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Singh to speak in Nehru voice

New York, Sept. 19: If Atal Bihari Vajpayee made India's nuclear status the thrust of his speeches at the UN, Manmohan Singh will take his government's common minimum programme to the 59th UN General Assembly.

A draft of Singh's maiden address to the General Assembly, made available to The Telegraph, speaks about the United Progressive Alliance's secular credentials, its commitment to social programmes and its agenda of fighting terrorism without compromising on human rights.

India's new permanent representative to the UN, Nirupam Sen, has already spoken to the UN Security Council about the programme in his first address as ambassador-designate.

'The present government of India with its secular heritage, voted to power by the rural and urban poor, is committed in its common minimum programme (CMP) to the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act,' Sen told the council's meeting.

This was before a decision to repeal the act was formally taken in New Delhi.

Singh's speech as reflected in the draft, combined with Sen's remarks, represents a return to India's Nehruvian approach to the UN when social issues, peace-keeping, non-alignment and development represented the core of Indian positions in the world body.

Human rights, nuclear non-proliferation and democracy were all Indian values espoused in the Nehru-Gandhi years of prime ministership until these were hijacked by the West for its own purposes ' and at times used as a stick to beat India with the last two decades.

The BJP projected India's power and its aspirations for a global role with strategic interests. Singh's address to the General Assembly on Thursday will mark a change in this theme, but sources said he will do it in a nuanced manner without appearing to break the national consensus on India's foreign policy.

Sen prepared the ground for this reversal when he told the Security Council about the government's commitment to human rights even as it was unflinching in its fight against terrorism. He also said sanctions, which have increasingly become an instrument of punishment by the UN, were not an end in themselves and that they can be effective only when fundamental freedoms are guaranteed and there is rule of law.

He identified himself with the European Union's position in the Security Council on these issues and with statements by secretary-general Kofi Annan. This too represents a nuanced change from the Vajpayee government's tendency at the UN to largely go along with the US on issues of terrorism and human rights.

In another change from Vajpayee's style, Singh will sit down on television with Charlie Rose, a highly regarded TV interviewer.

Vajpayee consistently refused requests for interviews.

 

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