Sunday, July 27, 2008

Manmohan Singh Speech on the Trust Vote

(Manmohan Singh was not actually allowed to read his statement by the opposition parties. Instead he gave a copy to the Speaker to file. Below is his condensed address to the Lok Sabha on the Nuclear Deal and also the 4 years of UPA rule.

Please be aware that, although condensed, this is still a fairly long post. To read the original unabridged article on the PM's official website, please click on the title of this post.)

The Leader of Opposition, Shri L.K. Advani has chosen to use all manner of abusive adjectives to describe my performance. He has described me as the weakest Prime Minister, a nikamma PM, and of having devalued the office of PM. To fulfill his ambitions, he has made at least three attempts to topple our government. But on each occasion his astrologers have misled him.

As for Shri Advani’s various charges, all I can say is that before leveling charges of incompetence on others, Shri Advani should do some introspection. Can our nation forgive a Home Minister who slept when the terrorists were knocking at the doors of our Parliament? Can our nation forgive a person who single handedly provided the inspiration for the destruction of the Babri Masjid with all the terrible consequences that followed? To atone for his sins, he suddenly decided to visit Pakistan and there he discovered new virtues in Mr. Jinnah. Alas, his own party and his mentors in the RSS disowned him on this issue. Can our nation approve the conduct of a Home Minister who was sleeping while Gujarat was burning leading to the loss of thousands of innocent lives? Our friends in the Left Front should ponder over the company they are forced to keep because of miscalculations by their General Secretary.

As for my conduct, all I can say is that in all these years that I have been in office, whether as Finance Minister or Prime Minister, I have felt a sacred obligation to use the levers of power as a societal trust to be used for transforming our economy and polity, so that we can get rid of poverty, ignorance and disease which still afflict millions of our people. This is a long and arduous journey. But every step taken in this direction can make a difference. And that is what we have sought to do in the last four years. How far we have succeeded is something I leave to the judgment of the people of India.

When I look at the composition of the opportunistic group opposed to us, it is clear to me that the clash today is between two alternative visions of India’s future. The vision represented by the UPA and our allies seeks to project India as a self confident and united nation moving forward to gain its rightful place in the comity of nations, making full use of the opportunities offered by a globalised world, and using modern science and technology as important instruments of national economic and social development. The opposite vision is of a motley crowd who have come together to share the spoils of office to promote their sectional, sectarian and parochial interests. Our Left colleagues should tell us whether Shri L.K. Advani is acceptable to them as a Prime Ministerial candidate. Shri L.K. Advani should enlighten us if he will step aside as Prime Ministerial candidate of the opposition in favour of the choice of UNPA. They should take the country into confidence on this important issue.

I have already stated that the House has been dragged into this debate unnecessarily. I wish our attention had not been diverted from some priority areas of national concern. These priorities are:

(i) Tackling the imported inflation caused by steep increase in oil prices. Our effort is to control inflation without hurting the rate of growth and employment.

(ii) To revitalize agriculture. We have decisively reversed the declining trend of investment and resource flow in agriculture. We have achieved a record food grain production of 231 million tonnes. But we need to redouble our efforts to improve agricultural productivity.

(iii) To improve the effectiveness of our flagship pro poor programmes such as National Rural Employment Programme, Nationwide Mid-day Meal Programme, to improve the quality of rural infrastructure of roads, electricity, safe drinking water, sanitation, irrigation. These programmes are yielding solid results. But a great deal more needs to be done to improve the quality of implementation.

(iv) We have initiated a major thrust in expanding higher education. The objective is to expand the gross enrolment ratio in higher education from 11.6 per cent to 15 per cent by the end of the 11th [5-Year] Plan. To meet these goals, we have an ambitious programme which seeks to create 30 new universities, 8 new IITs, 7 new IIMs, 20 new IIITs, 373 new degree colleges and 1,000 new polytechnics.

(v) To deal firmly with terrorist elements, left wing extremism and communal elements that are attempting to undermine the security and stability of the country. We will continue to vigorously pursue investigations in the major terrorist incidents that have taken place. Charge-sheets have been filed in almost all the cases. Our intelligence agencies and security forces are doing an excellent job in very difficult circumstances. We will take all possible steps to streamline their functioning and strengthen their effectiveness.

