New Delhi: Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Wednesday asserted that a sustained high rate of economic growth is a prerequisite for India to become a comprehensive national power.
"As a nation, we seem to oscillate between embracing growth as the highest goal and deriding growth as no panacea for the ills that afflict the country. If we do not have sustained high growth over a long period of time, we will be, forever, an undernourished, undereducated, under-provided and under-performing nation," he said while delivering the K Subrahmanyam Memorial Lecture in New Delhi.
"We will also fall behind in scientific and technological advancements and the gap between India and the developed world, and the gap between India and other emerging countries including China, will continue to grow."
"We will also be constrained in our ability to defend national security against both external and internal threats," Chidambaram stressed.
The lecture was organised jointly by the Subbu Forum, former colleagues and admirers of the pre-eminent national security strategist, and the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA).
"Yet, we adopt a disdainful attitude to growth. Some think that the value of growth is overstated and that we would be better off if we pursued not the goal of growth but other goals such as cultural nationalism or debt-driven egalitarianism," the finance minister said, taking a dig at both the political right and the Left.
Chidamabaram said the choice before India today was whether it wanted to be the world's third largest economy and a middle income country, or the largest economy of the world that muddled along with the bulk of its people trapped in a life of low income, poor quality, high morbidity and great inequality.
These were the two models before the country. The first signified a secured and stable nation that contributed to peace and security in the region. The other is a threat to international security.
"There is no substitute for sustained growth over a long period of time if India should attain the status of, at least, a middle income country. It is only sustained growth that gives us a chance to tune the growth model in favour of inclusive development. Without growth, there will be neither development nor inclusiveness."
Chidambaram, who earlier served as the country's home minister, said recent history had many examples of nations that have single-mindedly pursued growth, prosperity and security.
The early winners were Japan and Korea. More recently, Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia had demonstrated their potential to join the ranks of such countries. China, if it achieved its goals, would be the country to emulate, he said.
"It is, therefore, a self-evident truth that growth is the key for greater public welfare and greater security...In fact, the case for high growth will be much stronger if one took into account the dimension of inclusive development that contributes to social cohesion and harmony."
Calling for a "comprehensive" view of national security, he said defending and promoting national security stood on three important pillars -- human resources, science and technology, and finance.
"The last of the three pillars is money. It is also the pillar that will support the first two pillars," he said, adding "money comes out of growth".
He said it was high growth that would "create the fiscal space" for the massive capital expenditure needed for attaining national security by upgrading human resources, research and development (R&D) and building capacity to the newest threat of cyber attacks to financial security.
"We have not used technology for bolstering national security," he said and called on the industry to invest in building secuirty related sectors like the aerospace industry.
To drive his point home, the finance minister quoted DRDO director V.K. Saraswat who lamented that "one HAL, one ADE or one ADA would not suffice. Industry has to accelerate and increase investments in a big way if you want India to become an aerospace and aeronautical manufacturing centre."
"The situation will not change unless we allow more players, who will bring more resources, into security related manufacturing and services sectors," added Chidambaram.