Mar 30, 2012

India an elephant which is slow, but when it moves, it’s unstoppable

Translated text of Prime Minister’s interview in Korean Daily, JoongAng Ilbo

Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh (80) described his own country as an elephant. The Indus civilization, continent-sized country with the population of 1.2 billion had been sleeping. With his long experience as an economist and his personal stature, it was Manmohan Singh who awakened the sleeping elephant. On 19 March 2012, at the official residence of the Prime Minister in New Delhi, Singh said “India is an elephant, which is slow to move. But when it moves, you cannot stop”.
India had adopted the socialist pattern of economy after getting independence. It finally opened the doors to its huge market in 1991 when Singh became the Finance Minister and by doing so strengthened the competitiveness of the nation. Since 2004, as the Prime Minister of India, Singh has been crafting the economic development policy of the country with a human face. India, in the last decade, has been one of the fastest-growing economies in the world after China, with average annual growth rates of 6%. Inspired by his leadership, the JoongAng Ilbo requested an interview with Manmohan Singh who is visiting Seoul on 24-27 March 2012 for the Nuclear Security Summit and bilateral Summit.
JoongAng Ilbo:You must have faced strong resistance when you tried to carry out economic reforms. How could you break through the resistance and what was the toughest?
Prime Minister: In human affairs, the status quo has a great appeal because it is rooted in reality. Therefore, whenever you want to change things, move away from status quo, there is resistance. But I have great faith in the people of our country. It is because of the support of the people that we were able to get the country out of a deep economic crisis that it was in 1991. And since 1991, there are several parties which have ruled our country and it is a tribute to our leadership that this change in political leadership has not affected the process of economic reform so that underlying there is a great national consensus in favour of the reform, in favour of the liberalization process.
(Congress is the ruling party in the parliamentary system of India with a coalition government of many parties. Manmohan Singh belongs to the Congress party. He has a Master’s degree and doctorate in economics from Cambridge and Oxford University respectively.)
JoongAng Ilbo: Sonia Gandhi (66) heads the Congress party. How do you maintain such cordial relations with the one from different religion and region and gender for 8 years?
Prime Minister: “Our historical experience has forged a national narrative that is marked by a respect for plurality and diversity. We regard these as strengths rather than limitations. The founding fathers of our nation laid down certain fundamental principles which made us seek our economic and social salvation within the framework of a pluralistic democracy wedded to the rule of law”.
JoongAng Ilbo: What is your image of the past, present and future of Korea?
Prime Minister: The Republic of Korea’s transformation and its emergence as a vibrant democracy, one of the fastest growing economies in the world and a powerhouse of innovation in just two generations is an inspiration for the whole of Asia. I am aware of the odds you fought against and the sacrifice you made in the early years of building your nation to gain your prestige and position you enjoy today. It is a reflection of your enlightened leadership and the resolve of the South Korean people. The Republic of Korea is a factor for peace, stability and prosperity in East Asia.
(The editor conveyed the message of President Lee Myung Bak to the Prime Minister before starting the interview. PM Singh said "I have great admiration for President Lee. We had the privilege of having the President as our Chief Guest on our Republic Day in 2010.)
JoongAng Ilbo: What would be the topic that you would like to bring up the most when you meet President Lee at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul?
Prime Minister: We will talk about giving depth and greater meaning to our Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, strengthen people-to-people contacts between our two countries, strengthen cooperation in the field of science and technology, and also coordinate our thinking in matters relating to regional security, international events, and since this is an occasion which coincides with Nuclear Security Summit, we can work together to promote nuclear security and safety in this world that we live in.
JoongAng Ilbo: Do you think that USA is keeping China in check? Have you faced situations where you were forced to choose between China and USA?
Prime Minister: China is our largest neighbor with which we share a long border. It is also our biggest trading partner in goods. With USA, our relations have been transformed in 2005. Three million people of Indian origin live and work in the US. The country is also India's largest business partner. Our aim is to have cooperative ties with both China and USA. It is not zero-sum game. I do not think that large and dynamic countries like China can be contained.
JoongAng Ilbo: Recently, Wall Street Journal opined that India’s bureaucratic red tape and corruption have been discouraging foreign investment. Korean steel company POSCO’s project in Orissa is still pending.
Prime Minister: Outside observers often tend to take a narrow view of our economic policies. India is a far more open economy today than it was earlier. We are governed by the rule of law, and as a functioning democracy, we need to be mindful of the concerns and sensitivities of all sections and stakeholders and take their interests into account. It is my sincere hope that the issues pertaining to the POSCO project would be resolved soon to the satisfaction of all parties. Over 300 South Korean companies are present in India. We plan to invest one trillion dollars in infrastructure development in areas like highways, airports, power plants, mass transport systems and so on in next five years. We would like to see more South Korean companies come to India and take advantage of our youthful and skilled labor force. Opportunities in India are wide open.
(Indian government officials point out that the country has a 300 million middle class with excellent purchasing power in its 1.2 billion population. As such India is a big market though the rich-poor gap exists. 50-70% of home appliances market in India is dominated by Samsung and LG. Hyundai occupies 20% of small car market, after Suzuki which has 50% share.
Our editor found Dr. Singh a humble man, who described himself as an “extinguished economist”. He is a statesman who has gone through all kinds of ups and downs. His eyes, visible through the horn-rimmed glasses were gentle and the light of wisdom was shining.)
Editor in Chief – Chun
March 23, 2012

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