Considerable work has been done in all these areas but debates like the one we are having detract our attention from attending to these essential programmes.

I say in all sincerity that this session and debate was unnecessary because I have said on several occasions that our nuclear agreement after being endorsed by the IAEA and the Nuclear Suppliers Group would be submitted to this august House for expressing its view. All I had asked our Left colleagues was: please allow us to go through the negotiating process and I will come to Parliament before operationalising the nuclear agreement. This simple courtesy which is essential for orderly functioning of any Government worth the name, particularly with regard to the conduct of foreign policy, they were not willing to grant me. They wanted a veto over every single step of negotiations which is not acceptable. They wanted me to behave as their bonded slave.

In 1991, while presenting the Budget for 1991-92, as Finance Minister, I had stated: no power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come. I had then suggested that the emergence of India as a major global power was an idea whose time had come.

I outlined a far reaching programme of economic reform whose fruits are now visible to every objective person. Both the Left and the BJP had then opposed the reform. Both had said we had mortgaged the economy to America and that we would bring back the East India Company. Subsequently both these parties have had a hand at running the Government. None of these parties have reversed the direction of economic policy laid down by the Congress Party in 1991. The moral of the story is that political parties should be judged not by what they say while in opposition but by what they do when entrusted with the responsibilities of power.

I am convinced that history will compliment the UPA Government for having taken another giant step forward to lead India to become a major power centre of the evolving global economy.

What is the nuclear agreement about? It is all about widening our development options, promoting energy security in a manner which will not hurt our precious environment and which will not contribute to pollution and global warming.

needs to grow at the rate of at least ten per cent per annum to get rid of chronic poverty, ignorance and disease. A basic requirement for achieving this order of growth is the availability of energy, particularly electricity. We need increasing quantities of electricity to support our agriculture, industry and to give comfort to our householders. The generation of electricity has to grow at an annual rate of 8 to 10 per cent.

Now, hydro-carbons are one source of generating power and for meeting our energy requirements. But our production of hydro-carbons
both of oil and gas is far short of our growing requirements. We are heavily dependent on imports. We all know the uncertainty of supplies and of prices of imported hydro-carbons. We have to diversify our sources of energy supply.

We have large reserves of coal but even these are inadequate to meet all our needs by 2050. But more use of coal will have an adverse impact on pollution and climate. We can develop hydro-power and we must. But many of these projects hurt the environment and displace large number of people. We must develop renewable sources of energy
particularly solar energy. But we must also make full use of atomic energy which is a clean environment friendly source of energy. All over the world, there is growing realization of the importance of atomic energy to meet the challenge of energy security and climate change.

’s atomic scientists and technologists have developed nuclear energy capacities despite heavy odds. But there are handicaps which have adversely affected our atomic energy programme. First of all, we have inadequate production of uranium. Second, the quality of our uranium resources is not comparable to those of other producers. Third, after the nuclear test of 1974 and 1998, the outside world has imposed embargo on trade with India in nuclear materials, nuclear equipment and nuclear technology. As a result, our nuclear energy programme has suffered. Some twenty years ago, the Atomic Energy Commission had laid down a target of 10,000 MW of electricity generation by the end of the twentieth century. Today, in 2008 our capacity is about 4,000 MW and, due to shortage of uranium, many of these plants are operating at much below their capacity.

The nuclear agreement that we wish to negotiate will end India’s nuclear isolation, nuclear apartheid and enable us to take advantage of international trade in nuclear materials, technologies and equipment. It will open up new pathways to accelerate industrialization of our country. The essence of the matter is that the agreements that we negotiate with USA, Russia, France and other nuclear countries will enable us to enter into international trade for civilian use without any interference with our strategic nuclear programme. The strategic programme will continue to be developed at an autonomous pace determined solely by our own security perceptions. We will not accept any outside interference or monitoring or supervision of our strategic programme. Our strategic autonomy will never be compromised.

I confirm that there is nothing in these agreements which prevents us from further nuclear tests if warranted by our national security concerns. All that we are committed to is a voluntary moratorium on further testing. The nuclear agreements will not in any way affect our strategic autonomy.

