International Affairs


President Lamby, distinguished members of the German Society for Foreign Affairs and distinguished friends.

I am very grateful to you for giving me this opportunity to address this very prestigious society in Germany. India and Germany have, over a long period of time, developed a close equation. Germans, especially German scholars have been responsible for conveying the image of India, the philosophy and the knowledge of India to the western world. In fact Rabindranath Tagore, our great poet once said "Germany has done more than any other country in the world for opening up and broadening the channel of the intellectual and spiritual communication for the West with India." It is in the context of this profoundly meaningful friendship and Germany's interpreting of India to the west that I stand here to say a few words to explain India's perspective on the world.

India has always been intensely interested in the world as a whole. Because, from ancient times, we developed a concept that all humanity is a single family. This approach has influenced India's dealings with the world, right from the beginning. It was in tune with this approach that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, our first Prime Minister, formulated our foreign policy, in terms of non-alignment and peaceful co-existence. I should like to read out something he said towards the end of his life; actually a few months before he died, on what kind of world is going to emerge. This was at the time of the Cold War, in the middle of the Cold War, in 1964, when people could not think of a one world or co-operation in the world as a whole. He explained his foreign policy in the following terms:

"The basis of non-alignment", he said, ".... is our area of peace, which has been constantly expanding since the inception of this policy. This not only helps to create a sort of no war land between the military blocs by making their war-like confrontation difficult, but also provides them with a common ground for co-operation in something like a workshop of peace. As more and more nations keep joining this peace club as against the nuclear club and the cold war club, we expect this unaligned grouping to grow and absorb other nations, the big European nations like France and Czechoslovakia, which today belong to NATO and Warsaw military alliances. We want the whole world to become part of this area of peaceful co-operation, including ultimately the United States and the Soviet Union." This was the concept he projected in 1964.

The world as visualised by the nonaligned perspective has more or less come into being today in the sense that the blocs, military and ideological, are no more and all the nations have become an area of peace and co-operation. But of course this process has come about only partially. Nehru also referred to the nuclear club and the cold war club. That club has not disappeared yet. But the members of the old Cold War groups are dealing with each other and co-operating with each other.

When I refer to the nuclear club -- and you have mentioned it in your introduction, Mr. President, -- naturally you will ask, 'Is India not going to join this club?'

We are interested in a peace club. We have no ambition of joining a nuclear or war club. It is true that we have conducted nuclear tests and we have acquired the capability of building nuclear weapons. Since this matter is part of the problem of understanding between India and the developed world, I would like to explain what we have done and why we have done it and what are the limits of our policy in this direction.

India has absolutely no ambition to become a big nuclear power. We have been a crusader for peace, for the end of the cold war, ever since we became independent. If you look up nuclear disarmament discussions, you will find that year after year India has been tabling resolutions in the United Nations and putting forward proposals outside the forum of United Nations, for disarmament particularly nuclear disarmament. We were the first country, in 1954, to propose a ban on nuclear tests and we pursued this idea year after year. But our voice was lost in the wilderness at that time. And we have realised that to bring about any sort of disarmament, particularly nuclear disarmament, if one does not possess a degree of power one's voice will not be heard or heeded to. It would be looked upon as the outpourings of mere idealists. Apart from this realisation, we found that during the years we have been trying to persuade the world to resort to nuclear disarmament, not only we did not succeed in this effort, but nuclear armaments have only been piled up in the world in the armouries of the nuclear weapon countries.

In 1974, we detonated a nuclear device and we thus showed to the world and to ourselves that we have the technological capability to develop nuclear weapons if we wanted to. But that was in 1974. Today, after almost 24 years later, we have tested nuclear weapons. And during these 24 years that we pursued relentlessly the idea of nuclear disarmament, immense stocks of nuclear armaments were piled up in the arsenals of the great powers.

