Democracy in India
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 20 Jun 1973, p. 12-22
Gandhi, Mrs. Indira, Speaker
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Item Type
A discussion and review of India today and tomorrow, from the time of modern Indian history beginning with the struggle for independence. A further discussion of India's recent events and political development, including thoughts on freedom, democracy, peaceful change, education, social justice, social programs, economy, etc. Canada's contributions in credits and grants. Trade issues. Poverty. Foreign relations. India's progress towards a modern nation.
Date of Original
20 Jun 1973
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text
JUNE 20, 1973
Democracy in India
JOINT MEETING The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto
CHAIRMAN Robert L. Armstrong, President, The Empire Club of Canada


New Delhi, Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, Bengal, the Taj Mahal, the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the Himalayas, the Ganges (the River of the Gods and in India called Ganga), are names that conjure up in the minds of Canadians the mysteries of India. It is interesting to note that as many as 10,000 Canadians will visit India this year. We enjoy a warm and friendly relationship with the people of the great sub-continent of India and today we of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto, supported by members of The Canadian Institute of International Affairs, The Royal Commonwealth Society and The English Speaking Union, as well as many other guests, extend a cordial welcome to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who holds the preeminent position as leader of the largest democracy in the world. Mrs. Gandhi presides over a government which serves 550,000,000 people, more or less. She is indeed paramount in her field among women and men.

Mrs. Gandhi is a dedicated activist, a confirmed believer in women's rights and in the political power of women. When on a state visit to Washington in 1966 she was asked if she could handle a man-sized job, and was she a feminist? She replied, "I do not regard myself as a woman. I am a person with a job to do." On the same occasion she said, "My assumption of office as Prime Minister has occasioned no surprise in India. We women have for years played a prominent role in the freedom struggle, in politics and in public life. We have women engineers, women governors, women ambassadors, women judges, women diplomats and administrators. " The emancipation of women took place many years before under the leadership of an earlier Gandhi, the great protagonist of non-violent resistence, Mohandas K. Gandhi, known to the world as Mahatma Gandhi. As an aside, the chauvinistic males of the Empire and Canadian Clubs have only emancipated women to admit them to membership within the last two years, and as recently as Monday of this week, a similar emancipation has taken place in the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Toronto.

Our guest of honour is the only child of the late Prime Minister Nehru. She was educated in Switzerland, at Somerville College, Oxford and later in India. Following her schooling, she joined the Congress Party and as its leader became Prime Minister in January 1966 and has firmly established undisputed leadership of the large ruling wing of the Party. Mrs. Gandhi has risen to her present position of power in her great nation by reason of her boundless determination and her humanitarian desire to alleviate the suffering of the masses and to lead her people to freedom. Her mentor was her father who was the first Prime Minister of the Republic of India and an apostle of the earlier mentioned Mahatma Gandhi, the leading figure in the nationalist movement. All three of these famous leaders, including our guest of honour, were imprisoned at one time or other for their political activities and during the imprisonment of Mrs. Gandhi's father, he wrote a series of letters, subsequently published in 1931 under the title, Letters from a Father to his Daughter.

On the human interest side, evidence of our guest of honour's concern for conditions in India commenced in early childhood. It is reported that she, an avid reader, had become fascinated by stories of Joan of Arc and at under ten years of age was found one day by her aunt standing at the balustrade of the veranda at her home with outstretched arms as if persuading an imaginary audience of her mission. When questioned by her aunt she said, "I am practising being Joan of Arc. Some day I am going to lead my people to freedom just as Joan of Arc did." She felt at this tender age she was taking part in her country's call to the struggle for freedom.

At 12 or 13 she set up a children's volunteer organization consisting of hundreds of children, boys and girls, rich and poor, to assist in the freedom fight. The organization was named Vanar Sena (Monkey Army) after a story in the old Hindu epic, Ramayana. Rama was the eldest son, and heir apparent, of a king. Through a conspiracy, the Prince Rama and his beautiful Princess, Sita, were exiled to a forest where a demon king abducted Sita. Then, Hanuman, the King of the Monkeys, offered to search for her and collected his tribe of monkeys which pursued the demon king and rescued the fair damsel. From this fascinating tale came the Monkey Army which our speaker built into a bond of union between children and adults. Thousands of children joined her Monkey Army. She drilled them, marched them and instructed them in their allotted duties. The Monkey Army worked as an auxiliary of the Indian National Congress, making flags, addressing envelopes, serving water to volunteers in processions and even posting notices of meetings after dark. They formed an underground communications system. In the innocence of playing hopscotch near police stations, the children would obtain helpful information to pass on to the adults.