Our critics accuse us, that in signing these agreements, we have surrendered the independence of foreign policy and made it subservient to US interests.

We appreciate the fact that the US has taken the lead in promoting cooperation with India for nuclear energy for civilian use. Without US initiative, India’s case for approval by the IAEA or the Nuclear Suppliers Group would not have moved forward. But this does not mean that there is any explicit or implicit constraint on India to pursue an independent foreign policy determined by our own perceptions of our national interest. I state categorically that our foreign policy, will at all times be determined by our own assessment of our national interest. This has been true in the past and will be true in future regarding our relations with big powers as well as with our neighbours in West Asia, notably Iran, Iraq, Palestine and the Gulf countries.

We have differed with the USA on their intervention in Iraq. I had explicitly stated at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington DC in July 2005 that intervention in Iraq was a big mistake. With regard to Iran, our advice has been in favour of moderation and we would like that the issues relating to Iran’s nuclear programme which have emerged should be resolved through dialogue and discussions in the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The management and governance of the world’s largest and most diverse democracy is the greatest challenge any person can be entrusted with, in this world. It has been my good fortune that I was entrusted with this challenge over four years ago.

I have often said that I am a politician by accident. I have held many diverse responsibilities. I have been a teacher, I have been an official of the Government of India, I have been a member of Parliament, but I have never forgotten my life as a young boy in a distant village.

Every day that I have been Prime Minister of India I have tried to remember that the first ten years of my life were spent in a village with no drinking water supply, no electricity, no hospital, no roads and nothing that we today associate with modern living. I had to walk miles to school; I had to study in the dim light of a kerosene lamp. This nation gave me the opportunity to ensure that such would not be the life of our children in the foreseeable future. My conscience is clear that on every day that I have occupied this high office, I have tried to fulfill the dream of that young boy from that distant village.

The greatness of democracy is that we are all birds of passage! We are here today, gone tomorrow! But in the brief time that the people of India entrust us with this responsibility, it is our duty to be honest and sincere in the discharge of these responsibilities. As it is said in our sacred texts, we are responsible for our actions and we must act without coveting the rewards of such action. Whatever I have done in this high office I have done so with a clear conscience and the best interests of my country and our people at heart. I have no other claims to make.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Stray Thoughts

By: William J. Bennett

The problem is not that modern politics has become particularly uncivil and nasty. The problem today is that politics has become boring and unengaging. Too much political discourse is lame, mushy, and vapid.


[Thomas] Jefferson closed one of his letters to Madison with the hope that “the education of the common people will be attended to; convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty.” Madison echoed the sentiment: “The diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”


The greatest debates in American history have involved sharp, vigorous, spirited clashes. That’s fine; politics was never intended to be confused with a garden party. This cultural war is not an undertaking for people with delicate sensibilities.


Politicians often try to protect their views by suggesting that sincerity can substitute for sound reasoning. [But] sincerity has nothing to do with whether [one] is right or wrong. Sincerity is not the test of truth. Sincerity is a reliable guide to action or belief only when it is joined with intelligence. No fact was ever altered by believing it wasn’t one, no matter how sincerely.


There is plenty to be disappointed, angry, and even furious about the way politics is practiced. This side of Washington was captured best by C.S. Lewis’s description of hell:

"We must picture Hell as a state where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment. Everyone wishes everyone else’s discrediting, and ruin; everyone is an expert in the stab in the back."


There is no oversupply of good character anywhere. Character is part and parcel of the individual, not his party or institution. People with enough regard for the common good merit confidence and praise and are worthy of Walter Lippmann’s reminder: “Those in high places are the custodians of a nation’s ideals, of the beliefs it cherishes, of its permanent hopes, of the faith which makes a nation out of a mere aggregation of individuals.”


Pericles said the secret of democracy is courage. Assume the worst, act your best. Assume there is going to be trouble with everything, that nothing is going to go through unchallenged. And be ready. Prepare more of the case than you think you are going to need. In the face of distortions of what you believe, the key is perseverance; hold shape and keep explaining your views; if you articulate your views well, forcefully, and often, your point of view will gradually get across.


