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D. Gowda: Address to World Summit 2020

Address to World Summit 2020, Seoul, Korea, February 3-8, 2020


Distinguished Delegates and Participants of World Summit 2020, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am truly honoured and delighted to be in your midst today. I learn this is the birth centenary year of the CoFounder of UPF, Rev. Sun Myung Moon. I pay my respects and tributes to him.

We live in interesting times. We may not have seen stranger times in recent memory. At least, that is the feeling that I get coming from India. There is a proverb that is often referred to as a Chinese curse in the West. It says: “May you live in interesting times.” We may be living in one such season, but our duty is not just to live and endure the times but to take stock of it, calibrate the crisis, mitigate risks, and find lasting solutions. It is from this point of view that summits and conferences like these are extremely useful. We get an opportunity to discuss, deliberate and commiserate with each other’s plight and the plight of the world in general.

I had the privilege of addressing UPF’s Asia Pacific Summit at Kathmandu in December 2018, and I don’t think the world has changed significantly since then. But I wish to congratulate UPF’s persistent efforts to build peace, harmony, interfaith understanding, and partnerships for resolution of conflicts. In the 150th year of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, we need to emphasize, and reiterate, that there is no better way of resolving conflicts than with shining intent, truthful dialogue, and nonviolent assertion. History is full of examples of regimes that have believed in unleashing violence, or instilling fear, and have entangled themselves in very many complicated ways over a period of time.

A couple of weeks back the latest Democracy Index was released. It records 2019, the year that we just left behind, as a year of democratic setbacks and popular protest. The average global score for democracy fell from 5.48 in 2018 to 5.44 in 2019. This is said to be the worst average global score since the index was first produced in 2006. The report analyzing various aspects that led to the dip says that across many countries and across regions, populations were willing to take to the streets to express opposition to the established order, to protest against official measures, unjust laws and corruption and to demand change.

This is where we stand as we begin this summit. The questions before us are crystal clear: How do we ensure that we do not slip any further? What are the measures we need to undertake in order to climb back? How do we ensure mutual cooperation? How do we get multilateral institutions to make positive interventions? How do we begin to listen more attentively to people? Because, I believe, listening is the beginning of peace.

These questions, I am sure, will come up for discussion during the course of the summit. But right at the beginning, I would like to offer a few broad pointers for your consideration. First of all, we need to nurture diversity. That the world is a richly diverse place is a truism, but we constantly wage a war against this reality. Diversity cannot be imagined as a cost but should be celebrated, should be deployed for economic advancement. People come from different racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, caste and linguistic backgrounds, and we need to learn to co-exist.

We need to teach each other to partner for progress, and this should be a constant endeavor. The rapid movement of people across the globe that started in the last century, when technology could cut down travel time and cost, has enormously enriched the world, but sadly this rapid movement has also led to many ugly political and cultural expressions. It has led to narrow nationalisms and rekindled ideologies of hate. Enlightenment values of reason, science and humanism need to be urgently recovered in what is now dangerously described as the post-truth world.

Enlightenment values are embedded in the language of true universalism. Democracies across the globe are an extension of these values. When countries like India adopted democracy as a form of government, they blended their own great traditions of justice, equality and fraternity to strengthen this universal language. Be it Buddha, or the Bhakti saints of India, they all spoke this language eloquently, and Mahatma Gandhi drew enormously from this tradition to shape our nonviolent freedom struggle. Even before the Buddha and the Bhakti saints, the Upanishads spoke of the world as one family.

Nationalism in recent times has been placed opposite globalism or internationalism. They are made to contradict each other. But Gandhi wrote with enormous clarity as early as 1925:

It is not nationalism that is evil, it is the narrowness, selfishness, exclusiveness which is the bane of modern nations which is evil. Each wants to profit at the expense of and rise on the ruin of the other…. God has cast my lot in the midst of the people of India, I should be untrue to my maker if I failed to serve them. if I do not know how to serve them, I shall never know how to serve humanity, and I cannot possibly go wrong so long as I do not harm other nations in the act of serving my country.

