Thursday, July 10, 2014

Narendra Modi’s pragmatism reminds of Jean Monnet

My article Narendra Modi’s pragmatism reminds of Jean Monnet appeared in NitiCentral.

Here is the link...

On June 30, in presence of the Prime Minister, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C23 with five foreign satellites. A few minutes after the launch, all the satellites were placed on perfect orbit around the Earth. The main payload was a 714 kg French Earth Observation Satellite named SPOT-7.
After witnessing the launch from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the scientists and dignitaries present.
His most striking announcement (to me at least) was the possibility of a South Asian satellite. Modi said: “I ask our Space community, to take up the challenge, of developing a SAARC Satellite - that can be dedicated to our neighbourhood, as a gift from India. A satellite, that provides a full range of applications and services, to all our neighbours. I also ask you, to enlarge the footprint of our satellite-based navigation system, to cover all of South Asia.”
Modi’s pragmatic view to jointly develop something with the other 7 SAARC States reminded me of Jean Monnet, the father of Europe. Western analysts often ask: when Europe has gone so far on the path to unity (and peace), why has the Indian subcontinent remained divided, unable to share its basic resources, with its borders practically closed?
One of the answers is that Europe had the fortune to have Jean Monnet who, with sheer will, vision and obstinacy, worked towards making Europe a concrete reality, with common institutions which helped reducing to nil the possibility of conflict between the nations/units.
Regrettably, Jean Monnet is not well known in India.
Though a modest man, Monnet is a real hero of his time.
In June 1940 already, Monnet made a revolutionary proposal. He proposed the unconceivable, a Union between France and UK with one flag, one parliament, one people. Though Churchill and de Gaulle were rather reticent at the beginning, finally the British and the French Cabinet accepted the proposal. Churchill, like de Gaulle, was conscious of the historic importance of the gesture and of the effect such a declaration could have on the morale of the occupied countries. Once the text was approved, de Gaulle called Paul Reynaud, the French Prime Minister who had established his government in Bordeaux. Reynaud asked him whether Churchill had approved the text. Churchill grabbed the telephone and said: “Hold on! De Gaulle is leaving now; he will bring you the text. Everything can change with this proposal. Let us meet tomorrow in Concarneau [in Brittany]”. De Gaulle left by plane. Monnet was about to get on a train when he learnt that the French Prime Minister had resigned and that the defeatists in France had won the day. Pétain had been chosen as the new Prime Minister.
History is made by bold moves; though this particular one did not materialize, soon after the end of the war, Monnet was to make an even more revolutionary one. Monnet always believed that nice words were not enough, men’s deeply-entrenched attitudes needed to be changed.
His main trait was to always remain down-to-earth, pragmatic …and persevere. Both Germany and France had to rebuild their industry; it was bound to revive their old rivalry. To reverse the trend – what has been the seed of the war had to become the seed of unity— Monnet proposed to create a High Authority which could manage the resources in coal and steel for both nations.
This was the birth of the European Coal and Steel Community, the first embryo of the European Economic Community (EEC). It came into existence in March 1957, with the Treaty of Rome creating the EEC and Euratom (for atomic energy). The Treaties of Maastricht (1992), Amsterdam (1997), Nice (2000) and Lisbon (2007) saw new steps towards unification. Today, 27 nations share a common future.
Herve Alphand, a French Ambassador to the US, who worked closely with both Monnet and de Gaulle, used to call Monnet and de Gaulle, ‘the Inspirer and the Connétable [the Chief]’. Though opposite in character, the two great men had no choice but to tolerate each other, to work together. And they did, perhaps because “both are disinterested and entirely moved by ideas and ideal. And both have an extraordinary courage and perseverance,” wrote Alphand.
The tragedy is that history only remembers de Gaulle and has forgotten Monnet (at least in Asia).
The bold move of Narendra Modi when he invited the SAARC heads of State for his investiture and now his proposal to join hands to built together a satellite (why not a satellite studying the pattern of South Asian monsoons and climate in the region?) make me think of Monnet.
Can Modi be a Monnet for South Asia?
Is there a possibility to use some of Monnet’s experience (one could say techniques) to built a common future for South Asia?
Only the future will tell us, but the groundwork done by Jean Monnet for Europe demonstrated that perseverance can do miracles. The intelligence of Monnet also lies in the fact that he managed to set up mechanisms and institutions which do not depend on present and future politicians to function.
Monnet realized that history goes in one direction only: towards a greater unification of the people of the world. New technological and communication discoveries shrink the planet every day to the size of a small hamlet, and international institutions may have to adapt themselves to follow the process, but the evolutionary movement goes into this direction. Europe has shown the way. The preamble of the Constitution made clear that it is ‘‘drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe”.
Could a similar process happen in the Indian subcontinent, which has a longer shared history and culture?
The EU Constitution also recalls “the historic importance of the ending of the division of the European continent and the need to create firm bases for the construction of the future Europe.”
Can a small project such a common satellite be a first step?
Why not? Monnet analyzed once the Israel-Arab conflict thus: “I saw the Middle East conflict on the point of breaking out again; yet the hostility between Israel and the Arabs seemed to me no more insuperable than that between France and Germany had been for more than seventy years. Franco-German enmity was now a thing of the past; and what had ended it was neither warfare nor diplomacy, but a method which changed men’s attitudes by transforming the very reasons for their rivalry. What divided people could still bring them together, anywhere in the world …I was convinced that the union of Europe was not only important for the European themselves: it was valuable as an example for others, and this was a further reason for bringing it about.”
The subcontinent today needs men with Vision and ‘Inspirers’.
Can Modi be at the same time, the Inspirer and the Connetable for South Asia?

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