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Politics must not divide us, says PM

delhi Updated: Nov 22, 2008 13:06 IST

India has the resources and the expertise to tide over the global economic crisis and sustain 8 per cent growth, says Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, provided “we have the imagination and the will to work together”.

See webcast of PM's speech

“You have my assurance that despite the adverse international environment, we have the capacity and ability to sustain the growth rate of about 8 per cent,” Singh told delegates on the first day of the two-day Hindustan Times Leadership Summit. But he warned that “competitive politics must not be allowed to divide our people on the basis of religion, caste or region”.

Singh, who as finance minister in 1991 steered the country out of a worse crisis, said his government would do everything necessary to lessen the impact of the downturn in the world economy. “No instrument of public policy will be spared -- whether it is fiscal policy, monetary policy, exchange-rate policy, public-investment policy,” he said. “All will be deployed to ensure an environment conducive to the growth of enterprise.”

Singh promised “liberal credits and bringing down the cost of credit” to help cash-starved small and medium enterprises, exporters and labour-intensive firms. “I assure you that the government is committed to see that the ship of Indian industry is not left in the choppy waters but sails with dignity.”

In return, he asked industry to avoid large-scale retrenchment.

“Much work remains to be done,” the prime minister said. “There are many uncertainties about the depth of the (global) recession and its possible length. It will test everyone.”

Singh argued for more exhaustive global cooperation to combat the crisis and advocated greater representation of developing countries in a new financial architecture to regulate the flow of capital in the world.

HT Media Limited chairperson Shobhana Bhartia said the recent G-20 summit was a reminder of how much a global crisis could help galvanise collective leadership in new and exciting ways.

“India, under the leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has successfully concluded an end to a nuclear order that had left India out in the cold,” said Bhartia. “New Delhi can now use its nuclear status to strengthen multilateral mechanisms for financial, economic, environmental and political security.”

Singh said he was reluctant to attend the Group of 20 nations meeting in Washington last week because all such summits in the past had merely proved to be “breakfast- and dinner-eating occasions”.

This time at the G-20, for the first time, the voice of developing nations was heard with respect, he said.

“Global institutions of governance must be made more inclusive and representative,” he said. “The voice of the developing world must be heard in the high councils of global decision-making.”

Talking about India, Singh said social safety networks like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and higher salaries for government servants were among major budget-driven initiatives introduced by the government. He said the Indian model of development was worth emulating. “We may have paid a price in terms of economic growth and efficiency, but we have gained as a free people,” he said. “Let us never belittle our achievements nor our ambitions in this regard, certainly not our struggle.”

The PM also made a direct appeal to the people to reject parochial identity politics that sought to divide them, saying Indians should stop identifying themselves in terms of their past and allowing prejudices to thwart the country’s ambitions for the future.

Singh had used the same forum, the HT Leadership Summit, last year to speak of the tendency of politicians to become short-term maximisers.

He spoke of the success of space scientists in landing the Indian tricolour on the moon as an example of “cooperative enterprise” that the rest of India could emulate.

“Hundreds of Indians, not divided by their religion, region, language or caste but united by their commitment to hard work and passion for a scientific adventure, made this possible,” he said at the summit. “Who asks them what their caste is or religion is? Who asks what their language is or region is? We only ask what their achievement is. It is their work that defines them.”

“Is this an ambitious goal? Am I asking for too much when I ask each one of you to stop identifying yourself in terms of how the past has shaped you but how you can and are shaping the future,” the prime minister said, echoing the HT summit’s theme, ‘Ambitions for the New Century’.

“My dreams for myself have been realised in my own lifetime because my country has made me,” he said. “My greatest ambition for the coming century is to see a fully educated India.”

He recalled that when India took the initial steps towards investing in its nuclear and space programmes more than five decades ago, many had laughed at the idea. “Our achievement today mocks the cynicism of the non-believers…” he said. “It is the kind of ambition that spurs progress and widens human imagination.”

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See webcast of PM's speech

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