We believe that the possession of such stocks of weapons is a danger to mankind. It is a danger to peace, and that is why we made the basic demand for the elimination of nuclear weapons from the beginning. But we found nothing of that sort was happening in the world. On the contrary in our own neighbourhood, in our own strategic environment, we saw that nuclear powers had arisen, and found ourselves surrounded by them. Not only to the north of us and to the west of us, but in the seas around us warships armed with nuclear weapons were going about freely. It was in this environment that we took the decision, as a last resort, to test the bombs.

On the question of non-proliferation, if there was real, genuine, nuclear non-proliferation in the world, we would have been most happy about it. But only the nuclear powers who have signed the NPT had the nuclear knowledge to give it to others. It is from them, it is from some members belonging to the signatory group, that nuclear technology came to be transferred clandestinely, with the result that other nuclear weapon powers or nuclear-weapon capable powers emerged in the world. India was under a nuclear technology embargo since 1974 and had to develop the technology by the hard work and the ingenuity of her own scientists.

We have had a history of foreign domination for centuries. Our country was dominated and ruled by foreign powers. We had a prolonged struggle to get our independence. With this memory we could not afford to remain defenceless and helpless in the kind of security environment around us. Besides we have a population of 960 million whose security had to be assured so that our people could go about peacefully developing the country's economy. You would be able to visualise the situation, the predicament, in which India found itself and which made us take this step. But the step is a limited one. We wanted a minimum deterrence for us. After the tests we have made publicly a unilateral declaration that India would not test any more weapons and have also declared that we are willing to convert this unilateral moratorium on testing into a de jure obligation. And we have declared that India would never be the first one to use nuclear weapons. And we have also announced that we would never use it against non-nuclear weapon states or nuclear free zones. This is on the top of our commitment not to transfer nuclear weapon technology to any one. And we were, we are, willing to incorporate all these into a de jure agreement with the international community. All this shows that we have set a limit to our nuclear weapon development and that we are prepared to do what is necessary for nuclear control and de-nuclearisation in the world.

Another question related to this which is raised particularly by friends in Germany and in other parts of the world, is 'Has not India introduced a dangerous element and a race for nuclear arms in our subcontinent, and would this not open the way to others to follow the same path?' As far as the subcontinent is concerned, I feel, and it is my belief, that now that India as well as Pakistan have acquired a minimum of nuclear weapons, just as it happened in Europe and elsewhere, we will also realise in the subcontinent that it is necessary for us to resolve our disputes, our differences by peaceful means and not by war. And there are already agreements between India and Pakistan, for example, the famous Shimla Agreement, by which the two countries committed themselves to end the chapter of conflict and confrontation and solemnly agreed that we would solve every problem between us by peaceful and bilateral means. And, as a result of the emergence of nuclear weapons in South Asia, this solemn agreement has today become compulsory for us to observe. A war between India and Pakistan, not to speak of a nuclear war, is now unimaginable. Thus I think negotiated peaceful settlements of disputes in the subcontinent have become inevitable.

I must turn to the great internal problems of India, to which you have referred to, Mr. President, in your introductory remarks. We are a complex and diverse country, not only nearly a billion people, but speaking different languages, belonging to almost all the religions in the world, with different regions, some developed, some undeveloped. In fact, India is a world in miniature. And all the bewildering varieties of this world are reflected in India. We have succeeded in this complex situation to build up a united and democratic India. To have developed democracy in such a situation is a unique experiment in the world. Most other democracies do not have so many religious groups, not just small groups, but large, immense groups. For example, we have 130 million Muslims and 130 million people cannot be called a minority anywhere in the world. And we have 20 million Christians and a small community of Jews but a very historic community, and Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians. In fact, India has given hospitality to almost every religion in the world. We have been helped to work out a democratic system in this predicament, because of the spirit of toleration that has run through Indian history, Indian philosophy and Indian society over the ages. It is this toleration that led to what we, in modern parlance, call secularism. We are not a religious state; we do not, though the Hindus are in majority, try to impose a religion on our other brothers and sisters. We co-exist. India is a co-existence society.

