India is one of Asia’s most influential countries, and its influence is growing. This is connected not only with its large population and a strong economic potential but also with technological breakthroughs in some key directions: suffice it to recall the creation of India’s own nuclear weapons and supercomputers capable of simulating nuclear tests. And although these steps are assessed rather dimly by the world community, it is obvious that India will become in the twenty-first century one of world’s most powerful markets and centers of influence. India’s ambassador in this country Vidya Bhushan Soni talks with The Day’s correspondents about today’s India.
“Mr. Ambassador, the media reported last summer that the population of India had passed one billion. Does your country face a threat of overpopulation? And do you impose tight controls on population growth, as was the case, for example, with China?”
“Although UN agencies claim the population of India has already reached the one-billion mark, this figure is in fact expected around next May. But, whenever this might happen, the fact is that our country is overpopulated, and we would like to control population growth. This policy is being pursued consistently and successfully: we have managed to bring the annual population growth rate down to about 1.8%. But this is still too high: it means population growth of 17-18 million a year.
“Despite such a large population, the country fully provides itself with foodstuffs: there is no question at all of people dying of starvation. We even export agricultural products. All efforts are now aimed primarily at improving Indians’ quality of life. And we are succeeding: the tempo of economic growth has been 7% over the past eight years.”
“Economic growth allowed India to become a nuclear state, but the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was never signed by your country. What kind of relationship do you think will exist in the future between India and other nuclear states and the movement for a nuclear-free world?”
“India has always been a peace- loving country and has always following a course for disarmament. When speaking of complete disarmament, we think there should be no limitations here, no division into nuclear and non- nuclear states. Nonproliferation of nuclear weapons is only the first step in this direction. In our view, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty divides the world into those who possess and do not possess nuclear weapons and, hence, having different rights. There should be no such discrimination. The problem is there is no question of complete disarmament at all in today’s world. We also see our region being armed, so we are forced to undertake measures to ensure the security of our country. It is in these conditions that we have resorted to nuclear tests, but at the same time we have no intention to create dangers for other countries. We are not the first country to conduct nuclear tests, and we have no desire to be the first to employ nuclear weapons. Besides, we never tried to steal technologies: we only used and tested what Indian experts had developed.”
“There are many hot spots in the world, which harbor a potential danger of transforming into major conflicts, especially along ethnic and religious divides. India also has such spots: the states of Punjab and Jammu-and-Kashmir where tension remains. What do you think can help you overcome these crises?”
“The question is quite complicated, for it is connected with global problems raised by the ethnic, religious, and cultural differences of nations. As to the two hot spots in India you mentioned, the situations in the states of Jammu- and-Kashmir and Punjab are very different. Punjab is a state still threatened with terrorism carried out by people specially trained abroad. There was a time when this crisis was especially acute. Even the reports of independent agencies testified that there were people who deliberately donated money for this and trained terrorists, but these efforts were doomed to fail. Now the situation in Punjab has been normalized. Even if there are any instances of terrorism there, they are no more numerous than in other states.
“By contrast, the state of Jammu- and-Kashmir is today beset with problems. The reasons for them go back to the historical past. When India won independence, all states were granted the right to join either the Indian Union or Pakistan, which they did. In general, India is not divided into states on religious grounds. However, one should remember that the state of Jammu- and-Kashmir has three sectors. The first is Muslims who make up the majority of Kashmiris. Others profess Buddhism and Hinduism. And although Pakistan claims that, on religious grounds, this state must belong to it, for the majority profess Islam, we cannot proceed from these grounds alone because India is a secular state where religion is a private matter.”
“Would you comment on the recent parliamentary elections in your country?”
“These were the thirteenth elections in fifty years and the third in the past three years. The procedure of holding an election is an expensive thing. 600 million Indian citizens can vote, and 380 million in fact voted. Indians did not turn to foreign observers for help, and I am proud that the elections came off cleanly.”
“The latest elections were distinguished by an increased activity of regional parties. Was their role decisive in determining the outcome?”
“Yes, the political maturity of the regions results from the consistent implementation of socioeconomic programs. The regions have seen a considerable growth in the number of schools, newspapers, and magazines in the various regional languages of greater India. Thus today the over thirty parties, which support the leading BJP and the Indian Congress, mold the political face of India. It is this that testifies to the development of democracy in India and reflects the processes of liberalization in our country. The newly- formed National Democratic Alliance, composed of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party — Indian People’s Party) and other parties associated with it, reveals a wide spectrum of different views and leanings. The projects adopted by the Alliance will serve the interests of a great number of voters.”
“But one-party rule has been more traditional for India. Is this parliamentary alliance an altogether new thing?”
“Yes, traditionally, the leader of the party that came to power formed after his or her inauguration a cabinet of ministers from his or her party’s parliamentary representatives. As to foreign policy, the BJP and other political parties have no differences.”
“There was a military coup in Pakistan on October 12, and the Indian Army was put on full alert. Will anything change India’s attitude toward Pakistan as a result?”
“Of course, we only want to live in peace with a country with which we have a common language, culture, and mentality. We do not need interpreters: we understand each other very well: India has the world’s second largest Muslim population.
“But today’s developments in Pakistan is the internal affair of that country. It is their fourth coup in the past fifty years. India, however, persistently continues to move toward rapprochement and the peaceful coexistence of our countries, so that the third millennium brings all of us, including the Great India, progress and prosperity.”