IRRI-KIIB  - Conference Address

"India and Europe: the way ahead"

Dr. Karan Singh,
President, Indian Council for Cultural Relations

Brussels, June 1, 2006

India and Europe: The Way Ahead

President and Members of the Royal Institute of International Relations, Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I must begin by mentioning a special spiritual link that I have with Europe, which may surprise you. I was born in Cannes, France, in the Hotel Martinez. So Europe in some ways is home to me, a continent I have visited on many occasions, travelling across its length and breadth, reliving its magnificent history, tasting its varied culture, enjoying its richness and inspiration. As I stand here addressing the Royal Institute of International Relations, therefore, I feel very much at home. I am delighted to be in this important capital of Brussels and feel honoured to address this distinguished gathering. 

Europe and India are two pluralistic global communities that share much in common – our antiquity and traditions, our histories and cultures, our plurality and diversity, our commitment to democracy and human rights, to an independent judiciary and free press, and the strategic role that we are both required to play in today’s rapidly changing world. We are multi-cultural civilizations that are rich repositories of memories, of refinement, of values that are mature and distilled. We are bearers of foundational ideals of special relevance to the modern world, ideas which demand a blend of the ancient and the contemporary, of the old and the new, of the past and the future. 

We live in turbulent times. The past continues to cast a shadow over our endeavors. We cannot forget the millions who perished in the two World Wars, or in the partition of India, nor can we erase from our memory the gas chambers, the gulags, the civil wars in which millions were killed and millions more became refugees. We have to build a new world from the debris of the past and harness all our creative energies, at many levels, in this effort, overcoming age-old conflicts of boundaries and borders between nations, as indeed you have remarkably done in Europe. Indeed, the emergence of the European Union after centuries of internecine conflict was one of the most remarkable and positive developments of the twentieth century. I often hold this as a model for the way in which our own Regional Association – SAARC – should develop in the years ahead. However, terrorism and ethnic brutality continue to cause concern to India as much as to Europe. We, in India, have been victims of cross-border terrorism for years and our suffering, especially in Jammu and Kashmir, hardly needs elaboration.

We can draw many parallels between our two regions. We are a storehouse of myths and narratives. Our mythical histories are perhaps as rich as our actual ones. We have legends and tales for every occasion. Gods and Goddesses, major and minor, so human and so endearing, enrich our lives. From them we draw our names, our stories. In fact, the resemblance between Roman, Greek and Indian mythologies is quite remarkable. Again, it would be interesting to visualize Europe and India as composites made up of numerous nations. Europe actually is this amalgam; India is one country made of numerous states, several as populous as any European country. We move across terrains of all kinds – plains, hills, mountains, rivers, seas, oceans. We have all possible weather conditions, diverse foliage, flora and fauna.

India and Europe are pluralistic societies – multi-regional, multi-linguistic, multi-cultural and multi-religious. Europe sustains itself through a gamut of languages that derive from the same roots and yet maintain their rich flavours. The same is the case in India. The Indian states share not only their languages but also their literatures; the cross-fertilization between the languages and the literatures enriching each other. Indeed, the sharing of languages and literatures between Europe and India has an amazing track record. We Indians have grown up on a staple diet of European literatures, and Europe has produced some of our most respected Sanskritists and Indolgists. The history of films has been the same. European cinema has been an Indian favourite while Indian directors and movies have always enthralled Europe. The more recent fusions in dance and music also reflect the same creative symbiosis. In a world that is under continuous threat of becoming more rigid, inflexible and unyielding, we, as Indians and Europeans, believe not in the Clash but in the Confluence of civilizations.

The 20th century has seen immense co-operation and progress between India and Europe – in physics and mathematics, science and technology, mechanical and computer sciences, engineering, environment, management, and so on. Europe and India have also agreed to strengthen their collaboration in research projects in a number of areas including genomics, nanotechnology and high-energy physics, and have joined forces to confront the global challenges posed by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Our economic relations are growing fast, especially in the area of foreign investments and co-operation in the fields of biotechnology, telecommunications and energy. The EU has been a major trade and investment partner of India and is still the largest importer of goods and services from India. European companies have been making large investments ever since India opened its economy in 1992, and Indian companies have made substantial investments in Europe in the recent years. I believe this partnership, especially at the geo-political levels, will give India and Europe a strong basis to assert their common policies and to build strong affiliations.

