National security demands economic reforms: Shourie

Monday, 28 October 2002, 08:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: A senior Indian minister has warned that the security scenario in the region made it incumbent on New Delhi to vigorously implement economic reforms, a process that has been stalled by differences within the government.

By blocking reforms, not only is economic progress slowed down, but also "we confirm the perception that India is not able in the end to carry through its announcements. That perception itself is temptation to an enemy," Disinvestment Minister Arun Shourie held.

He was delivering the Cariappa Memorial Lecture Saturday evening on Forging a National Will. The event honors the late Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa, the first Indian to head the army after independence in 1947.

"When we do anything that slows economic progress, when we block the reforms that are necessary for that growth, we weaken the country.

"We expose it to danger: should we, for instance, have to turn to the IMF today, we would be squeezed not in spite of our atomic weapons, but because of them," Shourie contended.

The government's ambitious drive to divest its stake in state-run units has hit a roadblock due to opposition from senior cabinet ministers as also the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had summoned senior RSS leaders for a meeting Thursday in a bid to iron out the ideological differences. The meeting decided to increase the interaction between the BJP and the RSS.

Deftly weaving economic policies with national security, Shourie pointed to the "vast chasm we have to traverse in this regard".

The countries that were to eventually form ASEAN "had approached us at the very outset. We paid insufficient attention. The result is that a few days from now, China will be meeting ASEAN leaders to finalize an agreement for a free trade area. We will be meeting them to commence discussions for a trade and investment area of which we too can be a part," Shourie contended.

"Put to use, close economic relations fortify security," Shourie held, suggesting that if there were a border conflict between India and China, Washington would be loath to intervene on behalf of New Delhi.

"For American firms, China is today important not just as a market but as a manufacturing platform for exporting to third countries. American firms earn about $7-10 billion a year from China. With a trade surplus of approximately $80 billion ever year, China has accounted for a tenth of the total purchases of U.S. government securities," Shourie maintained.

"This makes governance in India the central task."

The defense forces were to a country "what an iron railing put around it is to a tree. In the end, howsoever strong the railing, howsoever sturdy and well polished it looks, it cannot protect a tree that has been hollowed by termites from within. The storm shall fell it," he warned.

But, "when the horizon of the political class" is pandemonium in Parliament, or the debating point that can be extracted from the headlines of the day, or the next bout of elections, "how can the policies and strategies that alone can enable us to deal with Pakistan and China be sustained and implemented for 20-30 years?" Shourie wondered.

He maintained that the general level of the political and economic class, "indeed of the entire lot that is in public life is certain to affect the formulation and conduct of security policy. And this is our Achilles' heel today".

Source: IANS
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