TASS: Mr. President, thank you for an opportunity to meet you today. We are meeting on the eve of your visit to Moscow for the 70th anniversary of victory in the II World War. And 20 years ago, you took part in the celebrations of 50 years of victory when you were the Minister of Defense. So, what does this visit mean to you and what are your feelings about visiting Moscow?
Hon. President of India: I am glad to have the opportunity to meet our old and traditional friends in Moscow, including President Vladimir Putin. I had discussions with President Putin on various occasions, in my different capacities - as Defence Minister of India, as Foreign Minister of India, as Finance Minister of India. Also, as the President I had the honour of receiving him twice in this Palace including in the end of last year.
I participated in the 50th anniversary of the Victory Celebrations. I admire the valour, courage and the supreme sacrifices made by the soldiers and people of Russia. They made immense sacrifice during World War II.
India was pleased to see the crushing defeat of the forces of Fascism and Nazism at the hands of the Russian people. I had the privilege of paying my tribute at the Martyrs Memorial in St. Petersburg. It symbolises the spirit of patriotism, valour and courage. I still remember and deeply appreciate the veterans who participated in the Parade. All of them were above 70. Some of them were part of the Red Force under the great General Marshal Zhukov to whom the German High Command surrendered in Berlin on 9th May 1945. What a wonderful performance it was! Not only me, all others present at the Red Square were thoroughly impressed. I still carry fond memories of that visit.
TASS: Your Excellency, you are absolutely right to say that Russia-India ties have a profound history. Even Nicholas II, in the end of 19th century in his trip around the world, was planning to open a Consulate in Bombay (Mumbai). Today, our relations have never been spoiled, neither by conflict nor by war. Russia still remembers Hindi-Roosi bhai bhai, a very popular phrase in Hindi. So how do you estimate the dynamics of our relations? How do you assess the situation between the two countries now?
Hon. President: I would say that our relationship is all comprehensive. Russia was the first country with which India had a strategic partnership. We have entered into various agreements and protocols pre-90s and post-90s.
I still remember how we resolved a very complicated problem in our relationship regarding the Rupee-Rouble agreement of 1978 when President Yeltsin visited India in 1993. I was then the Commerce Minister of this country. The Prime Minister was Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao and former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh was the Finance Minister of India. Through our collective efforts, we were able to resolve the issue which concerned substantial amount of money due to Russia. It also helped boost Indian exports to Russia, particularly in tobacco, tea and large number of pharmaceutical products. We were able to pay back in instalments as per the agreement. We believed that Russia was the successor state of the old Soviet Union and the dues were owed to Russia.
Since then, and even before that, our bilateral relationship was always positive and moving upwards, never sliding down. The same was true with our partnership in trade and defence; the sharing of common perceptions about major international developments and our cooperation in multilateral as well as regional fora.
TASS: What is your opinion on the potential and prospects of cooperation between Russia and India in the sphere of nuclear energy, fuel and energy complex?
Hon. President: The civil nuclear cooperation with Russia is an important issue. You may recollect that when I was Foreign Minister in 2008, we entered into a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with USA, popularly known as the 123 Agreement. Thereafter certain steps were to be taken.
Russia was one of the leading countries who supported us in various nuclear fora, including the Nuclear Suppliers Group and helped finalise this agreement. The most important project of Kudankulam to provide nuclear energy to us is a unique contribution of Russia and a monument to the outstanding friendship between India and Russia.
Energy is an important requirement of our economic development. India is an energy-deficient country and we require energy for our people. Hydrocarbon sources of energy is also an important aspect for us, apart from nuclear energy and non-conventional energy. We are mindful of our commitment to environmental protection, but we believe that environmental protection and developmental requirements are not contradictory to each other. They can be treated as complementary to each other. As I mentioned, we believe it would be possible for us to overcome many difficulties in these areas with the special privileged strategic partnership with Russia.
