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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2613

Pranab says India favours cooperative friendship with Pakistan

By M Rama Rao – Reporting from New Delhi

New Delhi, 25 July ( Indian defence minister Pranab Mukherjee in the first formal clarification on New Delhi's disposition towards Islamabad in the wake of Mumbai blasts, said here that the Manmohan Singh government will continue to seek cooperative friendship with Pakistan.

He has a word of advice to Islamabad though. 'Countries which are
undemocratic in their orientation are often a haven for terrorists and even pursue terrorism as a part of state policy", Pranab Mukherjee remarked without identifying any nation, much less Pakistan. And added, "This is an important distinction between the defence and securitypolicies of democracies and autocratic rulers.”Pranab Mukherjee : "We are trying to develop close and cooperative relationship with all our neighbors, including Pakistan." Pranab Mukherjee : "We are trying to develop close and cooperative relationship with all our neighbors, including Pakistan."

It is possible to construe the remark that undemocratic countries
pursue terrorism as a part of state policy as a direct hit at India's neighbor. Yet, it can be viewed as a friendly observation because Pranab Mukherjee's basic thrust was on cooperation among South Asian nations to accelerate economic growth and prosperity of their people.

"We want our neighbors to take full advantage of our growing market and rapidly globalizing economy", the Indian minister said while delivering the third Krishna Kant memorial lecture. Kant, a former vice president of India, was freedom fighter and a staunch Gandhian. He died three years back.

Mukherjee referred to the growing Sino-Indian relations and said "India and China have set aside their boundary dispute to come together in the area of economic cooperation. Earnest efforts are also being made by the two sides to resolve the boundary issue but this does not allow our growing cooperation to be affected".

Saying, "We are trying to develop close and cooperative relationship
with all our neighbors, including Pakistan", Indian defence minister who is the number two in the government remarked: " Our future vision of South Asia is a region which is stable, at peace with each other and cooperating to accelerate economic growth and prosperity of its people. We want our neighbors to take full advantage of our growing market and a rapidly globalizing economy"

Noting that India has suffered from terrorism for many decades, he said New Delhi has been able to cope with the problem effectively. "In doing so, it has respected human rights. It is an important player in the war against terrorism which is seen as an assault on our secular, inclusive and democratic polity". Observing "because democracies do not favor draconian measures and respect the rule of law, they are some times perceived to be soft or weak", he said, "The process of debate and consultation also can be a stretched out process at times. However, democracies are inherently strong and tend to promote defence policies which are conducive to the welfare of their own people and to peace and stability in the world"

Excerpts from the speech -

I have therefore chosen to speak on the theme "Democracy and Defence Policy"

Friends, our country is a strong, stable and a vibrant democracy. We have chosen this system of governance to chart out our course of development and social justice. Democracy is a dynamic form that has its origins both in ancient India and in Greek experimentations with the 'polis', which was created on the principle of 'rule by the people'.

Democracy as a universal concept has seen many variations and much co-option to suit various purposes. The Greek concept of active participation of citizenry in the affairs of the State gave way to Roman Republicanism, reinforced during the Renaissance. Further realization that religion was a divisive force led to the separation of powers between the church and the rulers.

The nature and limits of political authority, law, duty and rights became a preoccupation of European political thought and the foundation of modern liberal theory in the works of Bodin, Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. This theory justified the sovereign power of the State while trying to lay down the limits to its power. Representative democracies became, as James Mill said, "the grand discovery of all times". The immortal words of Mahatma Gandhi on democracy resonate from his statement - "The very essence of democracy is that every person represents all the varied interests which compose the nation".

The foundations of a democratic structure in India were laid in the Constitution itself, where, because of the sagacity, wisdom and foresight of the framers of the Constitution, the complexity of our society and also its capacity for self-correction is reflected. Ours is a vast country characterized by much diversity, but our conviction that diversity can be a greater source of strength than any imposed uniformity has prevented parochial passions from becoming a divisive force. Responsiveness to and accommodation of legitimate local grievances has lent strength to our democratic polity.

