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Luncheon keynote Address delivered by Ambassador Ronen Sen at the conference "Emerging India: Rights and Responsibilities"- launch of India studies center at the law school of George Washington University

Washington, DC
March 13, 2009

Dr. Frederick Lawrence,
Ladies & Gentlemen,

I am pleased to have the opportunity of speaking at the George Washington University Law School. I am particularly privileged to be in the company of such a distinguished group of legal experts, especially with three of the best in India – Mr. Fali Nariman, Mr. Prashant Bhushan and Mr. Abhishek Singhvi. 

George Washington University’s initiative in starting the India Project on intellectual property rights in 2003, synthesized two important aspects of our relationship; namely, our shared belief in the rule of law and potential of productive economic partnership. As enterprise and innovation gather momentum in India, this University’s contribution to the development of IPR legal expertise in our country is laudable. Your partnership with the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur to develop the Rajiv Gandhi School of Intellectual Property Law recognizes a truly visionary leader, who, in the 1980s, set technology and innovation at the heart of India’s progress, and inevitable emergence as a major global power. 

I am gratified that your India Project has developed into a India Studies Centre, in recognition of India’s growth and global engagement. As we in India learn from the experience of others, understanding how India functions, I believe, is an inescapable need today. The Centre will benefit immensely from this University’s extraordinary intellectual capital, its links with India and its location in Washington DC. I am proud of Gauri Rasgotra’s contribution to this important venture.

I am reminded today of the extraordinary legacy of the great leader, whose name this University proudly bears, in the cause of liberty, democracy, constitutional order and rule of law. A little over one and half centuries after the United States adopted its Constitution, we adopted our own Constitution. In both Constitutions, people are the basis of sovereignty. What bind our two countries are not just the ideals that we adopted as our guiding vision, but that through all the vicissitudes of time, we have remained true to that vision. 

We are two nations with colonial pasts, that have been shaped and enriched by a tradition of openness. Both of us define our identities not merely on tolerance of the other, but on an embrace of diversity and celebration of pluralism. We both believe that democracy is an instrument not only for freedom, but also for empowerment; a means not merely to guarantee and protect, but also transform – more so in the case of India than in the United States. India, I have often said, is a land of minorities. I believe that, in many ways, the United States is on its way to becoming one. 

The American influence on the Constitution of India, especially on the exhaustive list of our fundamental rights, is well known. Dr. Sachidanand Sinha, the Provisional President of the Constituent Assembly constituted on December 9, 1946, in his inaugural address, asked Members to pay greater attention to the American Constitution, not for wholesale adoption, but for judicious adaptation. He read out a message from the Acting Secretary of State, Dean Achison, which conveyed “the sincere good wishes of the United States Government and of the people of the United States for a successful conclusion of the great task you are about to undertake. India has a great contribution to make to the peace, stability, and cultural advancement of mankind, and your deliberations will be watched with deep interest and hope by freedom loving people throughout the entire world.”

Jawaharlal Nehru, in his address to the US Congress on 14 October, 1949, acknowledged that, “We have been greatly influenced by your Constitution”. Constitutional adviser, B.N. Rau, visited a number of countries, including the United States, from October to December 1947. In the United States he was received by President Truman and Chief Justice Vinson, former Chief Justice Hughes, Supreme Court Justices Frankfurter, Burton and Murphy, among others. I feel personally linked to that aspect of our shared history, having lived for almost five years in a house that was the venue for spirited discussions on the provisions of the Indian Constitution, including, the far-reaching implications of the interpretation by the US Supreme Court of “due process” in the US Constitution, especially the development of the doctrine of “substantive due process”. 

Despite such promising beginnings, India-US relations witnessed many ups and downs or drifted without direction for much of independent India’s history. Yet, even during periods of cool inter-governmental relations, the people of our two countries forged many productive partnerships. For instance, later this month, we will celebrate the 95th birthday of Dr. Norman Borlaug, who together with Indian partners like Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, ushered in the Green Revolution in India. Last month we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the month-long visit to India by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a visit he described as a pilgrimage to the land of Mahatma Gandhi, which shaped the nonviolent civil rights movement in the United States. 