Mrs. Gandhi was Minister of Information and Broadcasting from 1964 to 1966, and concurrently Chairman of the Planning Commission, President of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Minister of External Affairs from 1967 to 1969, Minister of Finance from 1969 to 1970, Minister of Home Affairs since June 1970, and again Minister of Information and Broadcasting from March 1971.

I shall not attempt to detail Mrs. Gandhi's many other accomplishments except to say that in 1971 she was chosen by a Gallup Poll Survey in the U.S.A. as the most admired person in the world. She has been and still is associated with a multitude of humanitarian organizations and institutions. We are today highly honoured by the presence of a beautiful, dynamic, dedicated and devoted leader of a great nation. We warmly welcome to our midst the Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, who will now address us.

Madam Gandhi.


Mr. Chairman, Mr. Minister, Madam Minister, His Worship the Mayor and distinguished guests: first of all I should like to thank you for your very kind words. I should like to speak to you about India today and tomorrow in the hope that a distinguished gathering of scholars and active participants in public affairs would be interested to know the assessment of one who has seen Indian events unfold, sometimes from the sidelines and often nearer the centre.

Of course, I am partisan and have a vested interest in India's success.

Modern Indian history began with our struggle for independence. We are still in the phase of an ascendant, affirmative nationalism like many other Asian and African countries.

Nearly half of India's people have been born free and have no personal memory of the colonial days. We are engaged in building the nation, in giving political freedom its full economic and social content.

Foreign voices and some Indian echoes frequently ask whether India will hold together. To Indians themselves political unity and cohesiveness are not in question. However, we do know that this unity, like freedom, has to be constantly defended and worked for.

In a vast country characterized by the widest imaginable diversity, it is natural for region and language to make a powerful claim to individual loyalty, but our conviction that diversity can be a greater source of strength than any imposed uniformity has prevented parochial passions from becoming a divisive force. Responsiveness to and accomodation of legitimate local grievances has lent strength to the total fabric.

Our constitution reflects the complexity of our society and also its capacity for self-correction. It has helped our endeavour of nation building.

Although the framework of the constitution owes much to our association with Britain and other members of the Commonwealth, its spirit and indeed the motive force of our entire political system was generated through the long years of the struggle for freedom under the guidance of Mahatma Gandhi and my father Jarwahrlal Nehru.

The unity of India is not a legacy of the British. Through the centuries India has been a cultural entity which neither conquest nor the changing boundaries of its kingdoms were able to erode. Its political unity in modern terms was a product of the fight against foreign rule and of challenges faced together.

To us freedom was the beginning of the new journey, the door to changes that had been held in abeyance, an opportunity to rid Indian society of hierarchy and social inequality.

Our state policy has four major premises, democracy, socialism, secularism and a non-aligned independent foreign policy. They are not unconnected objectives but have an organic inter-relationship that is consistent with our traditions.

Democracy is more than a value. It is the best means of bringing about economic and social development without violence and disruption.

The belief that no country has a moral right to rule over another has its corollary that no group within a country can arrogate to itself the right to make decisions for others.

Freedom can be complete only when equality is not the preserve of a small power elite and when Government is of all. The political process has succeeded in evoking the involvement of a large proportion of our vast population.

A majority of our workers may lack formal education, but they have displayed as sure an understanding of issues as their more educated counterparts in other countries. For us the justification of politics is elimination of poverty and disparity.

Development constitutes a special dimension of our democracy. It is generally recognized that a change is taking place along desired lines and has enabled democracy to take root.

The democratic system permits the opponents, not only of the government of the day, but of the system itself, to propagate their viewpoint. In return it expects a sense of responsibility from them, indeed from all citizens.

