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IACCGH Distinguished Lecture delivered by Consul General Anupam Ray

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Photography by: Bijay Dixit of Unique Photo Images

Remarks from Consul General Anupam Ray

Judge Emmett, Distinguished guests.

Thank you Jagdip and Joya for giving me this opportunity. I would also like to thank the Chamber, and to thank all of you for being here.

Delando Carthagea est – Destroy Carthage. This is a quote from classical Latin. It was invariably prefixed to speeches in the Roman Republic in the second century B.C. Rome was then the world’s superpower.

Carthage was Rome’s mortal enemy. Its opponent  – when it came to Rome’s effort for world domination. Roman orators repeatedly affirmed their ardent desire to  destroy Carthage, elevating this prefix to the status of an article of faith.

The wars between Rome and Carthage dominated world politics in that period of time. Epic battles were fought and legendary historical figures rose on each side – Hannibal, Scipio Africanus and more.

I began by referring to a historical tradition because I am a student of history. Rome ultimately prevailed in the Punic Wars and destroyed Carthage.

For me the rise of India is a similar article of faith. It will happen. And it has an epic quality about it.

My talk to you is about the long term prospects of India. I talk to you not as a businessman. I do come from a family which has some businessmen – but that is not the basis of my talk today.

I will not talk about doing business in India.

You as members of this Chamber are all businessmen with an interest in India. You have skin in the game. Most of you know more than me about what it is like to do business in India.

That is why this is probably the most important talk that I will give during my stay in Houston. People like you, who generate wealth, who oil the wheels of commerce, who transform knowledge into wealth, are the ones who are helping write the India story.

I am speaking as a part of the policy making establishment of the Government of India.

I will not talk about why India is a great investment destination. We all know that.

We have all heard the good news.

GDP growth rates are amongst the fastest in the world. We are on track to be one of the 3 largest economies in the world in the next 15 years and one of the 2 largest in the next 30 years.

Per capita income, whether adjusted for purchasing power or not, is rising at historically unprecedented rates.  An average Indian, and there are a billion of us, like me, has seen buying power grow between 5 to 10 times in our lifetimes.

This increase means that we are buying more airplanes, more cars, more defence equipment, more solar panels, more windmills than ever before. If we don’t figure in the list of top buyers of any commodity and product, we are definitely in the list of the fastest growing buyers of that item.

Inbound FDI numbers are rising constantly. Our stockmarkets are at levels which would have been in the realm of fantasy a decade ago.

Indian outbound FDI is creating jobs and contributing to communities in multiple countries.

Air traffic is rising. Our ports are busier than ever.

We are building more roads, more buildings, more of everything.

We are slowly, but steadily rising through indices that measure parameters as diverse as Human Development and the ease of doing business.

We have a Fiscal Responsibilty law; direct transfer of benefits has begun; livelihood security, pensions and medical insurance are beginning to go mainstream; a law for a real estate regulator has been adopted; a bankruptcy law has been passed.

We all know the bad news too and the downsides.

The fact that India houses some of the largest numbers of the poor in the world. That appalling things sometimes happen to the poor and the weak and the different. The legendary “red tape”. The arcane rules and regulations. The difficulty of doing business. The maddening complexities of daily life.

Let us talk, instead about a few broad trends in the India story. Let us talk about the country that is asking you to Make in India, that aspires to be a Digital India and Clean India and aspires to Skill India. What kind of a country is India? More importantly, where is it headed?

The only way we can hazard a prediction about the future is by analyzing the past. We have to heed the lessons of history. And the lessons of history, particularly contemporary history are quite striking when it comes to India.

Seen over a 50 year perspective, we are looking at one of the most dramatic transformations in history. You are seeing the journey of a country to being a poor, if proud, colony to being the most likely candidate for great power status. If there is one country in the world that is certain to attain the imprimatur of great power, i.e. membership of the United Nations Security Council, it is India. It is not “if”; it is “when.”

