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Address by Foreign Secretary at the Times Network India Economic Conclave 2022

April 22, 2022


I would like to thank the Times Network for inviting me to speak at the India Economic Conclave 2022 on the subject of "India’s Great Democracy Dividend”.

2. Democracy is a central feature of our identity as citizens, and our national identity. It is also a central impulse that drives our foreign policy and strategic thinking.

3. We live in a world that has globalised, and continues to globalize, at velocities that are historically unprecedented.

4. We meet today in the shadow of several troubling events. We meet as we deal with the Coronavirus and its disruptions continue beyond a second year. We meet in the midst of geopolitical instability arising out of the situation in Ukraine. We meet as we continue to deal with challenges in our immediate neighborhood.

5. All of these events, even if they do not arise out of globalisation, require solutions that no single nation can provide.

6. Globalization began as a geopolitical and, then, geoeconomic fact. It is today, increasingly a geotechnical fact. The construct of globalization has thus changed. I have no doubt that it will continue to change. As it changes, so will the content of the problems that it generates. Pandemics, financial contagions, infodemics and more, will continue to challenge and threaten us.

7. Foreign and strategic policies constantly adapt to these new realities. The intellectual framework within which these problems are confronted requires to be renewed to deal with changing facts and circumstances.

8. The system that was created to manage post second world war realities is clearly falling short in facing 21st century problems.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

9. It is not just the international order that is changing.

10. India is a country that has changed more rapidly than most others. Its realities are changing even as the broader international situation changes and evolves.

11. The new India that is emerging finds answers and solutions to many of its problems in the principles and practice of democracy.

12. Democracy is not just a form of government. It is a way of thinking. It is a way of living. It provides a practical basis for approaching problems.

13. It is also a concept that has deep roots in India.

14. Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described India as the mother of democracy. He referred to the Indian experience of the principles of democracy that goes back millennia.

15. What are these principles? Ruling with the consent of the governed is the first and foremost. A system that deals with diversity of the human condition - thoughts, ethnicity, beliefs - on the basis of liberty and freedom, is the second. A firm commitment to the supremacy of laws and rules - as against the whims of individuals and establishments - is another.

16. The modern system that has been built to give effect to these principles consists of a framework that includes, amongst other things, constitutions, fundamental rights, elections, division of powers, checks and balances.

17. India’s record in this is well-known, acknowledged and highly-respected. Democracy was transplanted into India, literally overnight, in 1947. It was not the only country where this process of transplantation was adopted as the world gradually decolonized itself in the aftermath of World War II. It is, however, one of the few countries where democracy found fertile soil to attach and nourish itself.

18. A billion people, and more, have adopted democracy in India. This is, in my understanding, the single largest expansion of the free world in the last hundred years and more.

19. It is not entirely surprising that democracy, its institutions, and practices, took root in India.

20. It has, as Prime Minister Modi reminded us, very ancient roots.

21. Let me illustrate this with an example about the Buddha. He is known by many names. The Buddha; the Enlightened One; Shakyamuni, the wise man of the Shakyas; Siddhartha Gautam. He is the accepted creator of the Buddhist faith. He was, it is commonly accepted, born in what is now Nepal, and lived most of his life in India, 600 years before Christ.

22. The Buddha is one of those luminous figures in world history. His enormous appeal, which has never really waned, is due to the robustness of his ideas that have survived the march of time.

23. How the Buddha wanted his disciples to treat his teachings and his ideas is one of the most profound statements about Indian thinking.

24. The Buddha encouraged his followers to question authority. There is enough evidence, it is my understanding, that the Buddha insisted that no teaching, even that of the Buddha himself, should be taken at face value. There is controversy about what exactly he said. There is no controversy about the fact that he exhorted his followers to rely on their own faculties of thought and reason in arriving at judgments.

25. In other words, 600 years before Christ, in the territory that is now India, a God-like figure, and one who is revered by all Indians, encouraged his followers to speak freely and to speak the truth. And, to decide for themselves.