TASS: The Russian Federation and the Republic of India cooperate in military and technical field for already more than fifty years, and this cooperation traditionally has large-scale character. In recent years, this cooperation is moving from simple relation of "buyer and seller” to multifaceted partnership in developing new technologies and modernizing weapons. How do you assess the results of interaction in this sphere and prospects of cooperation?
Hon. President: True. We have upgraded our relationship from mere buyer and seller. At one point of time, Russia was the largest supplier of military hardware to us. Now, an example of partnership in the defence sector is the cruise missile BrahMos which is a joint product of Russian and Indian technology. Of course, our defence policy and foreign policy is not offensive but defensive and to protect ourselves, not to attack. We do not believe in aggressive policies.
Our relationship has remained strong and expanded to many new fields. In many major and important sectors, we have used Russian technology. From steel making to machine making in the initial stages of our development and to space technology which is a very high order of technology, we have collaborated.
Therefore, I feel that our - I am using the phrase which has been oft quoted - special privileged strategic partnership has raised our relationship from the level of mere buyer and seller to joint collaborators in different sectors starting from defence to space research. I believe this cooperation will further enhance in the coming years.
TASS: Mr. President, you have absolutely just said that Russia and India are joined by strategic partnership. This is most obvious in foreign political arena where both Russia and India have very close points of view about the broadest range of international problems. We cooperate very closely in the platform of the UN, BRICS and SCO. How do you see, with your experience being the Minister of External Affairs of India for many years, cooperation between our countries in this foreign political sphere?
Hon. President: As I mentioned on many occasions our common perception has helped us adopt a common strategy, in multilateral fora, bilateral fora and the United Nations. Even if I go back down the memory lane of history, in the early 70s when people of the then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, were fighting for their liberty, Russia stood by them along with India. And the most crucial decisions taken in various fora, including the Security Council of the United Nations, paved the way for the creation of a new nation which is an important member of the international community today. I am just giving you one example. There are many examples. As you have correctly said, over the last five decades and more we have cooperated with each other both in multilateral fora and regional fora.
I still remember, in 2006 when the concept of BRIC was initiated (originally it was BRIC not BRICS, with only Brazil, Russia, India and China). The first Foreign Ministers’ meeting was held in 2006 on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov who is still continuing his innings in this position and I were part of this meeting. It was thereafter followed by a summit.
We have shared common perceptions and common views on international developments that have strengthened our relationship over the years in BRICS, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the G20 as well as the United Nations.
TASS: Mr. President, India, in its development and its movement forward has chosen the rapid way of high-tech development and has achieved a very serious success and in a quite short period of time. India is one of the top leading countries in this field. Such success is unique, there is no similar example. Howcan you explain it? What are the mechanisms for India to be such a success in this most important aspect today in the world?
Hon. President: It is our emphasis from very beginning on building of a scientific temperament, encouragement for research; innovation and technological development; providing institutional support etc. that has helped us achieve rapid success in the technological sphere.
Credit for this goes to our first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Our efforts were taken to new heights by his daughter, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. And subsequently in the 1990s, different Indian Prime Ministers contributed to the building of institutional capacity and encouraging innovation as well as research. We believe that for success, whether in democratic transformation or in socio-economic upliftment, institutional support to policies is absolutely necessary to implement the programmes. This is one of the reasons we could achieve success. Our institutions are excellent and India has made optimal utilisation of them.
Some of our pioneers and eminent scientists like Dr. Bhabha in nuclear science and Dr. Vikram Sarabhai in space science made invaluable contribution. And, always we kept in mind our basic philosophy that science should be used for the welfare of people all over the world, not for superpower competition and destroying the world, but for uplifting the people of the world for a better social and economic life.
TASS: Mr. President, now you are in the middle of your Presidential term. You have made a long way to the top post of President of India. You have held a lot of ministerial posts in the past. You still have half of your Presidential term ahead of you. At this point, what did you manage to do as a President? What needs to be done and what are the goals that you are targeting at for the next half of your term?
