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Euronews (Ms. Chiara Reid): Mr. President, thank you very much for welcoming us into your house and for participating in this Global Conversation, a conversation in which we hope we shed some light on some of the most crucial issues at the heart of India today.

You have been at the forefront of Indian politics for six decades. You participated in the very creation of the modern Indian state. And now, since last year, as its President you have a unique insight into the challenges that lay ahead.

Let us take a look at the forthcoming engagement. You are about to embark on a trip to Brussels, the heart of Europe. What is your mission in this trip?

President of India (Shri Pranab Mukherjee): First of all I would like to express my deep gratitude to His Majesty the King for inviting me to visit beautiful Brussels.

Though I had been there, as it is an important centre of economic activity and many others, on earlier occasions, but as Head of the State, as the President of the Republic, perhaps mine is the first visit ever by an Indian President to Belgium. Of course recently we have started having high-level contacts. We had the privilege of welcoming His Majesty Albert II sometime in 2008. Even the present King His Majesty Philip visited when he was Crown Prince and led a very substantial delegation to have discussions with Indian leaders on many aspects of Indo-Belgium bilateral relationship. Therefore, I would like to reiterate India’s commitment to build up a deeper relationship with Belgium.

Euronews: You are coming for a cultural event as well, Europalia, this magnificent show of all what is Indian culture and arts.

President of India: Of course. And this is one of the most significant aspects of our relationship. As you know, India is the oldest civilisation of the world. Though as a nation state our experiment is comparatively new, but India is the home of the oldest civilisation.

Euronews: …(Inaudible)… goes back many many years.

President of India: And the essential ingredient of Indian civilisation is it is pluralistic. Respect for pluralism, acceptance of diversity, trying to find out underlying unity and convergence amidst this diversity are the trends of the Indian culture. Therefore, in this festival in which we are participating - it is a huge participation I would put it in this way because - more than 200 artistes from different parts of India will participate. Seven very important exhibitions, 15 musical performances, seven dancing groups led by eminent performing artistes are participating in it. And we would like to convey the depth of our culture which conveys the message which I have just now spoken – unity amidst diversity, convergence in differences.

Euronews: That is a great message. But you are coming to Europe at a time when both India and the EU are grappling with great economic difficulties. We heard a lot about the Euro crisis. But India’s problems have taken us by surprise. You are supposed to be the future, the smart industrial powerhouse, one of the so-called BRICS countries. So, what happened there?

President of India: First of all I would like to express my views on this issue. I am fully aware of it because I myself was involved.

When the crisis began, the first financial crisis in 2008, of course there was the delayed impact in India but just at that time I had to bear the additional responsibility of heading the Finance Ministry because my predecessor and also my successor Mr. Chidambaram was then shifted from Finance Ministry to Ministry of Home Affairs because of some urgency. And with my substantive responsibility as Foreign Minister, I had to bear the additional responsibility of Ministry of Finance as I had past experience. I served as Finance Minister of Mrs. Indira Gandhi when she was Prime Minister in the 70s and 80s for a number of years. Therefore, I had to face this problem.

And my immediate concern was, as you have said, the great problem of India, very substantial. Indian GDP was growing at a fast rate of around 9 per cent plus. But when I took over I found out that there was on a fortnightly basis sliding down of the GDP growth. Naturally before that the first summit when George Bush who was the President of USA took place of G20 countries. And this new output emerged to tackle the problems. In the G20 it was agreed upon by a broad consensus that there should be requirement of providing stimulus package to address the current problem.

From hindsight we can say that we did not understand the depth of the crisis at that point of time. So, immediately we had to rush, and like most other countries we provided stimulus package to ensure that fastest sliding down of the GDP growth leading to unemployment could be arrested.

Frankly speaking, we could not recover from that shock. I am not talking of India but also the whole world. In India we got some temporary relief because in the year from 9 per cent GDP growth we had registered a 6.7 per cent. But in the remaining two years, we registered high growth of 8.7 and 9.3. But again from the third year it started sliding down. That is because the problem is at the root. And in that root there is a commonality of the problems of Eurozone and ourselves, and most of the emerging countries, and some of the developed countries also that our borrowing is not matching our mobilisation of the resources.

Therefore, though the symptom was visible in four smaller countries in Europe – Portugal, Ireland and Spain …(Inaudible)…that is high sovereign debt. How to bridge the gap? It required radical reforms. Many of the European countries did it even taking the risk. I salute them. They were politically sagacious enough to take the risk of losing the elections but resorted to required reforms.

Question: And do you think India will do that too?

President of India: India has already started doing it.

Question: But there is more need for reforms, do you think?