There is, as far as I know, no other nation that has undertaken such a dizzying ascent.

We are all practical men and women here. We know that things like this don’t happen by accident. After all, India when it was created, was not supposed to do well. What did we do right?

Let us look at recent history with a slighter shorter perspective. The working life of a person is usually reckoned to be about 35 years. I have been in my job for about 22 years. When I started work as a young diplomat, the Indian Finance Minister was still attending meetings of something called the Aid India Consortium. It was a collection of aid agencies that met regularly to coordinate aid that was being chanelled to India. Aid India meetings were sometimes held to coincide with board meetings of the IMF and World Bank.

The Finance Minister of India today still attends board meetings of the IMF and World Bank. But his priorities are very different. He attends as a member of the G20. He attends as a representative of the country that is amongst the most important players in world trade negotiations. He attends as a country that is a major source of outbound FDI. He attends as the representative of a country that has now begun to offer development assistance on its own. He attends as a representative one the most dynamic BRICS economies and as a country that is one of the founder members of the BRICS Bank or the New Development Bank.

The Aid India Consortium is something that is disappearing from our memories. It is good that it no longer exists. But it is sometimes necessary to jog our memories to remind ourselves of how far we have travelled.

2 days ago I met 10 Congressmen in the span of a few hours – thanks to our good friend Ashok Mago – at the Republican State Convention in Dallas. They all had the same message – they see India as a partner, and a reliable partner.

Most of them were aware of what the World Bank pointed out 2 years ago. That India, and China, have raised more people out of more poverty more rapidly than any other nation in human history. The Industrial Revolution improved the lives of millions. Indian and China have improved the lives of hundreds of millions, possibly billions.

We helped ourselves. No amount of foreign aid, no amount of philanthropy could engineer this rise.

If this is not an epic, I don’t know what is.

The Congressmen all understand, and they were quite explicit in stating so, that our best years are ahead of us.

They also appreciate that our rise threatens no one. This is the indisputable peaceful rise.

I made this stage pay tribute to the contributions of the Americans of Indian origin who have worked tirelessly to inform Congressmen about the India story.

I must also say that it is one of the great pleasures of my job to interact with a diaspora that is as successful and as prosperous as the Indian community in the United States.

I have said this in the past and I will say it again. The United States relied on the Atlantic Alliance as its principal pillar of external support in the 20th century. There is however now a bipartisan acceptance in the United States that its partnership with India will be one of  the defining relationships of the 21st century.  The Indian community here, the companies that are represented on this Chamber and the ever expanding network of ties – business, cultural, political, educational; the flow of ideas and experiences will be the building blocks of this partnership.

What is the kind of country with which the United States expects to have a defining relationship?

Let me look at something that was written about 10 years ago by 2 American academics:

“Thirty years ago ….. it was a miracle if one was allotted a phone, and after that it took a further act of God and the benevolence of the P&T worker for the phone to work. Thirty years ago, there were only black-and-white TVs, and that too only in a few cities. Villagers did not have access to TV or the electricity to power it with.

Soon thereafter….  the Indian economy became a veritable dynamo posting an average growth of nearly 6 per cent per year over the past 25 years. Despite the inevitable, unfavourable comparisons with China, very few countries have grown so fast over such a prolonged period of time, or reduced poverty so sharply. We should indeed be proud of what India has achieved, and clearly, many Indians are. There is a buzz today in India, a sense of limitless optimism. But is it justified?”

The authors go on to list what could limit India’s growth: an absence of skilled workers; the absence of a common maket; the educations sytem.

One of the two economists who wrote this for the IMF is now the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Raghuram Rajan. The other is the Chief Economic Advisor of the Government of India.

I give this example to submit it to you that we are an open country. We are open to external influence. It is possible for an American academic to become India’s central banker and have to opportunity to convert his vision into action.

