PM’s speech on the occasion of ‘Transforming India’ Lecture

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His Excellency Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore
My Fellow Ministers,
Chief Ministers,
Invited speakers and friends,

There was a time when development was believed to depend on the quantity of capital and labour. Today we know that it depends as much on the quality of institutions and ideas. Early last year, a new institution was created, namely, the National Institution for Transforming India or NITI. NITI was created as an evidence based think tank to guide India’s transformation.

One of NITI’s functions is:

– to mainstream external ideas into Government policies, through collaboration with national and international experts;

– to be the Government’s link to the outside world, outside experts and practitioners;

– to be the instrument through which ideas from outside are incorporated into policy-making.

The Government of India and the State Governments have a long administrative tradition. This tradition combines indigenous and external ideas from India’s past. This administrative tradition has served India well in many ways. Above all, it has preserved democracy and federalism, unity and integrity, in a country of glorious diversity. These are not small achievements. Yet, we now live in an age where change is constant and we are variables.

We must change for both external and internal reasons. Each country has its own experiences, its own resources and its own strengths. Thirty years ago, a country might have been able to look inward and find its own solutions. Today, countries are inter dependent and inter connected. No country can afford any longer to develop in isolation. Every country has to benchmark its activities to global standards, or else fall behind.

Change is also necessary for internal reasons. The younger generation in our own country is thinking and aspiring so differently, that government can no longer afford to remain rooted in the past. Even in families, the relationship between the young and old has changed. There was a time when elders in a family knew more than those who were younger. Today, with the spread of new technology, the situation is often reversed. This increases the challenge for government in communicating and in meeting rising expectations.

If India is to meet the challenge of change, mere incremental progress is not enough. A metamorphosis is needed.

That is why my vision for India is rapid transformation, not gradual evolution.

• The transformation of India cannot happen without a transformation of governance.

• A transformation of governance cannot happen without a transformation in mindset.

• A transformation in mindset cannot happen without transformative ideas.

We have to change laws, eliminate unnecessary procedures, speed up processes and adopt technology. We cannot march through the twenty first century with the administrative systems of the nineteenth century.

Fundamental changes in administrative mindsets usually occur through sudden shocks or crisis. India is fortunate to be a stable democratic polity. In the absence of such shocks, we have to make special efforts to force ourselves to make transformative changes. As individuals, we may absorb new ideas by reading books or articles. Books open the windows of our minds. However, unless we brainstorm collectively, ideas remain confined to individual minds. We often hear of new ideas and understand them. But we do not act upon them, because it is beyond our individual capacity. If we sit together, we will have the collective force to convert ideas into action. What we need is a collective opening of our minds, to let in new, global perspectives. To do this, we have to absorb new ideas collectively rather than individually. It requires a concerted effort.

As many of you know, ever since taking office, I have personally participated in structured brainstorming sessions with bankers, with police officers and with Secretaries to Government, among others. The ideas coming from those sessions are being incorporated into policy.

These efforts have been to tap ideas from inside. The next step is to bring in ideas from outside. Culturally, Indians have always been receptive to ideas from elsewhere. It is said in the Rigveda – “आ नो भद्राः क्रतवो यन्तु विश्वतः”, which means, let us welcome noble thoughts flowing in from all directions.

This is the purpose of the Transforming India Lecture Series. It is a series which we will attend, not as individuals but as part of a team who can collectively make change happen.

We will draw the best from the wisdom and knowledge of eminent persons, who changed, or influenced change in the lives of many, to make their nation a better place in the planet.

This lecture will be the first in a series. You have all been given a feedback form. I look forward to your detailed and frank feedback to help us improve this process. I request you to suggest names of experts and panelists from inside and outside India. I also request all Secretaries to Government to conduct a follow up discussion in a week’s time, with the participants from their Ministries. The purpose is to convert ideas that emerge in today’s session into specific action points relevant to each group. Wherever possible, I request the Ministers also to participate in these sessions.

One of the greatest reformers and administrators of our time was Lee Kuan Yew, who transformed Singapore to what it is today. It is therefore fitting that we are inaugurating this series with Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore. He is a prolific scholar and public policy maker. Apart from being Deputy Prime Minister, he is also the Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, Minister of Finance and Chairman of Monetary Authority of Singapore. In the past, he has served as the Minister of Manpower, Second Minister of Finance and Minister of Education.

Shanmugaratnam was born in Nineteen Fifty Seven and is of Sri Lankan Tamil ancestry. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Economics at the London School of Economics. He has a Master’s degree in Economics from Cambridge University. He has another Master’s degree in Public Administration from Harvard University. At Harvard, he was honoured with the Littauer Fellow award for his outstanding performance.

Shanmugaratnam is one of the world’s leading intellectuals. I would like to give you an example of the range and sweep of his ideas. Today, Singapore’s economy depends a lot on transshipment. But if global warming melts the polar ice caps, new navigation routes may open and possibly reduce Singapore’s relevance. I am told he has already started thinking about this possibility and planning for it.

Friends. The list of achievements and honours received by Shanmugaratnam is long. But we are all eager to listen to him. Therefore, without further delay, it is with great pleasure that I welcome Tharman Shanmugaratnam to this stage and request him to enlighten us on the subject of India in the Global Economy.