President of India: I am coming to that point. We shall have to also keep in mind the size of Indian population, the level of uneven development. Most of the advanced countries, their manufacturing sector is highly developed. Service sector and manufacturing sector’s contribution to the GDP is very substantial. But in India we cannot afford to adopt that model because I have to feed 1.2 billion plus people.

Therefore, I shall have to emphasise on agriculture, I shall have to emphasise on the development of rural India which is about more than 70 per cent of our total population, of the huge population of 1.2 billion plus people. Therefore, our developmental strategy to some extent will have to be country specific as we do believe each and every country has specific problems which ought to be addressed in the context of the socioeconomic conditions prevailing in that region.

The third point, to resolve the problem of Eurozone, you know even during the tenure of the previous IMF Director Dominique measures were taken. And Christine Lagarde subsequently through IMF the package came out. But in almost half a dozen meetings of G20 apart from the summits which took place at the level of the Finance Ministers. I participated and on behalf of India I extended my whole support, because my economic development and progress is closely linked with Euro. Europe is too serious not merely for Europe but the world economy.

First a simple example I am giving you. Europe is the second largest export destination of India, second largest source of foreign investment. Therefore, and what has happened, one of the major reasons, when the demand in these advanced economies weakened, whether it is North America, whether it is Japan, whether it is Europe which account substantially for our export and foreign investment, their economy became weak. Naturally it will have its own implications to us. But we have to address it and at the same time we will have to take care of our own domestic problems.

But I do agree that in today’s context when the world is becoming economically integrated and global economy is no longer a dream but a reality, we shall have to work collectively but it will give you the country-specific requirements and the strategy which ought to be developed in the context to address the particular situation.

Euronews: Talking rightly about cooperation, the EU and India are strategic partners and there is a free trade and investment agreement on the table since 2007. If it was complete, it would affect positively the lives of over 1.8 billion people. How do you think we can kick start this now?

President of India: Of course now I cannot directly respond or directly act on it but my advice to my colleagues in the Ministry would be that fifteen rounds of negotiations have been complete. I was also closely monitoring it when I was in the Ministry of Finance. Large number of areas of agreement we have reached. There are only a very few areas of differences. We should narrow down those differences and this Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement should be concluded so that we can get benefit, as you have said, of 1.8 billion people.

Euronews: Are these areas you still have to tackle for example the amount of red tape that there is in India or the requirement of controls for imports of ...

President of India: What I feel is that there are certain areas where there is a conceptual difference. But at the same time, we have done it with ASEAN, we have done it at bilateral level with a large number of countries. But mere doing it with ASEAN or attempting to do it within the framework of SAARC, is not same, European Union is most important. And that is why, as I mentioned, from 2007 we have already completed fifteen rounds of talks. These are the areas of differences but I am not going into the nitty-gritty. What I want to emphasise is that we must resolve and reach the agreement sooner than later.

Euronews: Yes. We heard a lot in the last twelve months about another issue, violence against women in India. Is the media do you think giving us the real picture because there is quite a difficult picture of India portrayed abroad? Do you think they are giving us the real and faithful picture or there is another side to this story?

President of India: One point has to be kept in mind. Some of these events are really disturbing as the incident in December of the last year. Many times I have described that it shook the national conscience. It was an incident affecting an individual or a couple of individuals, but it shook the conscience of the nation. Thereafter there has been a series of debates and discussions. But this media exposure to a considerable extent is because of the fact that Indian women are normally shy, especially the rural, and this type of events had to swallow and …(Inaudible)… Earlier they did not report it. But nowadays these are being adequately reported. In one way it is good. Though for the time being it is projecting a distorted image of India, but at the same time we cannot ignore the ground reality. If it happens, it will have to be addressed and it will have to be recognised that it has happened.

But what I can assure you is that all the measures which we have taken already and which we are contemplating, one of the basic objective of our inclusive growth is empowerment, empowerment of weaker sections, empowerment of women. In our local bodies, more than three million elected local representatives participate in the decision making of local developments including primary education, primary health, economic development of the area concerned. One-third seats are reserved for only women. Right now when I am speaking before you, more than 1.2 million women chiefs of these local bodies are exercising their authority.

Euronews: Yes, because that is true, you have to give women more clout, more education and more clout. Also men, do not men need to be re-educated a bit?

President of India: That is absolutely needed - awareness-building, education, creating consensus. That is why I have …(Inaudible)… and I have asked my countrymen to reset our moral compass because India is always known for respect for women. We deify them. Our important deities are women.

Euronews: And you had one of the first women leader of a country Indira Gandhi to whom you were very close. And you predecessor in your position now was also a woman.

