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USA/India – Opening Remarks at a Civil Society Roundtable (US Department of State)

MR KESHAP:  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  Nice to see all of you.  Thank you for joining us this morning.  It is a very great pleasure for me to participate in this morning’s discussion on inclusive development with the United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and our distinguished guests from these civil society organizations.

The theme selected for discussion today, “Advancing Equitable, Inclusive, and Sustainable Growth and Development,” is central to addressing the challenges that we face throughout the world, including in the United States and India.  We cherish the rich diversity of our societies and see this as a source of our strength.  Another great pillar of our strength is the roles of civil society in both the United States and India.

Today it is indeed my great honor to welcome Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Delhi and for what I am sure will be a very vibrant discussion.

Mr. Secretary, welcome.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you, well thank you so much.  Everyone, thank you very, very much.  It is a great pleasure to be with all of you.  This is actually the first event on our first day in India.  I’ve been here many times before, but this is my first visit in this capacity as Secretary of State, and I wanted to start the day with all of you.  And I’m really here to underscore the importance of the relationships between our countries, to try to deepen our ties and extend our cooperation.  I think it’s hard to find countries with more – who do more together in more different areas than with the United States and India.

Later today, I’ll have a chance to see Prime Minister Modi, External Affairs Minister Jaishankar, an old friend and colleague.  We’ll talk about many of the critical issues our countries are working on together, from COVID-19 to climate change, defense, mutual security, trade and investment, education, energy, science, technology.  The list goes on and on.

When you put it all together, the relationship between our countries is one of the most important in the world.  And I think that’s because not only is it a relationship between governments when we’re working between our governments, but critically it’s through relationships between the Indian and the American people.  We’re connected in so many different ways – business ties, university ties, religious and spiritual ties, and of course, millions of family ties.

Perhaps most important, we’re connected by shared values, and I believe shared aspirations, that are common to our people.  The Indian people and the American people believe in human dignity, in equality of opportunity, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion and belief.  We believe that all people deserve to have a voice in their government and be treated with respect no matter who they are.  These are fundamental tenets of democracies like ours, and our purpose is to give real meaning to these words and constantly renew our commitment to these ideals.

And of course, both of our democracies are works in progress.  As friends, we talk about that, because doing the hard work of strengthening democracy and making our ideals real is often challenging.  We know that firsthand in the United States, where we aspire to be, in the words of our founders, a more perfect union.  That’s an acknowledgement from day one of our country that in a sense we will always fall short of the mark, but that the way to make progress is by constantly trying to achieve those ideals.  As I said before, sometimes that process is painful, sometimes it’s ugly, but the strength of democracy is to embrace it.

At the same time, we celebrate our achievements.  Here in India, that includes the free media, independent courts, a vibrant and free and fair electoral system – the largest expression of free political will by citizens anywhere in the world.  At a time of rising global threats to democracy and international freedoms – we talk about a democratic recession – it’s vital that we two world leading democracies continue to stand together in support of these ideals.

We also know that successful democracies include thriving civil societies.  That’s how citizens become more fully engaged in the life of their communities.  It’s how we organize and provide the resources to respond to emergencies.  And we’ve seen people and organizations come together throughout COVID-19 in creative and incredibly generous ways, and civil society is also where we’re able to build meaningful connections across our social, religious, and cultural differences.

In short, if we want to make our democracies more open, more inclusive, more resilient, more equitable, we need vibrant civil society.  As leaders in your respective communities, I think you know this better than anyone.  I am proud of all the connections that already exist between civil society organizations in our countries.  I want to support more of those connections to make the overall partnership between our democracies even stronger.

So what I hope we can do in our time today is do a little bit of that to continue to strengthen the connections among civil society and between civil society and government.  I need to learn more about the work that you’re doing in your communities, especially during this pandemic.  I want to know what more we can do to strengthen the ties between our civil society, and I want to hear your ideas, your ideas about how to drive inclusive, equitable development, because that’s something that democracies all over the world are called upon to do.

So thank you again for taking the time to have this conversation.  I’m especially eager to hear from you.  And with that, we can get started.