, in natural disaster management, in meeting the challenges caused by pandemics like HIV/AIDS and avian flu and in other fields.
Hence, growing India-US cooperation will not only be of benefit to India and the USA but have a positive global impact.
To respond to the widespread desire of this vibrant and dynamic community to have greater formal links with the land of its origin, our government took the initiative of creating a separate Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs and also put in place the overseas citizenship scheme.