President of India: Even historically I can say very mighty empress was a woman. Delhi was ruled by Sultana Razia. During the regime of Jahangir, another very important Mughal ruler, the actual ruler was Noor Jahan his wife.

Euronews: But there is a gap between this educated urban women and the women in the rural areas and necessarily that gap needs to be bridged.

President of India: In the example that I gave you, that gap is being rapidly bridged in the rural areas because in the local self government of the rural areas, as I pointed out, where the 1.2 million women chiefs are running the local units. They are not English educated. Many of them are educated, but most of them are brought up in Indian tradition. And they know how to rule, how to implement their decisions, how to take the correct decisions, and they are doing so. But at the same time, as I pointed out, as a nation we must respond to this and correct it.

Euronews: After a decade of relative quiet we have seen an increase of violence at the Line of Control with Pakistan. We know it is in the news on the front pages these days. You are the Chief Commander, Supreme Commander of the army as the President. Do you have an idea of how can you stop this escalation of violence, and do you think you will see peace between Pakistan and India in your lifetime?

President of India: Our Prime Minister has made a very important statement in the UN General Assembly. He has also extended his hand of cooperation to Pakistan Prime Minister who used the same forum just a day before. Prime Minister has pointed out that India is ready to cooperate with Pakistan for restoration of peace, normalcy, and solve all outstanding issues including the problem of Jammu and Kashmir, through bilateral discussions.

In 1971 when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was Prime Minister of Pakistan, India entered into an agreement which is known as Shimla Agreement. In that Shimla Agreement, India ceded all the occupied territories which Indian Army during the war captured. Ninety-one thousand imprisoned soldiers, prisoners of war, were returned. This was just to show the goodwill that in our basic foreign policy we do not have any territorial ambition, we do not have any ambition to export our ideology to any country or we do not have any commercial interests.

Euronews: It has been like that always for India. Even in the old Indian history it has always been like that.

President of India: Yes. Therefore, we want to have good relations with our neighbours. When I was Foreign Minister, more than often I used to say that I can change my friends if I like but I cannot change my neighbours if I like. I shall have to accept the neighbour the way he is. He is my neighbour. Whether I like it or not does not matter. Therefore, it is for me to decide whether I live with my neighbour in tension or in peace. We opted for peace.

Therefore, I myself visited Pakistan. When Benazir was assassinated, I offered to reach there but because of their other domestic at that time it was under General Musharraf. And we have good relations with Nawaz Sharif at the personal level also and Prime Minister is going to meet him. But one point is to be understood. No country can compromise its territorial integrity. That is not possible.

Second thing is terrorism. Terrorist activities must be curbed. And state-sponsored terrorism can never be accepted. Therefore, repeatedly we are saying, please dismantle the terrorist outfits which are located in your area.

Euronews: India says that this is state-sponsored terrorism and of course Pakistan says it is not state-sponsored terrorism.

President of India: It may not be. But non-state actors, that is the phrase they used, then I responded by saying that non-state actors are not coming from heaven. Non-state actors are coming from territory under your control. And not now, in 2004 Pakistan agreed that their territories will not be allowed to be used by forces inimical to India.

Euronews: India is going to vote next spring. Major General Elections are coming up. I know you cannot talk about party politics in your position today. But you are a senior politician. You have seen so much of Indian politics. So, can you tell me really briefly what you think are the key issues that are going to win or lose the elections?

President of India: Various issues are being projected by various parties. India is a multiparty democratic system, largest functional democracy of the world. Our total electorate is nearly 800 million and about 60 per cent of them exercise their voting right regularly. I have tremendous faith and confidence on the political wisdom of Indian electorate. They know which outfit is to be chosen by them to further their interests, economic development, inclusive growth, maintenance of law and order, protection of internal security and protection from external threat. So, Indian electorate are fully aware of their responsibility, and I am confident that they will exercise their right very wisely.

Euronews: But will they vote thinking about those issues you just said? Will they vote thinking about the economy, the inclusiveness, and the employment; or will they vote for example with their stomach? You did a very huge food plan to distribute food to everybody. Is this a way also to ...

President of India: No of course, there are certain important programmes which will be debated and that is a strategy of our economic development. When I was talking of the inclusive growth, it is just not an empty phrase. How could we achieve the inclusive growth? Inclusive growth we could achieve by empowering people, empowering people through entitlement and entitlement through legal enactment, legal guarantee. We have given this guarantee in respect of the job in the rural areas. We have given this guarantee to education up to the age of 14 years, universal education. We have given this empowerment to the Indian people. More than two-thirds of them will be provided backed by legal guarantee with certain quantum of food at subsidised price – 66 per cent of the population of 1.2 billion - which is called food security. Of course, these important flagship economic programmes are being debated, and people express their view during the General Election.