Hon. President: I would like to clarify that as per our Constitution, the President is not the executive authority. Executive power in the Republic of India vests in the Cabinet led by the Prime Minister. The President is obliged to act as per the advice of the Cabinet. But, it is the responsibility of the President to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. This is the significant role he plays.
Every one of our Constitutional functionaries take oath to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution. But when the President of the Republic is administered the oath of office by the Chief Justice of India, the President takes oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. Therefore, that is my job.
The Constitutional power of the President is put to a very crucial test when the question of appointing the new Prime Minister and Council of Ministers comes after a general election. If there is a very clear majority, as it happened in the General Election of 2014, the task of the President to invite the leader of the majority party to form the Government and to appoint Ministers on his or her advice becomes very easy. That happened in India most times since 1950. But, before this election, for the last twenty years from 1989 to 2009, elections to the Indian Parliament delivered fractured verdicts. There was no clear majority for any individual party or group of parties. And, that is the crucial moment when President is to arrive at a conclusion who can form the government and provide political stability in the system.
Sometimes, it may happen that the government he appoints may have a very short span of life. The Council of Ministers is accountable to the House of the People and the first crucial test takes place either in a Vote of Confidence or on some other important occasion where the House expresses its will through voting. If the executive fails to pass that test, that means the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister will have to go. So, the President needs to apply his mind and take a decision. And, there is no advice from the Prime Minister or Cabinet to act on this matter because they do not exist at that point of time. The Prime Minister’s office and the Council of Ministers are in a caretaker mode.
Our practice is, whenever the results of the General Election come, the outgoing Prime Minister tender his resignation to the President. The President tell him or her that he shall have to take some time to formulate his view. He asks the outgoing Prime Minister to carry on till alternative arrangement is made. The same happened this year and the drama repeats every five years. So, that is one of the most crucial jobs of the President.
There is a second thing that I have done on being appointed as the President. I know my constitutional limitations as Head of State. But at the same time, I thought that I could do a lot of things about the President’s House itself. We have a very precious art collection. We have a huge library which records many important events. The history of contemporary India for the last 70-75 years has veered round this building. And, there is some sort of mystery surrounding this building, the Rashtrapati Bhavan. So I tried to demystify it by opening Rashtrapati Bhavan to the common people to visit, to see some of the important rooms, the places, the corners where important decisions were taken to guide the destiny of this country.
I am also constructing a museum where there will be many important exhibits. I have brought out some publications about the President’s House. A large number of visitors come, for instance, during spring, from the middle of February to the middle of March, more than 500,000 people visited the Mughal Gardens. This garden where we had a short walk is known as Mughal Gardens.
I address Universities and higher educational institutions. I visit them and advice them. I am also encouraging budding artistes, young innovators, writers and painters. Selected persons are invited to stay with us, share the life of Rashtrapati Bhavan and they are enjoying it. These are the things I am doing.
TASS: Mr. President, I would like to refer to one of the most remarkable, famous things in India- its kitchen. India is a country which is very different from all other countries. It is unique but Indian kitchen in this point of view is the most unique and special. I know a huge of amount of people who are fans of Indian kitchen regardless of spices. Mr. President, what dishes do you prefer? What are your favorite thing and what do you usually eat? For example, if you are preparing for those who are visiting India?
Hon. President: It is a very interesting question. I must say that India has different varieties of food, language, culture, race and way of life. In different parts, you will find different types of foods. I come from the eastern part of Bengal. Of course, we had a very old relationship with Russia. Our poet Rabindranath Tagore who visited Russia in 1930s wrote some beautiful letters from Russia to his relatives including his son and others which are translated into English as ‘Letters from Russia’. He and every Bengali, including me are very fond of sweets and rice, different preparations of rice.
South Indian people also prefer items made of rice but the mode of preparation is different. People from North-western India are more fond of wheat. So, you will find different cuisines in different parts of India, from Bombay duck to various other preparations. I can say that from Bombay duck in the west to a very good sweet in the eastern part called rossogullas, there is a very wide range of Indian cuisine available. I think Russian visitors will enjoy all of this. Of course, in Rashtrapati Bhavan, we prepare a large number of items of Indian cuisine for banquets. We also serve western style of food to our guests.