In 1998, in the wake of India’s nuclear tests, our two nations were at a fork. And, we took the right turn. Every crisis carries within itself the seeds of opportunity. And, we seized the moment and the opportunity. 

The change coincided with India’s own transformation in a changing world, which I believe began in the 1980s. India’s technology missions, its economic reforms; its opening up to the world; the emergence of a strong middle class; the exponential growth in the Indian American community in the US; the rapid increase in the number of Indian students to the American universities; the pioneering role that India-US partnerships played in shaping the knowledge economy; and, the wide-ranging people-to-people contacts nurtured in diverse fields; all these, and more, have changed perceptions of our relationship in both our countries. This relationship should also be seen in the overall perspective of the global engagement of a dynamic and increasingly self-assured India. 

As the world’s two largest democracies, we have a fundamental unity of values, vision and purpose. But we also recognize that we have a profound responsibility to work for global peace, stability and prosperity. 

It has been a great privilege for me personally, over nearly five years as Ambassador, to see our political dialogue grow, our strategic understanding deepen and our bilateral cooperation enter new frontiers. Our relationship is the most wide-ranging and broad-based that India has with any country today. We have nearly 30 bilateral forums of inter-action. Across virtually every field of human endeavour, we are forging new partnerships. 

Our bilateral trade has doubled in the past four years. Trade, investments and job creation have increasingly been in both directions. India’s first moon mission carried US payloads. We launched a knowledge initiative in agriculture, and are exploring collaboration in clean and renewable energy. An e-learning initiative has linked 20 US universities with 42 technical institutions in India. Once barely familiar with each other, our armed forces worked together during the 2004 tsunami and are holding advanced joint military exercises. Our inter-action on counter-terrorism, which commenced even before 9/11, has been transformed into active cooperation, as witnessed in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Mumbai last November. 

Nothing symbolizes the transformation of the relationship more than India-US civil nuclear agreement, signed in October last year. This agreement, and the US-led effort that resulted in an NSG exemption for India, enables India to resume international nuclear commerce after three decades of international isolation. It was a radical and a transformational idea, and the product of a monumental effort in both countries. Neither government could have persisted with this extraordinary endeavour without a strong belief in the importance of India-US relationship; and, without the recognition of the need to address a complex issue, which had not only shadowed the relations for three decades, but has also constrained both our countries from realising the full potential of our relationship. The agreement will deepen bilateral ties and economic engagement, and contribute to advancing our shared interests on energy security, climate change and non-proliferation. But, this agreement is as strong on symbolism as it is on substance. And, it will also provide a foundation for a wider and deeper engagement between our two countries.

If we step back and look for a moment at the immense progress that we have made in the past ten years, and especially since 2005, you would agree that it has been an extraordinary journey. 

We have done this, because at each stage we have widened the base and our horizons and pursued big ideas. We did not settle for what was within our grasp, but striven for what was beyond our reach. 

As we now look to the future, I am confident that this transformation will endure, and our relationship will have the predictability and stability of a mature partnership, which will be able to achieve its enormous potential. I say this not only because the relationship rests on the solid bedrock of shared values and ideals, but it is being nurtured by mutual interest and mutual benefit. 

We see the United States as an important partner in our development effort. On the other hand, economic progress of one-sixth of humanity, which is driven largely by domestic demand and savings, will be an important anchor of regional and global prosperity. 

We must work together to address traditional and new challenges at the global level – forging responses to economic crises; combating terrorism and extremism; strengthening efforts against proliferation; protecting sea-lanes of communication; fighting piracy and responding to humanitarian disasters; exploring options for clean, reliable and affordable energy that does not imperil our planet any further; dealing with pandemics, and, seeking ways to enhance food security. 

Relationships are not destinations, but a continuous journey. So, there is no room for complacency, no question of taking each other for granted. We also need to constantly nurture our relationship with new ideas and initiatives. 

And, at each stage, we should ask ourselves, ‘whether our approaches are based on the perceptions of the past or the imperatives of the future’; whether what we are attempting to do addresses the aspirations and needs of our people and those we share this world with. If we find the right answers, I am convinced India and the US will always be moving towards closer engagement.

Thank you.