To us, freedom from colonialism was the beginning of a new journey, the pathway to changes that had been held in abeyance, and an opportunity to rid Indian society of hierarchy and social inequality. Freedom can be complete only when equality is not the preserve of a small power elite and when Government is of all the people and for all the people. Our political process has succeeded in ensuring the involvement of allsections of our vast population. If we look around and compare the democratic functioning in India with other nations, who also got freedom from foreign rule more or less around the same time, we have good reason for satisfaction. The Supreme Court has appropriately called India "an oasis of Democracy".

The link between civil society, state and citizenship is yet another defining feature of our democracy. The strength of a democratic polity depends upon the extent to which civil society and the state acknowledge the claims of equal citizenship. In a democracy the state has an obligation to enunciate a framework and protect a body of laws that enhance equal citizenship. A strong civil society testifies to the fulfillment of this obligation. And, conversely, a weak civil society points to the need to pressure the state to honor its most fundamental obligation.

Friends, I should now discuss some key features of a democracy: First, it should have electoral legitimacy. The ultimate measure of a democracy that makes it functional is the existence of a legal electoral process, which ensures that the power of choosing who represents them is firmly based on individual votes of people. The successful functioning of the electoral system lies in free and fair elections being held at regular intervals. In India, we have a well-established, transparent, free and fair system and process of elections. The integrity of our electoral process is acknowledgedthe world over. We have a multi-tier democracy in the country. We have anefficient and completely independent election commission. Secondly, to ensure accountability, checks and balances are built within the system of governance to ensure against the misuse of power.Third, we need to have effective constitutional safeguards to protectour basic rights.

Appropriate constitutional provisions can help to protect and safeguard rights of a citizenry and also lay down the duties and obligations of the government towards the people and vice versa. The Indian constitution has excellent safeguards by way of Fundamental Rights and also Directive Principles of State Policy. These rights arecarefully protected by the Judiciary.

Finally, a democracy needs strong institutions so that it can function smoothly. It needs an independent and separate Legislature, Judiciary and Executive and a vibrant media. It requires political parties, electoral systems and security forces that uphold the interests of the people. In India, we have a completely independent Judiciary which does not hesitate to differ with the Executive, our media is fiercely independent, and the Parliament also vigorously defends its domain.

Let me now discuss how democracy influences the shaping of defence policy. Here, when I refer to defence, I really mean defence in its most comprehensive sense and not in the narrow sense of defence against military aggression alone. The real defence of any country is the comprehensive security of the nation in all its aspects, including internal security and human security.

Democracy influences both the process and the content of defence policy. Thus, in a democratic set up, defence policy is based on a consultative process. Its goals and objectives, as well as many finer details, are often debated in Parliament, the media, by think tanks and during election campaigns. This process ensures a more participative, inclusive and transparent defence policy. This indeed is the case in India and other democracies.

An important outcome of this process is that democratic governments cannot concentrate on militarization alone. They have to balance the needs of other sectors, like the economy, health and education, with the requirements of defence. This ensures that there is no emphasis on militarization and on an aggressive defence policy. It is well known that democracies do not go to war with each other.

The reason for this is that ordinary people want peace and prosperity and democratic governments have to reflect this aspiration in their defence policy. On the other hand, dictatorial regimes have compulsions to spend large amounts on military, to take care of both domestic instability and regime survival against external intervention. History is replete with such instances in the past and there are many contemporary examples today. This indeed is the case with democratic India's defence policy, which has always focused on its own defence and has never contemplated aggression, even against its smallest neighbor. India's defence expenditure in early years of its independence was below two per cent of GDP. Even now, it is less than 2.5 per cent, despite the many real threats it has to face. Compare this to the amounts that some of our neighbors spend on military!

Another important outcome of defence policy making through a democratic process is that such a process enables nations to develop comprehensive national strength. The concept of comprehensive national strength includes economic strength, technological strength, infrastructure and other important aspects that help to build up a nation's power. A country cannot be defended by its military power alone. Recent history shows that even great powers with huge militaries can face serious difficulties in achieving their goals and can even disintegrate, due to the weight of their own internal contradictions. In India, we have been able to develop comprehensive national strength and today we are counted amongst the world's most important powers. This is not only on account of our military but also due to our economy, our science and technology, our knowledge power, our sunrise industries and our democracy.

- Asian Tribune -

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