TASS: Mr. President, you said the name of Rabindranath Tagore. I love his poems that have been translated in to Russian and published many times in Russia and Soviet Union. The lovers of literature do value him a lot. I know that you know some of his poems by heart. It is a bit bold for me but may be you can read some poems by heart now.
Hon. President: Of course, I can quote a few lines from Tagore. But before that, I would like to mention one small event. You know Tagore died at the age of 80 in August 1941. His friends have written that he used to read the newspapers to see the progress of the war. Just a few hours before he went for a surgical operation, he was informed the Russians are defeating the advancing parties of Germans and moving ahead. Tagore’s friends knew of his love for Russia. Tagore said, yes, they they alone can do it; and I am happy that they will do it.
Tagore composed a very beautiful poem describing how India has developed over the centuries. The subject is the ‘Soul of India’. I quote, "Keho nahi jane kar aobhane kato manusher dhara”. It means nobody knows how many streams of people have come from where and how they have converged into the vast sea of humanity that is India. This is because if you analyse the Indian population, you will find all major ethnic identities and ethnic groups present. A large number of Caucasians live in the North-Western parts. A huge mass of Dravidian origin lives in the South. The whole of North-East India is full of Mongoloid people. And this convergence of ethnicities is the characteristic of India.
It is also interesting that Rabindranath Tagore, our Nobel Laureate sang what is now the National Anthem of India, ‘Jana Gana Mana’ in 1930 to some students when he visited the Alisa Kingina Commune of Pioneers in Russia.
Tagore always spoke of humanity and the human soul which is larger and cannot confined by any narrow boundary.
TASS: Thank you Mr. President, you have said marvellous words about great Indian and a great Bengali. He was a person of great wisdom. Mr. President, I know that you are celebrating 80 years. We do not celebrate in advance. I hope that we will have a chance to celebrate. For about 60 years of your life, you are together with your wife, your spouse. You have wonderful children. What are the advice you have given to your children? What are the family traditions you value the most from the height of your age?
Hon. President: The value system of my family is the average Indian value system which we have inherited as our civilizational values. In India, family bond is something which is very sacred to the Indian people. With these vast multitudes of people, legal entitlements are there; but hardly any divorce takes place. We have grown up with these values.
My wife is herself an artiste and a good singer of Tagore’s songs. My daughter is a dancer of Kathak, a classical Indian dance. She is in politics now. My elder son, who was an engineer and expert in steel metallurgy, is a Member of Parliament now. Previously he was Member of the Provincial Assembly of West Bengal.
My family has been a political family. My son is a third generation legislator. My father was a freedom fighter who fought against British imperialist forces and British rule in India. He served a number of years in prison during the freedom struggle.
Three generations of my family have been became members of legislatures.
Family values are important and they are inherited from our core civilisational values.
TASS: Mr. President, I have one last question. Our program is called the formula of power, the equation of power if you may call it. You have been a President of few years and you had been a minister for many years. I always ask the same question in the interviews. What is power to you? What is its taste?
Hon. President: This is a perennial question that many people ask. Sometime back, I read a very interesting book on how American Presidents starting from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln, President Franklin D. Roosevelt who was President during World War II and later day Presidents, Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton etc. exercised their power.
It is very difficult to define power. But what we believe is that power is not accumulation and concentration. This is also a core value of Indian civilisation. Power is diffusal and dispersion. If you really want to enjoy power, you must renounce power. Though it appears contradictory, it is not contradictory. That is because if you believe ultimately that power remains with the people who you are to serve, then you can really enjoy power. And if you want to concentrate it, then perhaps it leads to the prophetic utterance of Lord Acton - "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
TASS: ... ... ...
Hon. President: Thank you.
This interview is also available on the website of President of India and can be seen at - http://www.presidentofindia.nic.in/foreignvisitdetail.htm?28&fvid=11