The character of a society is determined by how well it transmits true and time-honored values from generation to generation.

[Excerpts from The De-valuing of America: The Fight for Our Culture and Our Children; 1994]

Time to Give Women Their Due

By: Meghnad Desai

In The Argumentative Indian, Amartya Sen says with some pride that 50 years before Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party, Sarojini Naidu was president of the Congress. Hence we Indians are way ahead of the Brits etc in honouring women. Of course, Sarojini Naidu had a ceremonial role for one year in an organisation, while Thatcher was PM.

The point is worth discussing. But what does that say about the lives and opportunities of women in Britain as against India? Across South Asia, upper caste and upper class women have made it to the top. Rajkumari Amrit Kaur was a cabinet minister in the first Nehru government after Independence. Indira Gandhi was prime minister some dozen years before Margaret Thatcher. Benazir Bhutto, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, her daughter Chandrika Kumartunga, Sheikh Hassina and Begum Zia - all made it to the top when women find it hard to get to the top in the West. Just look at Hillary Clinton's struggle.

But Sen has also been the first to point out how many millions of women are 'missing' in South Asia. The sex ratio in South Asia is one of the lowest in the world. These are women who were either killed in the foetus or throttled at birth once they revealed their sex. The rest were malnourished, beaten up, died in child birth or for the glory of our ancient culture persuaded to perform Sati.

Thus it is not at all surprising that men were seen on live TV in Rajya Sabha tearing up the Women's Bill which the UPA had stealthily introduced on last day of the session much to the mirth of the women ministers. Clearly both sides treat this matter as frivolous. The UPA is interested more in being able to claim that they have done something for women with no intention of passing the Bill. The opponents of the Bill can pretend that they are not so much against women's representation but they must have their OBC piece of flesh. The Bill has been around for 12 years. I bet if it had been about MPs' perks and privileges or their freedom to misbehave and disrupt proceedings, it would have been carried unanimously in five minutes.

Yet a Bill so important should invite a big national debate in Parliament. As a legislator in UK I know we would have extensive debates on the floor of the House of Lords if such a vital piece of legislation was before us. We would be lobbied by NGOs and ad hoc organisations. The Bill would lead to debates outside Parliament.

In the Rajya Sabha a Standing Committee on which men are in an overwhelming majority - except for the vacancies they are all men - will discuss the Bill away from public gaze. Even so, the country should make this an occasion to highlight the plight of women in India. It is not the case that the deprivation is only a SC/ST/ OBC issue where women are concerned. Foeticide happens in rich middle class families. I was at a restaurant in Delhi - GK II, since you ask - where on the next table a group of women, obviously affluent, were chatting away in Punjabi about this or that child in the family which had been aborted after amniocentesis. This as they chomped their way through delicious South Indian food.

South India is not as bad in terms of women's health This has to do with Christian missionaries and the strong anti-Brahmin movement since the early 20th century. Women's literacy and infant and maternal mortality numbers are also better. Move across the Vindhyas and the situation is dire. Gujarat which is progressive in many aspects is backward in women's human development numbers.

Reservation at 33 per cent is much below the women's share of the population. If such concessions were granted it would be just the beginning of the solution which requires the full redress of all the handicaps women suffer. Of course the Bill will be dropped as one or the other of the 'secular, anti-communalist' dada of North Indian politics - Lalu or Mulayam or Paswan - will issue a veto. Congress lacks the guts to stand up to any opposition be it from current allies or future possible friends.

But then Put Not Your Faith in Princes. In the West, women's position is by no means fully equal. What has changed is the language in which they are spoken of and spoken to, the respect with which they are treated in public and private, the fury which any news of domestic violence arouses - even if defended as 'part of our culture' by Asians and Africans, the tremendous boost to girls' education and their participation in sports and public life. Indian men should begin to examine their own behaviour towards women. Do men indulge in needless lewd talk when women are around, do they belittle their women colleagues and friends pointlessly - as I witnessed to my shock in a Parliamentary delegation from India visiting the House of Lords, do they condone or even worse indulge in beatings up their wife/mother/daughter/maid servant?

Do Indian men still regard women as their property, their chattel? This is what they call a no-brainer. Reform will have to come from below and start at home.