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Gandhi talks of free enterprise, India's hopes, politics

President Reagan advocates a stronger role for the private sector in achieving development, especially in developing countries. Do you agree with him?

The private sector works with the profit motive. They don't do something for nothing. Now when you have gigantic problems of poverty, or economic backwardness, can you afford that?

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If the poor people feel that you are not helping them, they are not going to tolerate you. They are not going to tolerate the system. And after all, this is what has happened where there have been violent revolutions, and it has happened in India.

We find (that) many owners in industries - although they make enormous profits - don't modernize them. And when the mills suddenly stop working, then they say the mill is sick and the government should take it over.

On the contrary, they have been very much pampered, and at a certain point we had no choice because the choice was: Do we help them to increase production and to diversify, or do we buy from the outside (import)? Obviously it is better to make (goods) in the country, even if it is helping a few people to become richer.

Do you find the people having higher expectations than they had 10 or 20 years ago?

Oh yes! Higher than last year. Every year expectations grow. Originally, people said: Well, we just want irrigation or village roads. Now everybody says: Why aren't there railroad stations? Why haven't we got an airport?

If the members of your party favored a presidential system of government, as in France, to provide more authority to the leader of India, would you agree to that?

No system is perfect, neither the French nor the American nor ours. Now we have to see what, if any, obstacles there are to growth. But I certainly don't think that you should say that, just because something was done so many years ago, you have to stick to it. You have to see whether the people are getting justice, whether they are really getting democracy.

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Democracy is not just people having votes or having newspapers. Now we find that where people are very poor, they may under the Constitution and according to law have the same rights, but in practice they do not have those rights, for a number of social and economic reasons. So democracy isn't complete until you can give them those.

There is not a strong opposition party in India today. Does that help or hurt democracy?

I don't think that it makes a difference, because democracy is not whether there is an opposition or not but whether the people can express their views. And the opposition, however small, is very vocal, and it has all the press with it. It has a lot of people in very high authority. Also, they act in a way which weakens us.

Does the Congress Party still have its grass-roots support?

Well, it has, but I must admit that people don't have that spirit of service, that spirit of going to the villages. Life has become more comfortable generally for everybody. Early on, all the workers went on bicycles or on foot to villages. Now everybody wants a jeep, and we just don't have that sort of money.

How are your relations with China?

It was I who took the initiative during my previous regime to reestablish diplomatic relations and to have talks on various issues. I succeeded in that first stage. Now we have come to the much more difficult stage, which is the border dispute. We had two meetings, one there and one here.

Is there any hope of a friendship treaty, or no-war pact, with Pakistan?

Well, it is very difficult; we can't give a date to these things. But we have been wanting a no-war pact since 1949, which is a long time ago. We were a little surprised at the manner in which Pakistan put forward their idea, when all along they had been refusing to consider it. In fact, when we had the Simla agreement - and you know in a few days it will be 10 years since we signed it (it was signed July 28, 1972) - Mr. Bhutto then said his people were allergic to these three words, ''no-war pact.'' But we do feel that unless there is a friendly atmosphere, it is no use just saying that we are not going to fight. You must help to create such an atmosphere.

You have sought a negotiated settlement to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Do you think it is wrong that the Afghan rebels continue to shoot at the Soviet troops?

Now, don't you think that a negotiated settlement becomes more difficult if shooting is going on? . . . The rebels (are) getting a lot of outside help.

So you are against the rebels?

It is not a question of against, but I think that it is an interference as much as what the Soviets are doing. Now we have very clearly stated our opinion publicly and privately that we are against and we oppose outside interference, military or otherwise. And we think the other interference is just as dangerous, as many developing countries have found to their cost. But they (the Soviets) were invited by the Afghan regime.

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