A major step towards strengthening the EU-India relationship was the launching of our Strategic Partnership at the Hague Summit in November 2004. The sixth Summit meeting between India and EU held in New Delhi in September 2005 was significant, as it endorsed a comprehensive and ambitious Joint Action Plan which provides a framework for deeper cooperation and engagement over a range of issues, especially in economic, trade and investment matters. The JAP provides ways and means of enhancing cooperation over several areas, including the social sector, science and technology, space, energy, clean development, and environmental improvement. On the economic front, as you know, the EU is India’s largest export destination. In 2005, India’s exports to the EU over 2004 registered an increase of 16.2% amounting to Euros 18.87 billions. EU exports to India have also increased by almost 24% amounting to Euros 21.08 billions during the same period. Impressive as these figures are, I am sure you will agree that India-EU trade can still grow exponentially in the years ahead.

India’s admission into the elite group of scientifically advanced countries that form a consortium for a energy research project – the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) Project – and India’s participation in the Galileo Project are recognition of its ability to meaningfully contribute to the advancement of scientific research in the world. We note that some EU Member States have concerns about globalisation, including about increasing competition from countries like India. Here it must be appreciated that significant opportunities exist for a win-win situation for both sides. The EU’s own interest in increasing its competitiveness would be served in closer and mutually beneficial cooperation with India, especially in services and the knowledge economy. While the EU continues to press countries like India to open their markets, it also needs to acknowledge the necessity of opening its own services sector and facilitate the movement of professionals from non-EU countries.  

On the political front, India and the EU have an important stake in the reforms in the United Nations, which is still frozen in obsolete structures, in the whole WTO exercise, in the question of human rights and in dealing with the menace of global terrorism. That is why the relationship between India and Europe cannot be built solely through bilateral cooperation; we have to work together in addressing global issues that concern us all. The India-Europe relationship is an example of collaboration in the age of globalization. To my mind the India-Europe axis is extremely important as a factor for peace and stability on a global level. Globalization has far-reaching implications, beyond just the economic. It raises critical cultural questions that we need to address together, a fact that is often overlooked. The question of cultural identity in a pluralistic, multi-polar society is of paramount importance.

India and Europe are natural partners. We need to work together to tackle international issues affecting us – poverty, climate change, terrorism, migration as well as economic growth and prosperity. India is the world’s largest democracy. It is emerging as a significant economic power, especially in the areas of IT, and has significant achievements in many frontier areas of technology. Its middle class today numbers close to 300 million, and is growing. As one of the largest markets in the world, India seeks to strengthen its economic interaction with Europe. India and Europe can be partners in the building of a new global order based on prosperity, respect for human rights, tolerance, plurality and diversity, and the democratic order.

As head of India’s leading cultural organization, my focus is on people-to-people contacts. In this connection, the Government of India greatly appreciates the Erasmus Mundus Programme of the European Commission, which attracted 133 students from India last year. This year, the number is expected to be more than 300. Under this Programme, as you all know, Euros 33 million have been earmarked for 1000 scholarships to be granted over the next three years to students from India. The ICCR already runs, with great success, two Centres in Europe – in Berlin and in London. A third is being planned in Paris. There are numerous Chairs of Indian Studies abroad that we have set up in association with universities across the world, eight of which are stationed in Europe. We have constant cultural exchanges between India and the European nations. Music, dance, theatre, art exhibitions, film shows, as so on, form a major part of this association. The many Festivals of India held across a variety of countries are another prime example of this initiative. A very important addition to this cultural project is the cooperation between the ICCR and BOZAR. This Festival of India, organized by the ICCR in collaboration with the Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR), Brussels, is to be held in this city from October 2006 to January 2007, and will broadly comprise exhibitions, performing arts, lectures by eminent personalities, seminars, a film festival, a food festival and a fashion show which would revolve around the mega exhibition entitled “Tejas,” a word that means effulgence.

Let me then, in closing, once again express warm greetings to the people of Europe from the people of India – all 1.1 billion of them – and end with a poem by our great Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore which beautifully encapsulated our hopes and aspirations for a better future for all humanity: 

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awak