Oneof the foremost speakers the Ottawa-based International Development Research Center invited as part of its India Lectures series this year was Professor Ramesh Thakur, distinguished fellow, Center for International Governance Innovation, Waterloo, Ontario. Thakur, an incisive commentator on India’s current affairs and foreign relations, spoke on ‘India Rising and Shinning: Will it prove a False Dawn?’ From 1998 to 2007, he was vice rector, United Nations University, Tokyo, Japan. Before that, he spent a couple of years teaching at Fiji, then for 15 years in New Zealand and at the Australian University in Canberra. “Fiji became a political problem but New Zealand and Australia are lovely countries — like Canada,” Thakur explains. “I was always a foreigner in Japan as it was a different world, interacting in the diplomatic community.” “My work reflects the changes in the world,” Thakur says modestly.
He has published over a dozen books, including Keeping Proliferation at Bay, Past Imperfect, Future uncertain: The United Nations at Fifty and Nuclear Weapons-Free Zones. Nowadays, his focus is more on Canada-India relations. He wrote a series of articles on the recent Indian general elections. The Bharatiya Janata Party, he says, faced serious reverses this time “as they lost the youth votes. Secondly, they lost the urban votes. Both of these are growing voters cohorts. They lost both these votes for a number of reasons, one of which is the divisiveness of the Hindutva agenda.” Another factor for the BJP’s downfall, he says, was its opposition to the India-United States nuclear deal: “The deal was supported overwhelmingly and in every public opinion polls it was supported in India. That annoyed the urban voters and young people in particular, both of them were known to be the supporters of the BJP,” he says.
About the India-US deal, which ended the decadesold India’s nuclear isolation in the world, Thakur says the Non Proliferation Treaty has issues. “The NPT defined the nuclear weapon system as the country that exploded the nuclear device and tested it before January 1, 1967 [India tested in 1974 and 1998]. It is a chronological definition rather than any objective, factual and critical definition. Then you have this basic problem of India and Pakistan. They cannot be accepted as nuclear weapon states by this artificial NPT definition but the fact is both India and Pakistan are nuclear weapon States. To accept them you have to change the treaty and it means it has to be once again ratified by every country that has signed the treaty excepting India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.” The nuclear deal, he believes, is good for India and the world. At present, nuclear power contributes just 2 percent of India’s power generation.
“Once all the proposed nuclear plans come on phase,” Thakur explains, “India will match the global profile of 15 to 20 percent of electricity being generated by nuclear energy.” That means, he points out, environmental advantages — as nuclear energy is cleaner — and also helps India have a “diversified energy portfolio.” Does he believe India is shining? Despite rapid growth during the last 15 years, he replies, India still has “the most poor people than any part of the world and the country also has the highest rate of illiteracy, around 40 percent.” Add to that, he says, in the last five years about 17,000 Indian farmers “are committing suicide each year.” What about Indo-Canadians? Are they a force to reckon with in Canada now? He says unlike the Indian Diaspora in the United States, “we haven’t been as active and therefore we haven’t been as influential in shaping Canadian policies as Indians in America have succeeded in doing.”
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