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Manmohan makes pitch for democracy

Harish Khare

"We believe that it empowers the most humble citizen and gives him a sense of dignity"

Manmohan Singh

NEW YORK: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday eloquently show-cased Indian democracy before a global forum and asserted that only democracy could ensure that the dispossessed and the voiceless of the world became "stakeholders in a millennium of peace and prosperity that we in the United Nations seek to accomplish."

Flanked by U.S. President George Bush and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Dr. Singh catalogued India's democratic achievements at the launch of the United Nations Democracy Fund at the U.N. headquarters here on Wednesday.

Dr. Singh offered to share India's "rich experience, institutional capabilities and training infrastructure with nations that share our values and beliefs and request our assistance." He also announced that India would "soon be establishing a virtual centre on the internet for providing information on democracy and a forum for the exchange of experience."

Recalling that Mahatma Gandhi was clear that "the end of colonial rule would mean very little unless the broad masses of the people of India were empowered with democracy," the Prime Minister noted that "India's awakening to freedom, in turn, inspired freedom movements in Asia and Africa."

Global relevance

Welcoming Mr. Bush's suggestion a year ago of a U.N. Democracy Fund, the Prime Minister noted the global relevance of the idea because "democracy alone gives the assurance that the developmental aspirations of the poorest citizens of our society will be taken into consideration."

Suggesting that democracy was a powerful ideal, Dr. Singh said it required "strong and enduring institutions, laws and procedures and the development of a parliamentary culture, whose essence is the accountability of those in authority to the ordinary citizens of the country."

In addition, a democracy, according to the Prime Minister, meant " a strong and independent judiciary, a free press, professional civil and military establishments, constitutionally empowered institutions to safeguard the rights of the minorities, of women and children and an independent electoral mechanism."

Making a connection with the 60th U.N. General Assembly session's focus on "the millennium development goals," Dr. Singh made out a case for democracy: "We believe that democracy based on universal adult suffrage empowers the most humble citizen of our democracy and gives him a sense of dignity. Poverty, illiteracy and socio-economic backwardness do not hinder the exercise of democracy. Quite the contrary, our experience of more than 50 years of democratic rule demonstrates how democracy is a most powerful tool to successfully overcome the challenge of development."

Meets business leaders

Later, Dr. Singh broke bread with some of the most powerful business leaders in the United States and made a pitch for their investments and interest in the Indian economy. The luncheon meeting was co-hosted by Indian Ambassador to the United States Ronen Sen and by William Harrison, Jr. of JP Morgan Chase.

Among those who attended the luncheon were Rex W. Tillerson (president, Exxon-Mobil), Jeffrey Immelt (Chairman and CEO, General Electric), William R. Rhodes (Chairman, Citicorp/Citibank), Martin J. Sullivan (president and CEO of American International Group), Andrew N. Liveris (Chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical), Steven R. Reinemund of Pepsico, Sy Sternbeg of New York Life, Ms. Patricia F. Russo of Lucent Technologies, Rupert K. Murdoch (Chairman, News Corporation), Stephen A. Schwarzman (Chairman and CEO of the Blackston Group), Charles Kaye (of the U.S. India Business Council) and John A. Thain, CEO of New York Stock Exchange.

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