Euronews: I just asked you about this because I read in The Economist, they kind of criticised that plan because it would cost a lot, one per cent of the GDP. Actually the money could have been better spent according to this magazine, if it was devoted to sanitation, health, building roads, instead of distributing five kilos of cereals to 70 per cent of the people.

President of India: One does not cancel the other. Nothing prevents from improving sanitation, nothing prevents from improving health, education. Currently when we are talking of this, apart from this Food Security Bill which has been passed, in more than 1.2 million elementary schools we are providing food to 10.8 crore people. One crore is equal to 10 million. 10.8 crore children are being fed regularly.

Therefore, what I am talking of is that we want to achieve inclusive growth, and inclusive growth of course requires that there must be food, there must be education, there must be health and sanitation. We shall have to move for inclusive growth and inclusive growth could be achieved by providing food, education, health, sanitation because after all policy-makers of India are to take care of 1.2 billion plus people and it is a huge task. Therefore, our developmental model cannot be framed in the context of other countries’ developmental model. It must be in the context of the socioeconomic conditions prevailing in India.

Euronews: And do you think it is important in this election to have a charismatic leader in order to win it?

President of India: Whether a leader is charismatic or not depends on whether he or she is able to catch the vote. Charisma is tested by them. Here I can tell you as a political activist that always we talk during the election of a wave or wind. But wave or wind can be found out only once it is over. When it is coming or when it is blowing, nobody can say where the wind is blowing or the wave is moving.

Euronews: Let us move to another question. I want to if I could now tap into your incredible historical perspective. If anyone has lived through all the pages of India after Gandhi, you have. We do not have time for a history lesson. But just tell me one thing. If the founding fathers of India - Gandhi, Nehru - were here today, would they be reasonably content with what they see?

President of India: Of course. When we became independent there was disunity. When we drafted our Constitution in the Constituent Assembly, there was a serious debate. A part of India which was separated as a result of this Partition Agreement adopted a Constitution where a religion was declared as state religion. In that context we adopted a secular Constitution. Preamble of the Indian Constitution says, ‘a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic’. That is the character of Indian state. And to form this state, to unite India into a federation, and to strengthen it ...

When India became independent, fifty years prior to that Indian economy grew at the rate of annual average GDP growth of one per cent. From 1900 to 1950, Indian economy grew at one per cent. In the next 29 years it grew at 3.5 per cent. But in the next 20 years, its average growth was more than six per cent. Last decade it is about eight per cent. Hardly we could manufacture anything. But the manufacturing base which we have developed over the years is substantial. Rate of literacy was less than one-third. And today it is more than three-fourths even including the UN literacy. Disease, average life expectancy was below 30. Today it is more than double.

Therefore, these are the areas where the founding fathers would surely feel satisfied. But at the same time they will feel not satisfied because we have to reach much a greater height and which we are striving to do.

Euronews: I come from nation also that is quite young. I am Italian. When Garibaldi and Cavour made Italy, they said the difficult thing is now to make the Italians, not to make Italy the unity but to make the citizens, to make them feel Italians. And for India it is a bit the same. The States, as you said, were not united before Independence. Do you think you have made the Indian people feel part of one nation today?

President of India: Substantially, yes.

Euronews: Do you have any regrets?

President of India: No.

Euronews: And what keeps you awake at night today?

President of India: I would like to see that the higher scale which we have to achieve, we achieve that higher scale soon; India takes its rightful place in the comity of nations as one of the most prosperous, developed country which protects human rights, which includes the development of one and all, which is the old maxim of ours.

Euronews: One more thing. …(Inaudible)… I think you do not have a Twitter account, this social media, this new thing. But we have launched …(Inaudible)… a request so that they could ask you a question. And some people wrote to us begging us to ask you a question. I would like to put to you just one question from a young Indian man Tanmay Kumar, a student in economics in Delhi. He would like to ask you, has the way politics was done in India changed over time, and what is the most conspicuous change do you think?

President of India: There has been substantial change in India. From a highly backward country, India has moved to the category of one of the leading, emerging, developing economies.

Euronews: But the question was about the way we make the politics, the way politics are made, the electoral campaign, the way politics function. You have seen so many General Elections. Do you think there is one change that is change enough?

President of India: Every election in India is a landmark election in the sense that it has thrown new leaders, it has thrown new issues, it has addressed new problems which the growing economy, growing country, growing society faces.

Euronews: Thank you very much, Mr. President.

President of India: Thank you.