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Keynote address by External Affairs Minister at FICCI AGM, New Delhi - Translating Aspirations into Reality- India@2022 (December 18, 2015)

December 18, 2015

Dr. Jyotsna Suri, President, FICCI,
Shri, Harshvardhan Neotia,
President-elect, FICCI,
Distinguished members of Indian Industry,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to address the 88th Annual General Meeting of FICCI.

It is appropriate that the theme for this year is ‘Translating Aspirations into Reality’. Indeed, that is exactly what governance seeks to do in all societies, especially democracies.

It is in fact the extent of that translation that defines success in politics.

As India’s External Affairs Minister, I have naturally been most interested in how our external engagements have helped us catalyse progress at home. Allow me, therefore, to take this opportunity to share with you all our current assessment in regard to foreign policy.

The results of the 2014 general elections were very much driven by the growing aspirations of our people, particularly the youth.

They sought more opportunities for improving their lot, whether it was in livelihood, education, health or housing. This was across the country,as much in rural areas as urban.

Electoral results showed that the people of India reposed faith in our party, under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership, as being best placed to deliver in that regard. We are acutely conscious of that responsibility.

Even within the first few months,you have all seen a series of flagship programmes that are designed not just to improve the economy but to transform the entire society.

Expectations of change were not just limited to the quality of life. The nation also wanted a greater sense of security.

Beset by terrorist attacks sponsored from abroad and insurgency at home, there was a growing feeling that a firmer hand was required to steer national security. It was also natural that India’s immediate neighbourhood was the focus of attention.

Disturbances there added to a feeling of instability. Equally, opportunities were often not exploited for lack of confidence. It was apparent that decisive policies were required to address longstanding problems and create a larger zone of cooperation.

Beyond our immediate periphery, the world had clearly taken a more complicated turn.

To our west, a new spectre of fundamentalist terror aggravated an already unstable region, threatening to spread its tentacles beyond. Given our energy dependence and community presence, its challenge could not be underestimated.

To the east, changes in the power balance and sharper territorial claims were impacting the security environment.

In Asia, our ability to influence key debates on connectivity and maritime security was clearly central to the securing of national interest.Indians, whose aspirations are as much for the nation as for themselves, looked forward to effective diplomacy that would make credible headway in that regard.

Yet another dimension of Indian aspirations was in the connected realm of culture and tradition.

As inheritors of an old civilization that values its openness and diversity, each one of us takes some pride in our global standing. For decades, we have operated in an international system that is driven by Western concepts and values.

The India of today aspires to project its own heritage on the global scene. In today’s parlance, we could say that it is to build our national branding. There is much to be done on that score. Finally, we had to consider the concerns and aspirations of the Indian diaspora.Indians historically have traversed the world and made their presence felt through trade and culture.

However, contemporary economic aspirations have provided a new impetus to their presence abroad.In different corners of the globe, there are today communities – large and small - who maintain their ties with their land of origin. Many of them contribute directly or indirectly to growth and development at home,whether through remittances, best practices or investments.

Nurturing this bond of kinship is therefore truly a win-win situation. Standing by them in times of trouble is also our basic duty, especially in the case of the vulnerable in difficult situations. The presence of so many Indians abroad only highlights our society’s enormous potential as a human resources superpower.

We have the demographics but the challenge is to derive the dividend. To do that, whether at home or abroad, it is imperative that our people are equipped with adequate work skills. This too has its international implications.With all these aspirations in mind, last year, we set about re-fashioning foreign policy to make it more effective to address these contemporary challenges.

So let me give you the score card on how much we have been able to translate them into reality. I do so bearing in mind that we have been in office for only 18 months and much work is still in progress.

It is apparent that many of the flagship programmes of the Government can be significantly strengthened through international collaboration. Consequently, much of our diplomacy focus has shifted to its economic dimensions, especially in facilitating business interactions.

Those of you who monitor our foreign policy would have noted that this is an increasing component of our programmes. Spreading the message of ‘easier to do business’ is one of our major goals. So too is the involvement of CEOs in this effort. The results are already beginning to make themselves felt.

There has been a marked increase in FDI commitments in the last year, estimated at 40% more than the one before. The ‘Make in India’ programme has started to gain increasing traction, the latest vote of confidence coming in the 12 billion dollars commitment made by Japan during PM Abe’s visit.

Our ‘Skill India’ endeavour has found experienced and responsive partners, ranging from Germany to Singapore. The international response to the ‘Digital India’ campaign was particularly visible when Prime Minister visited California.The interest in ‘Smart Cities’ has also been very strong.

