On board, Air India One: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, appeared confident and pragmatic after a three-day summit of world’s leading economies in Italy, on Saturday admitted that the ‘road ahead’ for India to recover its economy is difficult to traverse.
Although agreed that there were “some signs of recovery” from the recession caused by the financial crisis, Singh said in his opening statement while returning to India: “World economy is still a long way from recovering the earlier growth momentum and there must be questions whether that will soon be possible for the global economy.”
On board Air India One, Singh, who pitched strongly for restructuring of international organizations giving more participation for the developing countries, was pragmatic and candid in his replies to the questions. Here are the excerpts:
What is India’s position on climate change? Do we have a specific target on carbon emissions?
We are not able to undertake quantified emission reduction targets but we are also quite clear that as citizens of the global economy we have an obligation to do our bit to control emissions and therefore all countries have an obligation to be prepared to depart from business as usual. In my own statement, I said we are quite alive to the dangers of climate change. In fact, we recognize climate change is already taking place. We recognize our responsibility to do more by way of mitigation as well as by way of adaptation. In this context I presented India’s climate action plan and I mentioned about the eight national missions, which we have set up in this regards. We are willing to do more, provided there are credible arrangements to provide both additional financial support as well as technological transfers from developed to developing countries so that green sustainable development can really become an effective instrument of strengthening the atmosphere to tackle climate change.
How satisfied are you with the outcome of the G-8 + G-5 summit?
I have presented India’s concerns before the G-8 and G-5 countries’ meet and I think that there has been a great appreciation for our viewpoints. But it is not right to say that everybody agreed with our views. The pressure is to mount on India and China on climate change. We have to resist that while convincing the world that we understand our responsibilities as a global citizen. We are also doing our bit to prevent the climate change.
India is expecting to revive its economy with a normal monsoon and with the US bottoming out its economy. But will it reverse if the European Union slips?
In my statement on Friday, I did mention that all available indicators for 2009 point to a deceleration in the US economy in the European Union economies and therefore one can say that the global environment for the development of the countries of the third world has undergone a sharp deterioration. Our exports have suffered, capital flows from abroad have decreased, international bank lending to the developing countries has declined and therefore the challenge before us is to sustain and revive the growth momentum which we have built up in the last five years notwithstanding the deterioration in the international environment for development.
It is not going to be easy but I am convinced that India’s savings rate which is as high as 35 % with a normal capital output ratio of 4:1 we should be able to sustain, with a little bit extra effort, a growth- rate of about 8 to 9% notwithstanding the difficulties on the international front. So, I remain confident that India will come out of this crisis stronger, but the road ahead is also going to be a difficult road to traverse.
How different are the goals for United Progressive Alliance (UPA) second term?
I have always viewed our role as a government to enable our country to get rid of chronic poverty, ignorance and disease, which still afflict millions and millions of our people. We have made some important gains in the last five years. We managed to impart to our economy a stronger growth momentum, we strengthened the forces, which make for inclusive social and economic development, we have put in place social safety nets which soften the harsh edges of extreme poverty substantially. But this is a long and arduous journey and our challenge is to take full advantage of the instrumentalities which are now in place for inclusive growth to plug loopholes, to reduce leakages and to ensure that these instruments become more effective instruments of social and economic change, accelerated growth, more inclusive development and more emphasis on rural development and agriculture. So it is a continuation of the journey we undertook for five years with renewed commitment, with renewed determination even though we must recognize that the international environment is not as supportive as we had imagined at one time.
What are your expectations out of your next week’s meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani?
I have often said India and Pakistan are close neighbours, we can choose our friends but we have no choice with regard to our neighbours. I have always believed that India, to realize its development ambitions and to realize its place in the comity of nations, requires to work with its neighbours to bring about peace and amity in South Asia. And we will do all that is necessary to resolve all outstanding issues that have bedeviled India’s relations with Pakistan. But it requires credible action on the part of Pakistan to deal with terrorist elements directing their energy to disrupt and destabilize our economy and polity.
So, I look forward to the meetings with Prime Minister Gilani for an exchange of views and I do hope that out of that meeting we will have a renewed reaffirmation on the part of Pakistan that they will bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai massacre to justice, that they will not allow Pakistan territory to be used for terrorist acts directed against our country. If they do that we are willing to walk more than half the distance to normalize our relations.
IT (Information Technology) and textiles have been badly hit by the economic slowdown. In view of this, what you see as outlook for these sectors. Keeping in view the job cuts and the setback they faced, can we still hope for 8-9% growth path?
As far as IT is concerned, the world financial system was the greatest source of demand for our IT services. I think things are stabilizing — the global financial system seems to have reached a new plateau. It is not a high growth plateau, so I do expect there should be some improvement in the international environment for IT. And also with regard to exports of textiles and garments, I do feel that the world economy can effectively stand up against protectionist sentiments, the demand pressures can move in the reverse direction as well.
