The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, addressed the Majlis-Al-Shura at Riyadh today. Following is the text of the Prime Minister’s address on the occasion:
“I am deeply grateful and privileged to have this opportunity to address the Majlis Al-Shura. This august body has come to symbolize participative governance in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Members of the Majlis Al-Shura have among them some of the best minds in the Kingdom, representing different segments of Saudi Arabia’s rich culture and society. I am, therefore, deeply conscious of the honour done to me and to India by inviting me to address this august House.
Saudi Arabia is the cradle of Islam and the land of the revelation of the Holy Quran. I have come to this ancient land with a message of peace, brotherhood and friendship. I bring to you the fraternal greetings of the people of India.
India regards Saudi Arabia as a pillar of stability in the Gulf region. Under the enlightened and sagacious leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the Kingdom has taken rapid strides towards modernization. Its influence today extends far beyond the region.
As I stand before you, I am conscious of the wealth of history behind us, and the promise of a new partnership ahead of us.
We are two nations linked by the waterways of the Indian Ocean. Over 5,000 years ago, ships made with teak from Kerala freely traversed the waters of the Indian Ocean and linked the people of Sindh, Gujarat and Malabar with the different ports of the Gulf and the Red Sea, going up to Basra and Alexandria.
Commercial enterprises and exchange of foodstuffs and cloth for dates and pearls provided the basis for the development of deep people-to-people ties. Indian townships mushroomed across the Gulf. Arab traders established themselves along the coastline of western India. Our languages were influenced by each other. These linkages, over several centuries, have left an indelible mark upon our culture and civilization. This is reflected in the natural empathy and sense of comfort we have when we meet each other.
Islam qualitatively changed the character and personality of the people in Arabia as it enriched the lives of millions of Indians who embraced this new faith. It is said that during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, Indian pilgrims constituted the largest movement of people by sea.
Indian Muslim scholars went to Mecca in order to learn Islamic theology. Arab Muslim scholars came to India to learn mathematics, science, astronomy and philosophy. These exchanges led to the widespread diffusion of knowledge in the sciences, arts, religion and philosophy.
Today, Islam is an integral part of India’s nationhood and ethos and of the rich tapestry of its culture. India has made significant contributions to all aspects of Islamic civilization. Centres of Islamic learning in India have made a seminal contribution to Islamic and Arabic studies.
Our 160 million Muslims are contributing to our nation building efforts and have excelled in all walks of life. We are proud of our composite culture and of our tradition of different faiths and communities living together in harmony.
The foundations of our relations in the modern era were laid during the visit of His Majesty King Saud to India in 1955 and Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to the Kingdom in 1956. These foundations were strengthened by the visit of Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi to Saudi Arabia in 1982.
The tone for our relations in the 21st century was set by the landmark visit to India of His Majesty King Abdullah in January 2006. The participation of His Majesty as the Chief Guest at our Republic Day celebrations was a matter of deep honour for the people of India.
The Delhi Declaration that I signed with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques enshrines our shared vision for a new relationship. Our two countries pledged to work not just for the development and prosperity of our peoples but for the security and peace of the region as a whole.
My dialogue with His Majesty yesterday and my meetings with the other distinguished leaders of this great country have led to the reaffirmation of our close ties and our common interests.
We have agreed to impart a strategic character to our relations, and have put in place a roadmap for bilateral economic, political and security related cooperation that will constitute the core of our relationship in the coming years.
India is in the midst of rapid socio-economic transformation. Over the last five years, our economy has grown at an average annual rate of 9 percent. Despite the global economic slowdown, we hope to achieve a growth rate of about 7.5 percent in the current financial year.
In the next 25 years we aspire to growth rates of between 9 to 10 per cent annually. This will enable us to lift millions of our people out of poverty and to transform India into one of the largest economies of the world. India looks to the future with confidence and hope.
Saudi Arabia is itself witnessing remarkable progress as the vision of its leaders to modernize and diversify its economy becomes a reality.
There is vast potential for cooperation between our two countries based on our inherent strengths and complementarities.