The Ganga rejuvenation programme has been offered best practices and effective technologies. What you are all seeing today is India’s diplomatic skills at work in the service of the economy and society: delivering more jobs, ensuring better skills and accessing modern technology. The welfare of those who have gone abroad in search of a living has emerged as a particular priority in these difficult times.

Even in our short tenure, we have demonstrated our commitment to their well being by organising evacuations in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. In fact, there has been a sea change in how an Indian in distress perceives the Government. From individual cases to small groups and entire communities, we respond with sympathy, speed and creativity.

This is one area, where I can confidently assure you that the mindset of our bureaucracy has completely changed. We have taken great trouble to also strengthen India’s relationship with its diaspora.

This is reflected in better passport services, simplified visa procedures and changes in PIO/OCI cards.

By connecting directly with the diaspora, Prime Minister in particular has increased their enthusiasm to contribute to the changes underway in the country. We are seeing results of that, whether it be in ‘Swachh Bharat’ or in ‘Namami Gange’.

Foreign policy begins on our borders and quite appropriately, we embarked on a ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy from the very inception of our tenure. You will recall the invitation extended to our neighbourhood leaders to attend the swearing in of the Government. Since then, considerable progress has been made in these key relationships.

Bangladesh is a particularly notable example, where we have not only settled the longstanding boundary problem but have agreed on economic and connectivity projects that will have a truly transformational impact. With Bhutan, we have further consolidated a longstanding relationship.

Where Sri Lanka is concerned, the new Government is a valued partner with whom we are expanding bilateral cooperation, while addressing the ethnic problem. With Maldives, recent events point to a more intensive engagement in future. In respect of Myanmar, we are preparing for a political transition, confident that India’s interests are recognised by all parties.

With Nepal, our traditionally close relations were taken to the next level by this government.By calling for an inclusive Nepal and urging a political solution to long pending political problems, we are committed to unity, peace and stability of Nepal which will create a more durable foundation for our bilateral relations to prosper.

Ties with Pakistan have predictably been the most challenging to take forward. However, the recent NSA-level dialogue on security and terrorism and the establishment of a Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue following my visit to Islamabad now offers a pathway.

Countering terrorism has become an increasingly salient feature of our national security calculations. It has also become prominent in the public discourse about foreign policy. Much of it centres on our relationship with Pakistan, but there are also aspects beyond.

In the last year and more, our efforts have ensured that this is adequately reflected in the global agenda, multilateral or bilateral. Equal attention has been paid to improving the security preparedness of our armed forces. Let me emphasize that it is India’s diplomacy that has today created a situation, where we have ready access to defence technologies from all the key global sources.

Not many countries can claim that privilege. Accelerating long-pending procurement decisions at home complements the opportunities that we have created abroad. India’s relations with major powers have seen an upswing across the board since we assumed office.

The strengthening of the relationship with the US is evident in President Obama’s visit on January 26, the resolution of the nuclear liability problem and our working together on global issues. With key European powers like France, Germany and UK, our security and economic cooperation has expanded visibly.

China has been engaged with a greater sense of confidence, whether it is on the boundary problem or on exploring economic opportunities. With Russia we have deepened an already robust strategic partnership. As for Japan, all of you would have recognised the significance of the bullet train understanding as much as the conclusion of the civil nuclear cooperation negotiations.

Our engagement with other regions has been equally energetic. The Africa Summit was unprecedented in its scale and level of participation. This has dramatically changed the impression of India in that continent and opened up new opportunities for us. Similarly, we have made our presence felt through a range of activities in South East Asia as much as in Latin America.

Particular care has been given to engaging smaller nations who may have been neglected in the past. The summit of Pacific Island States underlines our new approach. The world is responding to our vision of progress, our stronger sense of purpose and the changes already on the ground.

There is no doubt that India’s international profile has been significantly enhanced in the last 18 months. Our views on key international issues – be it on trade, climate change, terrorism or maritime security - are also being given greater consideration.

The overall image of India that we have managed to project, even in a short while, is of a country that is serious about meeting its commitments and responsibilities. This has made us a more credible player at international events, as you would have noticed in Paris recently.

The shift from ‘Look East’ to ‘Act East’ is also intended to underline that issues of connectivity, trade and security are being addressed more purposefully today. But equally, the projection of India as a civilization that enriches global culture, has also been much stronger.

The International Day of Yoga that was marked across the world is perhaps the most visible symbol of this development.

But there are other activities which support this effort, ranging from language conferences and performing arts to promotion of Ayurveda.

As this Government proceeds to execute its mandate for change, let me assure you all that its foreign policy component would deliver to the fullest. Our goal is to utilise international relations to ensure a prosperous, secure and modern India that emerges as a leading power. By doing so, we would be meeting the aspirations of the entire nation.

Thank You.

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