It is also possible to do more at home to create demand for IT services. I think the e-governance processes in our own, we have a vast unexplored market and we take full advantage of the global slowdown, the Indian Information Technology industry need not face such a bleak future.
India has pitched for a restructuring of the global institutions such as United Nations. Have we achieved anything in this summit on that front?
There is, today, growing support at the international structures and systems, which were put in place soon after the end of the World War II. They are not reflective of the current realities of the global structures and global equation. There is a growing support for the view that the Security Council membership should be enlarged both in the permanent category members as well as in the non-permanent category members. And countries like India have a legitimate claim to be considered for permanent membership of the Security Council.
But having said that let me also say that International relations in the final sense are power relationships. And nobody gives up power willingly, those who have the power want to hold on so I don’t think an easy solution is in sight. It will have to be a long drawn out struggle and I do believe that we have every reason to feel that in the long run our views will prevail.
You have met Pakistan PresidentAsif Ali Zardari in Yekaterinburg, Russia last month and you are going to meet prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. Has Pakistan taken any actions on the demands we made over the Mumbai attacks?
I have had discussions with Zardari after which our high commissions held talks, there were talks with the ISI chief and also with the foreign office. They have given us some proposals and information about the culprits of Mumbai massacre and the punishments they should get. We hope that they are moving in the right direction. I will meet the Pakistani prime minister with that hope. Wherever I spoke, including at the meetings of G-8 and G-5, I have put India’s concerns and views over terrorism. Terrorist elements have been trying to destabilize us for the last 25-30 years and we have evidence on those who are responsible for it. My appeal to the world leaders was that they should put pressure on Pakistan to leave the path of terrorism and march forward with India in peace.
Delhi High Court recently gave a ruling on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Has the government crystalized its views on whether to appeal further on it? (The Supreme Court has issued a notice to the Union government on a special leave petition (SLP) challenging the Delhi High Court judgment declaring Section 377 of the IPC unconstitutional and decriminalising unnatural sex among consenting adults)
I haven’t discussed this matter with my cabinet colleagues and when I go back, I will seek their views as to if anything further need to be done or said in this regard.
Can we expect more experts in your government in the lines of appointing Nandan Nilekani (chief of Unique Identification Authority of India)?
I would like to involve more and more intellectuals in the processes of governance of our country. It is a process, and we have made a beginning and it is my hope that in due course of time, we can enlarge this process. We need all the wisdom, knowledge and experience and there is enormous reserve of knowledge, wisdom and experience available outside the political system. It has to be harnessed in the service of the Indian people. It will be my effort to do so at a pace at which it does not create any side effects. I think Nandan Nilekani’s appointment has been widely welcomed and I sincerely hope that in due course of time we can enlarge the involvement of top intellectual elements in processes of governance.
There have been reports disputing the surplus figures of the railway budgets?
There could be variations in the estimates. I have not seen it in details. The railway minister has said that there would be a white paper on this and I am sure that it will bring out more details.
You took the unusual step of telling Zardari as to what India expects from him. (Singh had told Zardari in front of the media that Pakistan should stop allowing its territory for perpetuating terrorism against India) Do you think it is business as usual in Pakistan as no such messages work on them?
Well, there are difficulties, but I have not given up hope. Let me say that what I had said to Zardari Sahib, I had not intended to say that in the presence of all the media. I simply forgot that the media were present there. It was not my intention in anyway to hurt Zardari’s feelings.
The G-8 summit has declared that 2010 would be the deadline for concluding Doha Round of trade talks. Is there any change in India’s stand between the UPA-1 and UPA-2 terms, keeping in view of the economic crisis?
We have a strong interest in the success of the multilateral trade negotiations, because, we as a country are not member of any regional groups. So, we need a rule based, liberal multilateral trading system to realize our development ambitions. And we have an obligation to contribute to the success of the Doha Round. We also hope that the world will recognize that the Doha Round started with the promise of making development the centerpiece of global trade negotiations. If those commitments are honoured, I don’t think there would be problems in reaching the satisfactory outcome of the Doha Round.
A perception is that (US president Barack) Obama may be good for the world, but not for India. Your meetings with him have changed that perception?
I find President Obama to be very supportive of India’s development ambitions. He has great admiration for India. I spent considerable time this morning, he and I were sitting side by side in the session on agriculture. We exchanged notes on a large number of issues and I look forward to my visit to Washington to meet with him and as I said earlier, we have invited President Obama to pay us a visit and therefore there is basis no apprehension that the Obama administration will be less sensitive to India’s concerns than the previous US Administration.
I find him very supportive of India, that he mentioned to me more than one occasion in the last two days, that is the impression he gave me in London, and that is the consistent impression that I have got that we have a very responsive President Obama, as far as India’s aspirations are concerned.