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The future of Indo-US relations

August 14, 2007
As Independent India turns 60 on August 15, we present a collection of inspiring words by our visionary leaders, extracted from the book, Great Speeches of Modern India, with the kind permission of the publishers, Random House India.

Before we read the words of then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao outlining the reasons for closer India-United States ties, it's over to journalist and historian Rudrangshu Mukherjee, who edited the book:

Narasimha Rao was a low-key but very cerebral prime minister. He had no charisma and very little style but he turned around India's policies and standing in two important spheres. He inaugurated through his finance minister, Manmohan Singh, the era of liberalisation and economic reform, and thus set India on the path of economic growth and development. He also completely altered the direction of India's foreign policy. During the Cold War, India had followed a policy of non-alignment but on all crucial matters had supported the Soviet Union. This had only increased India's distance from the USA. The collapse of Communism left India's foreign policy without any direction and adrift from the world's only superpower.

Rao single-handedly gave to India's foreign policy a pro-US direction. In this speech, Rao does this with amazing intellectual depth and deftness. He was also the only prime minister after Nehru who wrote his own speeches.

Part 1 of the series: The dawn of freedom

P V Narasimha Rao (1921-2004)
To both Houses of the United States Congress, Washington, DC, May 1994

It is with great pleasure and a deep sense of honour that I address you today. Standing in this august hall, as two great Indian statesmen did before me, is an inspiration to all, who hold democracy and freedom above all else. If, as Thomas Carlyle once wrote, 'the history of the world is but the biography of great men,' then much of the world's recent history is owed to these chambers.

The histories of our two nations have been intertwined by the words and deeds of great men and women. Christopher Columbus set off to discover a new route to India, only to discover a new world. Out of that unintended discovery was born a great nation. Undaunted by, rather big difference, he discovered in his destination, Columbus remarked, this time with perfect accuracy, that the more you go East, the more you are assured to come upon theWest. Thus America has a special place in the Indian thinking, as a continent found further east of the known East. This direction is significant in its own way. In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson spoke of, 'freedom of religion, freedom of Press, and freedom of person under the protection of habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected.'

Part II of the series: The crisis of civilisation

When India gained independence, we accepted these fundamental freedoms, and looked to the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights while formulating the Constitution of the world's largest democracy. Now, both countries are forever joined by the shared values of secularism, political pluralism and the rule of law. The spirit of America's Declaration of Independence so moved Indian spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda that on July 4, 1898, he wrote a poem titled, 'To the Fourth of July':

'Move on, O Lord, in the resistless path!
Till the high noon overspreads the world,
Till every land reflects Thy light,
Till men and women with uplifted head
Behold their shackles broken, and
Know in springtime joy, their life renewed.'

Also read: Who divided India?
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