26. This predates Thomas Jefferson’s statement "It is every Americans’ right to and obligation to read and interpret the Constitution for himself” by 23 centuries.

27. It predates the death of Socrates, the father of Western philosophy by about two hundred years.

28. The right to freedom of expression, ladies and gentlemen, is hard-wired into our historical consciousness and our heritage as an Indian.

29. I simply intend to say here that it is a matter of historical record that the right to critically question authority has been encouraged for millennia in India.

30. We revere the Buddha, ladies and gentlemen. We revere the modern form of his teaching. We have enshrined it in our Constitution as the Right to Freedom of Expression.

31. Elected republican city-states such as Lichhavi and Shakya also flourished in India around the time of the Buddha.

32. There are many other instances that we all know of. Yudhisthira’s sense of righteousness and the Lord Rama’s sense of duty. Sant Kabir’s ability to include the many colours of a diverse culture and civilization in his "dohas”. Guru Nanak's syncretic thinking. Guru Gobind’s decision to ask his followers to respect the written work of the Guru Granth Sahib.

33. The concept of Dharma, integral to our existence as India, and as Indians, is the timeless embodiment of the concept that underlies the Rule of Law. Law is above the individual. There are consequences, as the law of Karma tells us, for our actions. And all, no matter how mighty, are subject to those laws and consequences. It is the same truth as the oft repeated Common Law axiom "be you so mighty, the law is mightier.”

Ladies and gentlemen,

34. These ancient principles and truths continue to guide our intent and action in the realm of foreign and security policy today.

35. Let me give you a few instances of how the principles underlying democracy have shaped our thinking.

36. The system that the United Nations charter underpins is a multilateral system. It is difficult to find a nation more committed to multilateralism - in letter and in spirit - than India.

37. India’s traditional contributions to the United Nations are well known. We are the amongst the largest developing country donors to the United Nations. More United Nations peacekeepers or blue helmets have come from India than from any other nation.

38. This commitment has been revitalized and substantially augmented in the recent past. We participate and shape the thinking of more multilateral and plurilateteral initiatives than ever before. In the last two years, the Prime Minister of India has himself chaired the United Nations Security Council, in which we are serving a non-permanent tenure; and participated in COP 26; in G7 meetings; in the G20; and in the Summit for Democracy. India has presided over the UN Security Council and has chaired BRICS and SCO. We are about to assume the Presidency of G20.

39. India has been the moving force behind newer multilateral organisations such as the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure that have 21st century agendas to deal with 21st century problems.

40. India is also the major supporter of plurilateral initiatives such as BIMSTEC and the Indian Ocean Rim Association.

41. We uphold through our growing participation and engagement with these multilateral platforms the concept of a rules based international order. We believe that nations, like people, are equal. That nations should not interfere in the internal affairs of others. That sovereignty must be respected.

42. It is these principles and the moral imperatives embedded in our minds that guided our actions during the dark and difficult days of the pandemic. India suffered during the pandemic. But India never forgot that it was a part of a larger global community. It was in the best and highest traditions of citizenship, a responsible global citizen. India rose above its own suffering to offer a helping hand where it could.

43. It was this that guided our actions as the pharmacy of the world to make critical medications and medical services available to more than 150 nations during the pandemic.

44. The Vaccine Maitri programme, which was based on unique Indian strengths in R&D and vaccine production, was another manifestation of the concept of responsible global citizenship and of the Indian belief in "Vasudaiva Kutumbakam”.

45. It is also these principles that guide India’s growing profile as a development partner, as a net provider of security and as a first responder in our immediate neighborhood and beyond. It underlies the concept of "Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishvas” articulated by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi.

46. India’s development partnership is committing an increasing envelope of resources to developing human resources, capacities and infrastructure with our neighbours.

47. India shares its values with its partners. We build parliaments and courts. We build hospitals and educational institutions.

48. We educate tens of thousands in Indian institutions through the Indian Technical Economic Cooperation Programme, through the Indian Council of Cultural Relations and through the growing numbers of students who in their individual capacities study in Indian schools and colleges. We are an education hub, promoting the values of democracy and values associated with democracy to a growing global constituency.