This brings me to the obvious. We still don’t have an unified market. We still have a shortage of skilled workers. So what are we talking about.

What we are talking about is how these issues now occupy political centrestage. A national debate on these issues is underway. Our system of making laws might appear to be painfully slow. But we are a Common Law system. For better or for worse we are democracy in which the Legislature has been empowered to make law and the judiciary to interpret it. The Indian process is inclusive. Everybody has been taken along and everybody must be taken along.

We are a nation that aspires to have a rule of law. And a rule of law of nation does not appear overnight.

We are trying to arrive at the destination without the lopping of heads associated with the English and French Revolutions.

If the cost of that is slower growth and missed opportunities for a few years. Well then, so be it. This is the cost of democracy and we are willing to pay it.

There will be some who will say that we are missing an opportunity. To them, I will say that the weight of historical evidence is that India always manages to overcome

In the 50s, the fitful rate of GDP growth was described derisively as the Hindu rate of growth. Decade after decade our economic growth rates have inched up.

In the sixties, we were not expected to survive as a nation. Some of our neighbours, unfortunately, still believe that. We are stronger today than we have ever been before. We have survived terrorism, insurgency and violence that would have broken lesser nations. And our economic growth rates continue to increase.

In the seventies, nobody expected us to remove poverty on the scale that followed.

In the eighties, we were derided as the nation that is permanently on the runway; a nation that will never really take off. Well, we have taken off.

In the nineties we were described as an illiberal democracy. The functioning of our democracy, with all its uplifting successes, its glorious failures, and its gut-wrenching problems plays out every day on prime time television and on social media on a spectacular scale. Just look at the percentages of people voting in our elections. It now sometimes exceeds 80%. This is not a sign of an illiberal democracy.

We were described by some in the last decade as a country where crony capitalism saps our entrepreneurial talents. That is until the internet and mobile telephony driven e-commerce boom came along.

It is interesting to note that more and more of Indias best and brightest – the graduates from the elite IITs and IIMs are going the entrepreneurial route.

Another interesting point:- The last 3 Prime Ministers in this land of Maharajahs,  the hereditary caste system and hereditary political leadership do not have family members active in politics. This is a land where the idea of a meritocracy has taken hold.

This is a country that has consistently proved doomsday prophets wrong. It has consistently confounded critics.

This is a country that believes in the rule of law.  This is a country that is open.

These are exactly the words that you would describe the United States. That is why the partnership between our two countries is bound to be enduring one. When you do business with India, you are doing business with a nation that is trying to be very similar to this.

We have looked at some of the characteristics of India’s economy and its polity. What about its diplomacy? Does what I have about the similarities of outlook hold up when it comes to US-India diplomacy.

In diplomatic studies there is a theory of democratic peace. It has been established that democracies do not attack each other.

The major contribution of the United States to international relations is the creation of a liberal world order. Pax Americana was established with the creation of the Untied Nations, the IMF, the World Bank, global trade talks. Pax Americana is about the effort to expand the zone of democratic peace.

What does India feel about this? Let us look at how it views the the world order and the multilateral institutions that underpin this order.

This is a country that has contributed more United Nations peackeepers to more peacekeeping operations than any other nation.

Poor as we are, we have not shirked our share of any burden. No other developing country contributes, voluntarily, more than India to the development operations of the United Nations. Or its humanitarian operations.

No refugee has ever been turned from India.

We have had differences on major issues of international law. But we have, in the spirit of the democracies that we both are, contributed to the process of creating international law and international regimes. We have worked together to create concepts like the public health exceptions and Dispute Settlement Mechanisms in world trade.

In concluding, I would like to make a reference to the American exceptionalism that is central to the identity of Americans.

I am begin to believe that we Indians have our brand of exceptionalism. The India story is sui generis.

I believe however that American and Indian exceptionalism complement and supplement each other. I believe that what we are living through now is the beginning of an exceptional partnership.

Thank you for your time.

 

 

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