The basis of democracy is that people by and large will have the discrimination to sift the false from the true and the wisdom to reconcile personal or group advantages with the larger benefit of the people as a whole. At the same time the ideal of egalitarianism does release envy at all levels and the highly competitive nature of contemporary society tempts people to use any means to get ahead. Thus the interests of an individual or a group are in constant clash with the welfare of the community.

How far is it possible to inculcate a selfless attitude without the sort of brainwashing that impinges upon freedom of thought? How does one reconcile the demands for individual freedom with those of order?

We have also our share of those who do not believe in peaceful change in parliamentary institutions. We have extremists who have preached and in small areas attempted murder and expropriation. We have fanatical parties which are opposed to secularism. By secularism we mean that the state will not further the interest of any one religion, or religious creed to the detriment of others, but will show equal respect for all religions.

We do not feel there is any conflict between the secular and the sacred. The evil, the spectacular, the out-of-the-way attracts headlines. These happenings must be seen in perspective.

India, as you have pointed out, has more people than the North and South American continents and Australia combined. Of our twenty-one states, twelve have more than twenty million people each and the largest state has ninety million. That is my state.

We have troubles and uncertainties, but the over-all reality is of a people who are growing in political consciousness, assertion and articulation, impatient for faster change and at the same time more confident of their capacity.

Democracy will hold in India provided it can withstand the attempts to deny equality and towards change in the name of the liberty of the individual, which unfortunately is what some groups are attempting. They level wholly unjustified criticism in invoking the spectre of a totalitarian collectivism, a monster state which is attacking basic rights.

This reveals a failure to comprehend the changes which are taking place the world over; the mood of our own people, and the fact that there are many varieties of socialism.

We cherish freedom of speech, of association and of belief, and the right to life, liberty, and the protection of law, but we cannot agree that fundamental liberties include opportunities for a small number of individuals to amass unlimited property. People steeped in poverty naturally yearn for relief from want and social injustice. This can be achieved only through a vast expansion of the productive apparatus and equitable distribution of the fruits of progress.

It is obvious that development cannot be left to the mercy of market forces. The profit motive which deifies the rights of owners of property denies hope to millions. State intervention becomes necessary to insure that the limited resources are directed into priority sectors of the economy.

We do not follow the extreme path of forced savings through the use of state power. We have tried to bring basic industries, financial institutions and wholesale wheat trade under public control and initiate measures for social investment.

We aim at growth with social justice. A different strategy might have yielded increased industrial production and a higher rate of growth, but there is no doubt that any approach leading to greater concentration of economic power in private hands would give cause for explosive social tensions and would distort, even disrupt, our entire democratic structure.

Economic development on the state initiative has taken us decisively forward to a self-reliance in industry and technology. Although so much noise is made about our socialism, the state sector's present share of the national expenditure in India is still very much lower than in Canada or the United States.

In metals, machine tools and power equipment, as well as in railway rolling stock, ship building, automobiles, aircraft, telecommunications, electronics and petroleum refining, our production and indigenous technological capability has increased. We are now able to design and build our own steel mills, fertilizer factories and atomic power stations.

As in other countries the development of industry has enabled the modernization of agriculture. Major and medium dams and canal systems have added twenty-four million acres to the irrigated areas and there is wide-spread adoption of modern methods of farming, resulting in a doubling of the grain production.

This year a bad drought has affected us along with other countries of Asia and we have suffered a setback in agricultural output, but we have reached a stage which, given reasonably normal rainfall, reduces imports of grain to the minimum.

We are now drawing up the details of our fifth five-year plan. Its main thrust is to fill the gaps in self-reliance, promote the social well being of the poorest sections and secure fuller utilization of capacities already created.

Our social programs will give importance to the provision of house sites for the landless, inputs and credits for the small farmer in rain-poor areas, better housing in slums, more rural electrification, employment schemes for the educated unemployed and greater attention to family planning.

We are also anxious to reduce our need for concessional foreign credits. In the last two decades about one-fifth of our expenditure on development has come from aid.

Up to May 1st this year Canada alone has given us a billion dollars. We are grateful for the credits and grants and particularly appreciate the fact that Canadian credits have been among the most liberal and most unencumbered that we have received, but as our economic base gains strength, our endeavour will be to earn our external resources through trade rather than aid.

