| AB Vajpayee with Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin. (Reuters)
Berlin, May 29: Singing paeans to the inclusive character of Indian democracy, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee urged Germany to “reform old mindsets” and not see India through a restrictive South Asian prism. He argued that “the remnants of Cold War ideologies” which promoted this view should be eliminated.
Germany, Vajpayee suggested, should act on its understanding of “India’s global presence” and not see it in a restrictive regional perspective.
Addressing a meeting of MPs of the German lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, Vajpayee appeared hurt that people often did not recognise the enormity of India’s achievements.
Vajpayee criticised the West for its two-faced attitude to terrorism. He said India had suffered both from terrorism as well as “from the consequences of the double standard applied by countries to deal with terrorism in different places”.
He said correct lessons needed to be learnt from the events of 9/11 or else the fight against terrorism would not succeed.
There were two important lessons of September 11 and its aftermath, he felt. First, the reach of terrorism could be countered comprehensively only through global cooperation. Second, and perhaps more important lesson in Vajpayee’s eyes, “we cannot and should not, negotiate with terrorism or differentiate between its various constituent elements”.
He argued that “our success against terrorism will depend on how well we have learnt this lesson”.
Terrorism, Vajpayee claimed, targeted democratic societies because they “seek peace, protect freedoms, permit dissent and value consensus” and terrorism aims to destroy these attributes. He said that though India continued to suffer from cross-border terrorism, he was seeking peace with Pakistan to inspire action to end the menace and the infrastructure which supports it. He urged all friends of India to use their influence on Pakistan to make this happen.
The Prime Minister claimed that India’s achievements in building a vibrant democracy were often not appreciated. India, despite a high illiteracy rate, with no experience of universal adult franchise before Independence and, despite the doubts expressed about its democratic future at that time, had nurtured democracy well.
India, he said, had successfully preserved its multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious social fabric within a constitutional, democratic and federal framework. It had institutionalised fundamental freedoms, human rights and the rule of law. The change of governments in India happened through “a peaceful, non-violent expression of popular will”.
However, packing a punch against those who did not give India credit for these achievements, Vajpayee said: “As I look around at the functioning of real and sham democracies around the world, I sometimes feel that the enormity of India’s achievements in this direction is not fully appreciated.”
Although he did not mention the name of any “sham democracies”, one could be forgiven for wondering whether this was not a broadside against Pakistan and how being coupled with Pakistan hurts India’s global ambitions.
Continuing on the theme of democracy and governance through reconciliation, India, Vajpayee drew parallels between India and Germany, even though one was a developing country and the other developed. Economic reforms and liberalisation processes, in both India and Germany, he said, had to take into account conflicting interests and demands of labour unions, political parties, Parliament, civil society and the government.
India was trying to move forward by reconciling these differences and in a manner which would lead to both equitable development and social justice.
“It may not be a very rapid process but it does make for greater stability.”
This was the process that the European Union was also following, the Prime Minister observed, adding that “my coalition government has nearly as many parties as the number of countries the European Union would have, after its expansion.”
He made an impassioned plea to the Parliamentarians for realising the true potential of the economic and strategic partnership that was possible between Germany and India.