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Reflections on meeting the President and the Prime Minister of India

March 12, 2008

It is indeed a sign of the high respect paid to IPPNW by Indian officials that delegations were invited to meet both the President and the Prime Minister of India.

Meeting with President of India Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil.

Dr. L.S. Chawla, President of Indian Doctors for Peace and Development introduced us to President Patil at her residence on March 8, and we were also joined by our Co-President Ime John of Nigeria, IPPNW Board Chair Bjorn Hilt of Norway, Tilman Ruff and Ruth Mitchell of Australia, Bob Gould of the United States, Inga Blum of Germany, and IPPNW Executive Director Michael Christ.

The President of India has a mostly symbolic function as an embodiment of the greatness and spirit of the country.

Originally the intention was that the President should speak at our Inaugural Session. However, the cost of the security around such an arrangement would have been extremely high and the organizers opted for the vice president whose presence required less extensive security.The presidential residence building is enormous. The opulence and magnificence of the rooms and of the guards contrasted with the unpretentious appearance of the President, an elderly Mother of India, a seemingly frail, almost Gandhi-thin woman whom we met. Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil assumed office as the 12th president of India July 25 2007. She was trained as a lawyer. She was in her early years an excellent table tennis player.During our about 20 minutes of audience with the President Dr Chawla talked about our organisation. In our presentation we recalled India’s proud tradition of work for international nuclear disarmament. If the USA, when the new administration comes into power, takes action for nuclear disarmament, what would India do? We expressed the hope that India would in cooperation with its neighbors Pakistan and China act for regional nuclear disarmament. After all, we had seen the bust of Mahatma Gandhi in the anteroom. We expected great initiatives from India.The President voiced great appreciation of our movement and said that our work was really for the benefit of all of us. ”All mankind is one family, isn’t that so” said the President. Our question was, as was to be expected, not answered directly.Ruth Mitchell from Australia congratulated India to its victory over Australia in cricket recently which the President gratefully appreciated.We gave the President a “guidebook” for the path to nuclear disarmament “Draft Model Nuclear Convention” in the hope that this would show that nuclear disarmament is a real possibility. After the meeting we where shown the great beautiful garden behind the palace.

Meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

On the 10th, we met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Dr. Chawla again made the introductions of Ime John, Ruth Mitchell, Bob Gould and Inga Blum. This time we were joined by former Canadian Senator Douglas Roche, the Chair of the Middle Powers Initiative, and IPPNW Program Director John Loretz.

The Prime minister of a country of more than one billion inhabitants is of course very busy. It is all the more remarkable that he set aside more than one quarter of an hour for our delegation. Dr Chawla opened by introducing IPPNW, our history and our Nobel Peace Award. The PM seemed to be well informed about this. During the meeting he repeatedly expressed his sincere appreciation of our work which he saw as being in line with the work of the India Gov’t. We then described recent developments which give us a hope that initiatives for nuclear weapons abolition would be taken by USA soon. How would India act if USA and Russia began sincere negotiations for nuclear abolition, aiming for Zero? May we expect that India calls on its neighbors China and Pakistan for possible regional nuclear disarmament? Or would India, in the tradition of Rajiv Gandhi, take any other bold initiatives for nuclear abolition?Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that he had repeated and updated the Rajiv Gandhi plan in his speech in the UN General Assembly two years ago. However, nuclear disarmament would have to be a global process. There was no place for a local, bilateral or regional initiative. China in particular would not be interested, China compares itself with the US, not with India.Senator Douglas Roche tried, using his diplomatic experience, to reformulate the question in several ways. However, the response was clear and unwavering: We are not to expect any initiative from India other than cooperation in a global disarmament process. “But how long would India wait? Until the US and Russia came down to the same number of nuclear weapons as India?” This was a rather academic question said the PM. We gave our host a copy of the Model Nuclear Convention and some other documents. He promised to study the convention (and his aides started immediately, we saw) and again expressed his appreciation of our work. The tenor of the discussion was polite and friendly.From the meeting with the President we got what we hoped for: Respect and recognition. Personally I was somewhat disappointed by the meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He was well informed of recent developments in USA and UK which opened an opportunity for initiatives for nuclear disarmament. He had no intention to take any initiative to use that opportunity. This is likely to be a result of his problems of balancing the domestic political forces. We did not discuss the US-India Nuclear Deal as we knew that there we would have no chance of making any impact, only cause irritation and decreasing our chances for future meetings.

Gunnar Westberg, IPPNW Outgoing Co-President

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