In terms of your over-all trade, the volume of trade between our two countries has been small. Ninety percent of Canada's trade is with the Atlantic nations and Japan. Of the $2,000,000,000 trade with the rest of the world, the two-way trade with India amounted to $142,000,000 last year. Of this Canadian exports amounted to $98,000,000 and imports from India to $44,000,000.

It should be possible to identify areas in which our trade and economic co-operation could be augmented. In fact, one of the tasks before enlightened international leadership is to revise trade policies and practices and reduce the handicap suffered by developing countries.

Any tendency to form exclusive clubs would lead to hardship and bitterness in the developing countries and harmful consequences for the future of the world.

The majority of the world's people live in sordid conditions, deprived of basic necessities. At the same time the sudden fear of affluent nations that the earth's resources are fast running out has prompted a reluctance to help the development plans of poor nations. There is no doubt that the rate of population growth must be controlled. So must the rate at which advanced societies consume non-renewable resources.

It is known that each individual in an industrially advanced country uses up as much as twenty persons in a developing country. Can nations which took advantage of the earlier industrial revolution assume prospector's rights to the world's air, water and other assets, devouring late-comers?

The challenge before human civilization is to develop new norms of satisfaction which will be equitable for all.

Even in the days before the emergence of the sovereign country, we firmly believed that the world's problems could be solved by pooling the wisdom of all nations. Colonialism and racial discrimination are evils which could be fought only by activating the conscience of the world.

Poverty is an international problem. The problem of many nations has been largely the result of colonial exploitation. To us peace and international co-operation appear essential for the removal of poverty.

Our foreign policy rejected any hegemony and sought to promote equality, friendship and peaceful co-existence amongst nations. This policy has been characterized as non-alignment. The negative prefix describes abstention from military blocks but non-alignment has also a positive connation. In asserting our right to shape our own policies, we naturally accept the right of others to do so and thus build a base of tolerance and friendship.

Non-alignment was decried by some fundamentalists as a refusal to make ethical choices. We did make ethical choices. That is why we are non-aligned.

It was difficult to regard the transitory power factions of the postwar world in terms of moral imperatives. Fortunately the essentials of non-alignment have at last come to be accepted by others. The age of crusades seems to be ending, at least outwardly. Detentes have attracted powerful adherents but detentes should lead, not to compacts for the sharing of power, but become the starting point of a new international endeavour to improve the human ambience, be it the removal of poverty, the reduction of terror and violence, or the restoration of the purity of our environment.

We do not seek conventional military strength. We are not interested in becoming a power, major or minor, and certainly not a nuclear power.

The founding fathers of our nation asked the question: Can India become a modern nation without sacrificing harmony and human values, without being caught up in the pursuit of possessions?

The answer is: India can and will and this is what we are working for.

India has given much to human civilization. Even in the dark age of colonial subjection, we had men of radiance. A nation which comprises one-seventh of mankind must have some contribution to make. It can do so when its millions are given the opportunity of developing their personalities. The transfer of scientific knowledge has brought with it a strong imitative propensity. Increasing awareness of conditions elsewhere has spread dissatisfaction with conditions at home, but I see also a tremendous upsurge of confidence and creative endeavour in our young people.

The old insights, the conditioning of the last fifty years and the new vigour may yet combine to enable India to map out a distinctive part in human development.

May I once again thank you all for your very warm welcome. It is a privilege and a pleasure for me to come to Canada again after several years to see how much progress there is, but even more to feel something of a friendship which your country has shown, a friendship and understanding, and a friendship which is today being shown to me. I am sure this, as I have said on an earlier occasion, is not meant for me as an individual, but for what my country stands for.

I think we can be, Canada and India, as someone has said, good companions in this great task of making a better world.

Thank you.

Mrs. Gandhi was thanked on behalf of the Joint Meeting by Mr. L. S. McMahon, First Vice-President of The Canadian Club of Toronto.

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Democracy in India

A discussion and review of India today and tomorrow, from the time of modern Indian history beginning with the struggle for independence. A further discussion of India's recent events and political development, including thoughts on freedom, democracy, peaceful change, education, social justice, social programs, economy, etc. Canada's contributions in credits and grants. Trade issues. Poverty. Foreign relations. India's progress towards a modern nation.