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Ambassador Ronen Sen's remarks at the closing Ceremony of the PAN-IIT Conference

Bethesda, MD
May 22, 2005

After two days of deliberations, collectively and in smaller groups, and listening to some of the best and brightest innovators and achievers, I am conscious that my closing remarks may appear somewhat pedestrian. And speaking after Sam Pitroda is always a hard act to follow.

I would like to begin by extending my warm felicitations, my admiration, and my appreciation of the efforts of all those who have made this global Pan-IIT Conference such a grand success –people like Mr. Sudhakar Shenoy, Mr. Rajat Gupta, Mr. Hiten Ghosh, Mr. Suresh Shenoy and numerous other motivators and volunteers in this country and elsewhere, who have spent endless hours over many months in realising this ambitious project. I request all of you to join me in saluting them and giving them a big hand.

You have dwelt during this conference on technologies without borders, and what Tom Friedman has, very perceptibly, termed as a 21st century world which is flat. Yet this new world, and people like you who have made it possible, was foreseen over time decades ago, at the time of our independence, by Jawaharlal Nehru. He had the foresight to refer to India’s first IIT at Kharagpur as “representing India’s urges, India’s future in the making…….symbolic of the changes that are coming.” Nehru’s vision was not just to educate engineers to meet the immediate needs of independent India, but to encourage new thinking and research in frontier areas of technology.  It was this vision which led India to become the first Asian country to build a nuclear reactor on its own and develop full nuclear cycle capabilities. It was this  vision which made  India one of the six countries of the world capable of launching satellites into geostationary orbit.

Apart from a lack of contemporary understanding of Nehru’s  contribution to India’s development, one also often hears  how India’s advances in areas such as  information technology, remote sensing and other areas, happened primarily because our government was blissfully unaware of it! As Sam Pitroda and few others know, this sounds smart and chic, but  it is not true. Much of what we see happening  in India today is the realisation, the partial realisation, of the aspirations  of Rajiv Gandhi two decades ago. Rajiv Gandhi, whom I had the honor to work for, was then somewhat patronisingly referred to as “Computer jee” an utopian not conscious of the realities of his own country. Now with the benefit of hindsight, people should recognize his contribution.

While I am in the mood of disproving misperceptions, I cannot resist referring to the myth that India-US cooperation started in a manner only after the end of the Cold War. This ignores the fact of close India-US collaboration in agricultural sciences in the 1950s; the establishment of centers of excellence such as the National Council of Education, Research  and Training (NCERT) in Delhi and  IIT in Kanpur, in the 1960s; our close cooperation with NASA which led to the establishment of the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) in the1970s; and the signing of the landmark India-US MoU on Science and Technology Cooperation in 1986. All this, and much more, was at the height of the Cold War.

However, the improvement in India-US relations, in an overall perspective, began during the Reagan Administration. This process was continued by President Bush Senior. It was given new momentum in the final years of the Clinton Administration, particularly during President Clinton’s visit to India. Our relationship reached new heights since the inception of the first term of the Bush Administration. This was primarily because President Bush viewed India not just in the narrow and distorted perspective of a sub-regional context, but as an emerging global power, with which it was in the interest of the United States to develop a strategic partnership.

This fundamental shift in the US perception of India is leading to a qualitative transformation of India-US relations, the true nature of which is not yet being adequately comprehended. The relationship is firmly set on an upward trajectory; the higher the trajectory, the wider the vistas of cooperation. Areas of cooperation in high technologies, including in defense, space and nuclear energy, which would not have been conceivable a year or two ago, are well within the realm of realisation – provided there is equal confidence and commitment on both sides.

In this exciting time of transformation of India-US partnership, I look forward to even greater involvement of the IIT alumni in opening new areas of cooperation. Mr. Victor Menezes would have told you that a number of recommendations made by prominent Indian Americans, many of whom are IIT alumni, have been accepted by our government.

I am gratified by the enthusiasm and sense of commitment shown by the participants in this Conference for contributing more to their alma maters, to the development of India and in the strengthening of India-US cooperation. The best contribution you can make would be to continue to share your valuable experiences with us; to help in promoting not only greater US investments in India but more Indian investments in the US, as well as promoting joint India-US R&D projects, especially those oriented to industrial application, commercial utilisation and rural development. The most stable partnerships are those which are of mutual benefit.

The biggest asset of IITs has always been the mindset of their alumni – a mindset which is forward looking and innovative; one which does not shy away from, but welcomes challenges. It is not just your expertise but your leadership qualities that I value most, as I look forward to working with you in further strengthening the growing partnership between the world’s most powerful and technologically advanced democracy and the world’s largest and fastest growing democracy.