Gandhi’s model of nationalism is an empathetic one. Our erudite first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, also built linkages between nationalism and internationalism.

I come from a small village in the corner of Karnataka. Traditionally, we are farmers placed lower down in the social hierarchy. I was a first-generation literate who became an engineer. Politics and public service took me to various positions and places, and through my public journey of six decades I have always built bridges between the universal and the local. I have always believed that it is possible to see the universe in a grain of sand.

This viewpoint that I developed was not acquired by learning; it was the cultural ethos that surrounded me. It was secular. Now this worldview is being challenged. Sectarian violence is being stoked. Hate is fast becoming a byword for nationalism. It has become toxic. However, I am hugely relieved and happy that the youth across the globe are answering this challenge with great fortitude. In the Indian context, the young and the oppressed have made it a ritual to read the preamble of the Indian constitution on the streets. The oppressed, whose hero is Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, have become the primary custodians of the great liberal tome that guides our republic. There could not have been a better response and a better form of democratic resistance to what they feel is unjust. There is renewed hope for the Gandhian creed of nonviolence, and satyagraha.

In 2019, not just in India, the world saw many protests, and, as in India, their expression has been mostly nonviolent. Some of the protests continue in 2020. Although each protest has its own dynamic and ferment, it only suggests that there is a lot of work to be done in terms of constructive engagement between governments and their people. How do we get governments to listen more, and listen more carefully and compassionately? That is the challenge.

Protests are, after all, symptoms of deeper ailments. Chief among the ailments is the gross economic inequality that exists in the world. A report that was released recently when the World Economic Forum was meeting at Davos, said that the richest one percent in the world have more than double the wealth of 6.9 billion people. The report also claimed that 2,200 billionaires worldwide saw their wealth grow by 12 percent, even as the poorest half saw its wealth fall by 11 percent. Peace cannot be sustained with the world being witness to such stark inequality. We need to seriously work on equitable distribution of wealth. Trickle-down economics has been sufficiently discredited in recent years.

Besides economic inequity, we also have a climate emergency that is demanding our attention. In 2019, waves of students took to the streets in many cities of the world to urge governments to act before it is too late. In the last few weeks we have seen Australia battle with bushfires, and it makes for yet another compelling case study. In the developing world the awareness about the climate emergency has to deepen. There can be no greater common pursuit than the pursuit to save the world. The Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who is not even 17, is deeply inspiring to me, and I am 87. It will serve nations well to listen to their young. I will insist, as I insisted earlier, that listening is the beginning of peace.

To initiate change in the directions that we have so far discussed, I have often realized that we need to function with the purest of intent. People have a knack of finding out how genuine and serious we are about what we say. They will cooperate only if they are convinced. As prime minister in 1996, when I went to Kashmir to revive the economy and the electoral process, which had been suspended for a decade, at every step I realized that people gauge the honesty of purpose. I could successfully hold elections to the state assembly only because people realized that we meant well. There was no hidden agenda.

Even as we contemplate a serious push for sustainable peace, equitable progress and deepening of democratic values, we need to foster a political culture that is more tolerant of dissent. We need to treat our opponents with respect. On this matter, I learned something from Nelson Mandela, whom I had the privilege of hosting in New Delhi in 1997. In his book of memoirs, Long Walk to Freedom, writing about his childhood, he says: “I learned that to humiliate another person is make him suffer an unnecessarily cruel fate. Even as a boy, I defeated my opponents without dishonoring them.”

The number 2020 is thought of in terms of clear vision. I hope the year 2020 offers us all a clear vision. I conclude by invoking a prayer by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

The word country in the last line can be replaced with world.

I wish World Summit 2020 a great success.

Thank you.



To go to the World Summit 2020 Schedule page, click here.