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It is a pleasure for me to be here at the UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Institute for South Asia Regional Cooperation for peace and development. I am sorry that ill health has stood in the way of Shri Madanjeet Singh being with us this evening. I extend a warm welcome to Madame France Marquet, his companion of many years and Trustee of the South Asia Foundation. I request her to convey to Madanjeet our felicitations and good wishes for a speedy recovery to normal health.
In a few weeks from now we will celebrate the 65th anniversary of India's Independence. The struggle for freedom from colonial rule was infused with high sense of idealism that joined together the people, not only of big sub-continent of ours, but also those in other parts of Asia and Africa. But the euphoria and excitement of freedom was tempered by the human tragedy that accompanied it. As a young man, Madanjeet Singh witnessed with his own eyes the trauma and horror of partition as did many of us of that generation.
Whenever I meet South Asians from different walks of life, they always speak of their desire to see our countries live together in peace and work together for our common progress. I can think of no other individual who has invested more to achieve these cherished goals than my friend Madanjeet Singh.
In the year 2000, Shri Singh set up the South Asia Foundation to provide a platform for well-meaning men and women from all the countries of our region to contribute their might to the vision of a progressive South Asia.
The South Asia Foundation seeks to promote regional cooperation through the UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Institutions of Excellence that have been established in various countries of South Asia. Each of the chapters is headed by an eminent personality from that country, six of whom are present here in Puducherry. I extend a very warm welcome to each of the distinguished citizens of South Asia.
I was delighted to learn that very soon Myanmar will also have a chapter of the Foundation. I was in Myanmar recently and was impressed by the enthusiasm and interest of the people of Myanmar to strengthen and promote links with other countries of South Asia.
This Institute in Puducherry was set up as one of the centres of excellence nearly three years ago. I commend the University of Pondicherry for hosting a centre that will focus on South Asia studies. It is ironic that many universities in the West have chairs or centres that focus on South Asia but here in our own region, we have so few of them! I have often felt that the citizens of South Asia have to start communicating and understanding each other through direct contact rather than through western academic constructs or prisms. The South Asia Foundation provides an excellent platform for doing precisely this.
The world is passing through troubled times. The financial and economic crisis that has gripped Europe in recent years has many important lessons and implications for us. The economic and political rise of post-War Europe was in no small measure due to the vision of thinkers like George Marshall and Jean Monnet. They believed that a stable, prosperous and united Europe was good for the world. That is as true today as it was then. I sincerely hope that the leaders of Europe will find in them the imagination and wisdom to preserve the European project that has served as a guiding light to regional cooperation elsewhere in the world, including South Asia.
The events in the Euro zone should not cast a shadow over our own efforts at building unity and eventually a South Asian union. If anything, we have not been ambitious enough in working towards building a united South Asia where each of our countries seeks its economic and social salvation through cooperative development within the region and by leveraging each other’s strengths.
We have many men and women of talent and creativity among us. They should pool their wisdom and work to remove the mental and other roadblocks that are preventing the people of South Asia from realizing their true destiny.
India is fully committed to the idea of SAARC. In recent Summit meetings, I have found a genuine desire among South Asian leaders to write a new chapter in the history of this organization. I am happy that important initiatives that symbolize the idea of South Asia are taking shape. The South Asia University has started its work and will soon have its own full-fledged campus just outside Delhi. The SAARC Development Fund has become operational and has started implementing projects under its social window.
We however need to cooperate more closely to critically understand issues relating to food, energy and water security, disaster management health and education and address these issues from a holistic and regional perspective. Connectivity is also still lagging far behind where it should be. India stands fully committed to building a better-connected SAARC as a strong and effective instrument for regional cooperation.
Since I mentioned Jean Monnet earlier in my remarks, I am reminded that he once wrote: “Nothing is possible without men, but nothing is lasting without institutions.” In conceiving of and realizing the UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Institute for South Asia Regional Cooperation. Madanjeet Singh has given us an institution that I am confident will stand the test of time and provide a valuable service in our common goal of building a better and closer South Asia.