We seek Saudi investment in a range of sectors from infrastructure and manufacturing to the services and hospitality sector. Equally, Indian industry is ready to take advantage of the many opportunities that are opening up in the IT, banking, telecommunications, pharmaceutical and hydrocarbon sectors in Saudi Arabia.
The Kingdom is one of India’s major trading partners. Our bilateral trade has registered unprecedented growth in recent years and stood at over 25 billion US dollars in 2008-2009. We are looking at ways and means of expanding our traditionally strong collaboration in the energy sector.
Saudi Arabia is home to the largest Indian community abroad numbering about 1.8 million. Indian workers and professionals have participated in the extraordinary development of this region. Indeed, it would be difficult to identify a major project in this region with which Indians have not been involved in some way or the other.
As many as 165,000 Indian pilgrims perform Haj annually. This is the second largest group from any single country. A similar number perform the Umrah annually. We are grateful for the warm welcome that the Kingdom has given to the Indian community and to our pilgrims.
We have noted the high priority given to the development of human resources in the future development of Saudi Arabia. This fits in with our priority as well. We would like to see more contacts among our parliamentarians, scholars, scientists and students to renew the intellectual bonds between India and West Asia.
In addition to these areas of cooperation, there is scope for considerable expansion of our interactions in the political, defence and security spheres.
West Asia is a vital part of India’s extended neighbourhood. We have deep and intricate ties with the Gulf countries. We have a high stake in the peace and stability of the region. Neither the countries of the region nor the world can afford fresh turmoil. We sincerely hope that wisdom will prevail and that in the resolution of conflicts and differences, dialogue will triumph over confrontation.
There is no issue more important for peace and stability in the region than the question of Palestine. For far too long the brave people of Palestine have been denied their just, legitimate and inalienable rights, including most of all the establishment of a sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian state. I wish to pay a special tribute to His Majesty for the initiatives he has taken to bring about a just settlement. We applaud and support the Arab Peace Initiative.
I take this opportunity of reiterating the principled, strong and consistent support of the government and people of India for the struggle of the Palestinian people. India has been making a contribution to the development of the Palestinian economy and its human resources and we will continue to do so.
Both our countries are today threatened by extremism and violence. The pursuit of terror in the name of religion or any other cause or grievance cannot be acceptable to civilized societies. It has no sanction in any religion. History teaches us that the scourge of terrorism must be confronted with determination and united effort.
Nowhere is this challenge greater than in Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan have suffered for far too long. They deserve an atmosphere of peace and the opportunity to pursue a life of dignity and hope.
The government of Afghanistan needs the support of the international community in restoring peace and development in the country. The international community should support all sections of Afghan society who wish to work towards the emergence of Afghanistan as a modern, stable and sovereign nation. No sanctuary should be given to those who promote terror, violence or instability in the country.
India wishes to live in peace and friendship with its neighbours. I believe that all countries of South Asia should work to realize a common vision of peace and inclusive development for the region.
We seek cooperative relations with Pakistan. Our objective is a permanent peace because we recognise that we are bound together by a shared future. If there is cooperation between India and Pakistan, vast opportunities will open up for trade, travel and development that will create prosperity in both countries and in South Asia as a whole. But to realise this vision, Pakistan must act decisively against terrorism. If Pakistan cooperates with India, there is no problem that we cannot solve and we can walk the extra mile to open a new chapter in relations between our two countries.
We live in a world where the interests of peoples and countries are intertwined. As two countries representing old civilizations, India and Saudi Arabia should work together to promote dialogue and peaceful co-existence among nations, religions and societies. We should work together as partners in shaping the global discourse on issues such as energy security, food security, climate change and terrorism. We should cooperate to deal with regional challenges such as maritime security, piracy, narcotics, human trafficking and other non-traditional threats to security.
The Kingdom and the region are blessed with the benevolence and statesmanship of His Majesty King Abdullah. Our two peoples are desirous of peace and goodwill. Together, India and Saudi Arabia can become a potent moral force for a better world and for a more secure future for our children.