There are other reasons why India has evolved into a democracy. We had from ancient days local government institutions called "Panchayats". The memory of those institutions is still in our minds and we have in fact in our Constitution resurrected these old institutions. And then we had the impact of the West. The British ruled us for a long time, we became familiar with the modern Parliamentary democratic system and other ideas from Europe travelled to India, ideas of socialism and social justice, and new streams of thought. The Indian nationalist movement that arose and fought for independence was a unique movement. There are very few nationalist movements in history that absorbed so many ideas and influences from abroad as the Indian National Congress. Partly this process was facilitated by Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent movement for freedom. As it was non-violent, it was a prolonged struggle. It took many years and it meant mobilising the people peacefully on a very large scale. Gandhi and the Indians were demanding from the British not merely independence; they were demanding the same freedoms and liberties that the British enjoyed in their country. By propagating this demand year after year for over 70 odd years continuously the idea of democracy sank not only into the minds of the middle class but into the mass mind of India. Therefore, when India became independent, it was almost natural for us to opt for the democratic system of government, because the nationalist leadership believed profoundly in the method and system of democracy. Some of the social and socialist ideas emanating from Europe got incorporated into our concept of democracy. So when we embodied democracy in our Constitution it was parliamentary democracy with political freedom and it was also social and economic democracy. I think it was probably for the first time that social, and economic freedoms were combined integrally and explicitly in the Constitution and in the basic policies of a State right from the inception of the State, and not as a later development or addition to political freedom in a democracy.

One concept in our democracy, which I should like to emphasise today -- because it is relevant to our neighbourhood and to our status in the world -- is that of secularism. The secular principle is demonstrated in India in various ways. First of all, as tolerance of every religion. I come from the state of Kerala, where 22% of the population is Christian. The majority of my neighbours in my village are Christians, and I grew up in such a society. There is no conflict there on the basis of religion. In some parts of the European World Protestant and Catholic children do not sit together in the schools even today. That sort of thing has never existed and does not exist in my remote "undeveloped" village. Even when I went to school, there were Christians and some Muslims in the same school and we were all studying together, playing together. This is the kind of society that is operative in India at the village level in spite of all manner of social distinctions.

One remarkable expression of this spirit of tolerance that took place recently, was when Mother Teresa passed away. The Indian Government decided to give her a state funeral. I went to the funeral myself, so did our Prime Minister. I recollect that several Heads of State and government had come for the funeral, including the Italian President, the wives of half a dozen presidents, and they were surprised. They asked me how was it that Mother Teresa who was a Christian and a private individual, was being given this honour of a State funeral? I want to tell you that it was something spontaneous which we did. That was the most magnificent expression of our secular approach and our respect for all religions.

Secularism has also a political significance of a profound nature. Because it is the secular approach and tolerance of all religions that has enabled us to survive as a nation, the most complex pluralist nation that exists to-day anywhere in the world. If we depart from the secular principle, we sincerely fear that it might not be possible for us to maintain the coherence of our society and the unity of our nation.

This, really, is what is involved in the so-called Kashmir question. I am not explaining this question in political terms. I want to emphasise this one aspect. Kashmir is demanded by Pakistan because it has a majority Islamic population. There are about four million Muslims and about two million Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs, etc. in Kashmir. But the rest of India, the whole of India, has 130 million Muslims. And they are part and parcel of our society. How can we concede in one state of India, where there is a predominance of Muslims, that it should go to an Islamic state? It would be destroying what we believe in and what is making our state cohere as a nation. I do not wish to dwell upon other aspects of this question. But I wish to point out that you are all concerned about fundamentalism in the world. Kashmir can go to Pakistan only on one basis, namely, on the basis of the triumph of fundamentalism in one part of a secular state. This is the significance of Kashmir for us and for the world.

