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Prime Minister's address to the Commonwealth meet on Development and Democracy

New Delhi
August 25, 2005

I am delighted to participate in the Commonwealth Asian Colloquium on Development and Democracy. As many of you know, I have a particular association with today’s theme, having had the privilege of chairing the group discussing this issue. When we completed our report, I was reassured that our findings validated my personal conviction that democracy and development reinforce each other. Indeed, they are the two legs upon which all civilised societies must walk. 

I therefore thank Secretary-General McKinnon for inviting me to address this distinguished gathering on this important and timely subject. This is in fact a matter that has engaged Indian minds since independence. It is therefore doubly satisfying to know that our report has generated widespread interest not only in India, but also in the Commonwealth. I am heartened that the outcome of this Colloquium will contribute to discussions at the CHOGM later this year. 

There has been a lively, though often misguided, debate on the relationship between Development and Democracy. Our own Report debunked two myths. It showed that Democracy and Development were not at odds with each other, as some have claimed. We did not of course, find a necessary link between the two. Each is worth pursuing on its own, because each increases the public good. Taken together, they are mutually reinforcing. And the touchstone of democracy is the promotion of what our report called pro-poor development. 

In a curious twist of fate, Parliamentary elections took place in India six months after our Report was submitted. The results prove one of the points made in our Report : economic growth processes that do not extend to the poorest carry inevitable social and political costs. I venture to say that since the elections, our Government has worked to revitalise our tradition of moderation and inclusiveness while focussing economic policy on equity and development. The challenge before us is to increase growth while instituting necessary policies and administrative measures for achieving equity and social justice. On one hand, we must pursue policies that unleash the creativity and enterprise inherent in our people, to reward excellence and risk-taking; on the other, we must fashion instruments to address the needs of all citizens, their right to a decent livelihood, to education and well-being, to equality of opportunity, and to peace and security. 

The task of economic development is especially challenging when it is to be realized through a functioning democracy in a low-income environment. Economic transformation requires difficult choices in which short-term goals often have to be sacrificed for longer-term objectives. Politics does not always afford the luxury of the long view. I admit there have been periods in our history when our performance has been less impressive than we would have wished. Yet, on the whole, we can be proud of what we have achieved. 

It is worth recalling that India has recorded growth at close to 6% per annum for over twenty years. We now have the fourth largest GDP in the world in terms of purchasing power. We have a confident, competitive private sector, endowed with remarkable entrepreneurial energy. Our infrastructure of law and commercial accounting is conducive to modern business, and we have displayed dynamism in many areas of advanced technology. This is the result of decades of sustained effort to build institutions that provide the underpinnings of economic development. Credit for this vision goes to our Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. At the same time, the dynamism of recent years is also the result of economic reforms. Analysts today agree that India has the potential to achieve 8% growth for a sustained period. The fact that this achievement has drawn on and reinforced our democracy is a record of which our people are justly proud. 

Similarly, the unaffected regularity of our electoral process, and the matter of fact way in which our people vote their representatives in and out of office should also be a matter of pride for all democrats. Our commitment to democracy is linked with a commitment to the values of pluralism and liberalism. Diversity is an essential ingredient of our democracy : what we call multiculturalism is deeply rooted in our culture. The effort to preserve it in the process of building a modern state is a socio-political experiment on a scale that is historically unprecedented. Our success validates this philosophy. 

Much of the focus of our Governmental activity has been to improve the provision of services through grassroots local self-governance institutions, particularly in rural areas. For instance, we have launched a massive rural development programme called “Bharat Nirman” to transform rural India. This will be implemented through local governing bodies, which we call panchayat raj institutions. This is precisely because we believe development through decentralized democratic institutions is more equitable. 

It is also true that effective democracies must ensure that governments function in an efficient, effective and accountable manner. They must have institutional structures that meet the tests of efficiency, effectiveness and accountability in managing programmes involving public outlays. Only such institutional mechanisms can ensure that outlays turn into desired outcomes. 

I venture to suggest that our success in achieving developmental goals through the institutions of democracy is perhaps relevant to others who are still facing these challenges. We are committed to joining hands in assisting our partners overcome these persisting difficulties. Indeed, it is important for democratic nations to share their experiences and work together for the common good. Our Group had taken note of the need to strengthen democratic processes and institutions through unified effort. We are ready to work with our partners in this regard. We need to ensure that the basic freedoms, the rule of law, respect for human rights opportunity are available to every citizen with provisions for affirmative action in favour of the disadvantaged. Rather than focusing on development in general, we must focus on enhancing the capabilities of the poor, in particular, the most disadvantaged groups.

Development requires a genuine international partnership between not only governments, but also the private sector and civil society institutions in the international community, as recognised by the Commonwealth Expert Group. A generous package of aid, trade and debt relief is essential for most developing countries. Current levels of ODA show a focus on short-term projects. They vary according to budgetary and policy priorities of donor countries, and are grossly inadequate to meet the Millennium Development Goals, which are irreducible minimums adopted by international consensus.

Similarly, the removal of trade barriers to products and services of interest to developing countries and small states is another external dimension affecting the success of developing nations. We need a trade regime that is more favourable to developing countries, to implement our collective commitments in the Doha Round. Another external constraint is the problem posed to our societies by climate change. This serious issue requires sustained action over many generations, in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. On our part, to focus on rapid economic growth in an environmentally sustainable framework, India has proposed a new paradigm at the G-8 Summit last month, to deal with the issue of Intellectual Property Rights and to make clean technologies readily available to developing countries. 

It is also true that developing countries account for more than four fifth of the world’s population. And yet they do not have a commensurate voice in the international institutions. The Commonwealth is a microcosm of the community of Nations. It has set an example of following democratic processes in running the organisation. Sadly, these principles are not visible in several international institutions including the UN, where a democratic-deficit prevails in key decision-making bodies. The process of UN reform aimed at providing a greater voice to developing countries in UN decision-making, needs support of international institutions. I believe that the Commonwealth should take the lead in creating a new and more equitable global order. 

One of the gravest challenges to democracy and human rights is terrorism. It reminds us that there are challenges which all of us face, and must face together. Terrorism is an attack on democracy and human rights. Those who use terrorism as a political instrument challenge the most fundamental and precious values of democracy. Ironically, it is the very values of openness, tolerance and freedom, upon which our societies are based, that are misused by terrorist groups. Eventually, their aim is to negate the fundamental values of our society by forcing a diminution of openness, tolerance, rights and freedom. This is why terror must be seen as a principal threat to democracy and to development. Therefore if a global war has to be waged against it, those who join cannot pick and choose any more than those who fought the last world war could or did; it is not possible to be an ally in one sector of the campaign, to subvert it in another, and profess to be neutral in a third.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Since the Harare Principles were enunciated over a decade ago, the Commonwealth has become a pillar of institutional support for global democracy. The Harare Principles are not a panacea, but neither should they become a mantra, treated as a ritual and dropped when expedient. Democracy must be nurtured through global consensus as the basis for freedom and broad-based development. To say that a country is not ready for democracy is as unsatisfactory as saying it is not ready for development. Democracy and development are complementary strands of the same process of building our future in freedom.

With these words, I thank you once again for giving me the opportunity to outline some of my convictions, which informed my approach to the work of the Commonwealth Expert Group on this important subject. 

Thank You.