Hon’ble Speaker Sir,
First of all, I thank all the Hon’ble Members for their views, concerns and sentiments about the ongoing situation in Ukraine. Yesterday, 28 members spoke on this subject. I listened to all of them with great attention and all of them made some points of relevance and consideration.
2. We strive to ensure that foreign policy is a subject of maximum consensus in the country. Certainly, that should be the case with a subject as important as Ukraine. And I was glad to see yesterday that that was the case. I was also very pleased that four Ministers spoke on this matter, because these Ministers went to the neighbouring countries, they participated in the evacuation operations and they brought a ground perspective which was very important for the House to listen to.
3. Hon’ble Members would all agree that India’s approach should be guided by our national beliefs and values, by our national interest and by a national strategy. Let me dwell on each of these aspects before addressing some of the specific issues that were brought up by Hon’ble Members yesterday.
4. What is India advocating in Ukraine? We are, first and foremost, strongly against the conflict. We believe that no solution can be arrived at by shedding blood and at the cost of innocent lives. In this day and age, dialogue and diplomacy are the right answers to any disputes. And this should bear in mind that the contemporary global order has been built on the UN Charter, on respect for international law, and for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states. If India has chosen a side, it is the side of peace and it is for an immediate end to violence. This is our principled stand and it has consistently guided our position in international forums and debates including in the United Nations.
5. Sir, many Hon’ble Members brought up the happenings in Bucha. And I want to say that we are deeply disturbed by the reports. We strongly condemn the killings that have taken place there. This is an extremely serious matter and we support the call for an independent investigation.
6. Sir, the conflict in Ukraine has had significant consequences for the global economy and for our national economy. Like all other countries, we too are assessing the implications and deciding what is best for our national interest. Members are aware that in a complex and globalized world, every nation takes into account the reality of inter-dependence. Therefore, even as they express their positions in words and deeds, they also adopt policies that safeguard the well-being of their population. As a result, we have seen even in Europe that energy flows continue, despite tensions. Similarly, a conscious effort was made to insulate the fertilizer market from volatility. There are numerous other measures in different domains, including financial and payment carve-outs. Even non-essential goods that have salience for individual economies have been factored in the equation. So, what should India then do in these circumstances?
7. At a time when energy costs have spiked, clearly we need to ensure that the common person in India is not subject to an additional and unavoidable burden. Similarly, fertilizer prices have a direct implication for the livelihood of the majority of our population. And indeed, for food prices for all of us. Even the security of the nation is at stake, as we maintain our defence posture in the manner that the current security challenges warrant. All these, Speaker Sir, are legitimate pursuits of national interest by India. They are similar to what other nations are doing from their particular perspective. Attributing a political colouring to it is uncalled for, it is unfair. I do not even wish to get into which country is doing how much. Eventually, the numbers will speak for themselves.
8. Additionally, there was a natural concern for our citizens – especially our students – who were trapped in conflict zones. The House will recall that I had made a suo-moto statement on this subject. But some comments were made yesterday about Operation Ganga. I would like to respond to that a little later.
9. Now, keeping these factors in mind, what should be our national strategy? The Government believes that it should have four elements:
i. One, in terms of diplomacy, India continues to press forcefully for an immediate cessation of hostilities and an end to violence. We encourage talks between Ukraine and Russia, including at the level of their Presidents. Prime Minister has spoken to them both, himself in this regard. This was precisely the message that was conveyed to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov when he was in Delhi. If India can be of any assistance in this matter, we will be glad to contribute.
ii. Two, the ground situation calls for urgent humanitarian relief. We have already provided 90 tonnes of relief material and I was glad to see that many Honourable Members yesterday noted it and appreciated it. And we did it, even while we were in the middle of an evacuation. So, I think that that also is a factor that should be recognized. Ukrainian Deputy PM Yuliia Svyrydenko called me a few days ago to request the supply of more medicines. The House will be glad to know that this is underway and delivery should start very soon.
iii. Three, we will work with the international community and partner countries to mitigate the economic hardships that are resulting from this conflict. Obviously, our focus is to soften its impact on our own economy. But equally, there are partners who are going through very tough times. Coordinating on lowering energy prices is one collective initiative. In the case of a neighbour like Sri Lanka, we are even supplying fuel on credit and food on credit. Food security is another major concern. India has been approached for the supply of wheat and sugar by many countries and we are responding positively. The House will be glad to know that whether it is Basmati rice, non Basmati rice, sugar, wheat, our exports in the last quarter have gone up very substantially. We have delivered for the world in terms of vaccines. We did it earlier for medicines. So, I would like to assure the House Sir, through you, that we will also step forward where global demands for food, grains and other materials are concerned and we will do it in a manner that is helpful to the global economy; which will not take undue advantage of countries in distress.
iv. Four, there are cases, there are issues like the supply of edible oil. Some members referred to it yesterday because we import sunflower oil in very large quantity from Ukraine. Or of fertilizers that I spoke about. Now, our commercial diplomacy has to find additional sources to address this disruption. There could be more such examples in the days to come. And I would like to apprise this House Sir, through you, that whether it is the supply of lentils, whether it is the requirement of raw materials for fertilizers, we are in different ways -whether it is edible oil- from MERCOSOUR, to Kazakhstan, Tanzania and Australia, to Canada, we are really looking today at global markets to see how we can lighten the burden for the common people of India, as a result of this crisis.
10. Let me say sir, that overall, therefore, India’s approach will be to promote dialogue to end the conflict; mitigate economic distress for itself and for the world; and to work with its partners to these ends. I can also say that many other nations who have engaged us recently at the level of Prime Minister, at my level, with other Ministers, they share such a view. Many of them are glad to work with us. Many of them are pleased that we have taken the lead in many of these issues.