Well, if I may come to other aspects of our outlook on the world, may I say that we are concerned with a wide range of issues that affect the world. We are intensely concerned with environmental questions, intensely concerned with developmental and human rights questions in the world today. Unfortunately, the world has a hangover from the past. I remember that in history in the 15th century, when the Portuguese ships were plying to the east, to India, there was one incident, where an unarmed ship with passengers was coming after a pilgrimage from Mecca. A Portuguese ship came across this vessel and attacked it, took all the goods and then burnt the ship with the passengers. Now this had happened in the old days. But a Portuguese historian of that time, by name Barros, wrote about that incident. He justified the incident; the reason for justifying it was more important than the incident itself. He wrote: "It is true that there does exist a common right to all to navigate the seas and in Europe we recognise the right which others hold against us. But the right does not extend beyond Europe. And therefore the Portuguese as Lords of the Seas are justified in confiscating the goods of all those who navigate the seas without their permission." This is known in international law as the Doctrine of Different Rights. I think this historian was perhaps the originator of that doctrine. Hundred and twenty years ago in Hong Kong the president of the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce, a Britisher, held that "China can in no sense be considered a country entitled to all the same rights and privileges as civilised nations which are bound by international law". This is another statement of the Doctrine of Different Rights.

We have witnessed the operation of this doctrine in India through out the British rule. In Amritsar in 1919, in a closed arena, when people had gone there to celebrate the spring festival and there was no exit from that place except one, the British opened fire against this peaceful crowd and killed more than half of the crowd assembled there. There was a trial of the General who ordered the firing. He was asked, was it not wrong to shoot innocent women and children? He said that it was not wrong, he wanted to teach the Indians a lesson. When he was asked, would he have killed all of them? He said, if his ammunition did not run out, he would have certainly shot all of them.

We talk of universal human rights today. But the Doctrine of Different Rights not only existed in those days, but a quintessential residue of this Doctrine can even be seen today in international relations. If we look at the NPT and other international agreements, the law of differential rights can be seen reflected in them. The essence of this Doctrine of Different Rights is that some people or groups -- it may be the developed nations or whosoever may be on top -- have the right to do things that others do not have. India's struggle for independence, her foreign policy, had in it a challenge to this concept. Shortly before India had become independent, Jawaharlal Nehru called an Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi. He declared at this Conference that for too long we had been the playthings of other powers but that chapter was now over. Again at the great Bandung Conference of Asian-African nations he said that it was necessary to revise the relationship between the East and the West on terms of equality. That goal we have not reached yet. As a historian of the Thirty Years War in Europe had observed, an emerging new power in the world does not possess as much influence or prestige in the world as a declining old power. That is a profound truth of history.

We have been, for 50 years, an independent nation. We believe that we have worked a successful experiment in democracy, the largest in the world composing of one-sixth of humanity. We have given better living standards to our people though we have to travel a long way to fulfil our ambition of abolishing poverty altogether. But we have succeeded in improving their standards and building a stable nation. And we have made contributions to the world. So have several newly emerged developing countries. Yet their influence in the world is much less compared to an established country in Europe, much smaller than us in the world. What I am trying to say is that changing old doctrines and attitudes in life or in international relations takes a very long time. We are not conducting a crusade against this Doctrine of Different Rights or inequality in the world, but we are constantly advancing this idea, arguing for it and trying to secure it for all the peoples of the world. Such inequality you can find enshrined even in the United Nations structure. Germany has a right to be one of the permanent members of the Security Council; we gladly concede it. But we have also a legitimate right to be a member of the Security Council. But we have to break our heads against the resistance of established powers to get in there, to secure our right.

India's outlook on the world is composed of these various elements. We are pursuing these not in an irritating or in a revolutionary manner, but in a peaceful and evolutionary way. We believe that the world can be persuaded to change not by force but by reason and by the willing acceptance of the necessity of change. That would be real change, enduring change. It is for this that we are working and I am glad that in Germany we have a great friend who understands some of the issues involved in this process of change, who has sympathy for our dreams and aspirations, and who has consistently been helpful to us in this direction.

May I end by saying how happy I am to have had this opportunity of talking to this distinguished audience.

Thank you

Jai Hind