49. We have also emerged, because of these values, into a healthcare hub in the developing world. Indian hospitals and medical personnel treat, and cure, hundreds of thousands of patients from across the world.

50. We also build roads, railways and ports. Whatever we do, we make sure that Indian development assistance does not promote indebtedness or create crises.

51. We are a democracy promoting the values and institutions that we believe will promote democracy amongst our friends and partners.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

52. These values, that are at the core of our vision of the world and of our foreign and strategic policies, impart an unique credibility to India.

53. It is generally accepted that India is today an emerging pole in what External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar has described as a mutlipolar and multialigned world. It is also acknowledged to be a pole that is growing more rapidly than others in what is often referred to as the Asian Century. The contours of that century are slowly emerging and it is widely accepted that India is one of the key drivers of the change that is driving a strategic and economic rebalancing.

54. We are recognized as a force for stability and as a nation that acts as a balancing power. Our participation in platforms ranging from QUAD to BRICS to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has bestowed an unprecedented relevance to India in contemporary strategic equations.

55. In a world, which according to some has an growing faultline between those who are democratic and those who are not, we are, because of our values, a sought after international friend and partner.

56. We are, as I have pointed out earlier, seen as a net provider of security. Whether it is through the UN Security Council Presidential Statement on Maritime Security or the QUAD Vaccine Initiative or the recent agreement with the United States on Space Situational Awareness, our growing capacities and our intent, make us more relevant in improving human security around the world.

57. We are gradually emerging as thought leaders; as original thinkers in the global norms setting process. We are seen as a part of the solution and not of the problem. Whether it is climate change, or human rights, or international security, or development, or trade and business, India brings in both the capacity to contribute to solutions and the ability to contribute intellectually, and innovatively, to problem-solving exercises.

58. Concepts such as human-centric globalisation, articulated by our Prime Minister, draw sustenance from our intrinsic moral and ethical compasses. They are intellectual signposts for a post fourth Industrial Revolution world and for a globalisation that is driven by human well-being rather than pure commercial benefit.

59. The concept of Panchamrit, again articulated by Prime Minister at COP 26 last year, and of taking India to net zero by 2070 is another example of how our principles are being converted into practical objectives and policy guidelines. Our climate change goals, and our record, are "Vasudaiva Kutumbakam” in action.

60. We are seen not just as reliable poitical partners but as economic partners. Our commitment to democracy, to transparency, the rule of law and the unique Indian ethos of entrepreneurship and hard work, is paying an economic dividend. We matter more than ever before in all multilateral conversations that relate to economic and financial matters. India’s forthcoming G20 Presidency is both an acknowledgement of our augmented global standing and an opportunity to project our perspectives and highlight our priorities.

61. The concept of Atmanirbharata, which we translate in foreign policy language into "strategic autonomy”, is transforming our economic and technology diplomacy. We remain, in spite of the considerable disruptions of the pandemic, one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Contemporary economic events in the neighborhood highlight both the strength and the resilience of the Indian economy and its position as a source of liquidity and financial stability during difficult times.

62. We will, increasingly, become a more prominent hub for resilient and dependable supply chains and global value chains.

Ladies and gentlemen,

63. All of the above points towards one fact.

64. The democracy dividend for India in the foreign policy and strategic affairs domain exists and is growing.

Ladies and gentlemen,

65. I would like to end by quoting Swami Vivekananda. He said that "From time immemorial India has been the mine of precious ideas to human society; giving birth to high ideas herself, she has freely distributed them broadcast over the whole world.”

66. We are a nation that will continue on a trajectory towards greater capacity, greater willingness to contribute, more original thinking, and greater relevance . That is my firm conviction.

67. India, as our top leadership has often stated, sees itself as a force for good in the international polity.

68. The path to where we are today has been difficult and fraught with challenges. The path ahead will be no less so.

69. As we move down this path, we will continue to draw sustenance, strength and find guidance from the depths of our collective being.

Thank you.

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