It is a great pleasure to welcome you all at this gathering of the diplomatic corps in New Delhi. Our meeting takes place as the Narendra Modi Government completes eight years in office. It also provides an occasion to reaffirm a return to normalcy after two difficult years of the Covid pandemic.
2. Since you all live here, the scale and intensity of change that India has experienced in these eight years is perhaps more evident than it may be to others more distant. I am sure that each one of you in your own way have tried to absorb that and communicate that back home. It could be the Covid response that included building capacities from scratch, the massive vaccination campaign that overcame so many hurdles, the financial, digital and communication transformation that has made direct benefits transfer possible, or indeed, the enormity of the housing, electrification, water connection, and cooking gas access that have been delivered. Some of the empathy that you all feel was visible in the support expressed by your respective countries when we passed through the worst of the Covid last year.
3. The Covid pandemic, however, has not been the only driver of a more volatile and uncertain world. No question, it has brought out the risks of the over-centralized model of globalization that was being followed. Consequently, it has encouraged the building of reliable and resilient supply chains. I am sure that many of you have noted the Government’s initiatives to promote manufacturing, facilitate services and improve the ease of doing business. But if you were to extrapolate that further, the outlines of an emerging economic outlook would also become visible. Among its notable elements are FTAs that India has concluded recently, the negotiations underway with others that have picked up momentum, as well as the frameworks and initiatives to which we have now committed. Processes aside, our message is one of engaging the world intensively, obviously drawing benefits for our own people, but while also contributing in greater measure to global welfare, development and security.
4. I hope that you also share my belief that Indian foreign policy thinking is displaying greater conceptual and operational clarity. Whether it is explanation or communication, some of the contemporary catch phrases have been impactful in their public resonance. If you consider Neighbourhood First, for example, it is now clearly associated with a generous and non-reciprocal approach to our immediate proximity. We envisage India as a larger lifting tide for the entire region. Our investments in connectivity, expansion of contacts and promotion of cooperation have also been noteworthy. Whether it was during Covid or the current economic challenges, India has gone the extra mile for its neighbours and will continue to do so.
5. We have also articulated a sharp awareness of our extended neighbourhood. It is expressed as an Act East policy, a Sagar outlook, a Gulf engagement and a Central Asia initiative. In each case, whether it is leadership attention, diplomatic energies, practical projects or shared activity, the record is one of higher commitment.
6. India’s diplomacy has also naturally focused on major powers, on key economic hubs, on significant energy sources and on influential regional players. We have conducted that with open-mindedness and objectivity, practicing in foreign policy our maxim of Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas. In seeking solutions to larger complicated issues, we believe in Sabka Prayas as well. Many of our engagements also reflect the importance we give to diplomacy for development, where foreign technology, capital, best practices and collaborations are directly applied to accelerate our national growth, including through our flagship programmes and initiatives.
7. The Global South has merited greater attention as well. Where Africa, Latin America and Caribbean or the Pacific Islands are concerned, there has been a spike in our engagement and activities. The Covid years did disrupt some of the momentum and we expect to pick up on that very soon.
8. India has always viewed the United Nations as important to global peace, security and development. We currently serve as a non-permanent member of the Security Council and one very active in UN organizations and in its peacekeeping. While our endeavours will always remain supportive, we also share the disappointment of the international community about the UN’s declining effectiveness. Our advocacy of reformed multilateralism therefore has become even stronger.
9. Now paralleling what is happening in the world of trade, diplomacy is also searching for optimal solutions to processing situations at the sub-global level. In recent times, the merits of engaging partners on agreed issues and defined domains are increasingly apparent. Some of these exercises are more flexible than others. They reflect convergences and intersections, rather than congruence. These have resulted in quadrilaterals, trilaterals and regional arrangements. The utility of 2+2 meetings with relevant players is also very apparent.
10. An India that is more capable is also an India more sensitive to global expectations. The last eight years have seen us undertake the responsibility of First Responder in many situations and you saw some examples in the film which we just watched. The earthquake in Nepal, the conflict in Yemen, the water crisis in the Maldives, the mudslides in Sri Lanka, the typhoon in Myanmar or the floods in Mozambique, all these are notable examples. But while doing so, we seek to strengthen the capacities of our partners as well. In that very spirit, we are responding to the food, health and other requirements of the Afghan people now. Our historical ties warrant that we take the long view.
11. Strengthening a rules-based order is a natural inclination of a polity like India. We value all opportunities to contribute to it. Our membership of the MTCR, Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement are therefore significant. As a nation with a substantial nuclear industry, we also look forward to joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group, overcoming the political impediments that are against global interest.
12. It is not however just in contingencies and mechanisms that India can make a difference. We are taking initiatives on global concerns that are truly consequential. The International Solar Alliance that we have co-led now has a 106 members. Similarly, the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure is making steady progress. Our decisions and intentions have had a major bearing on climate action and climate justice.
13. We are active too in shaping the global discourse on many other issues. It could be connectivity and maritime security, resilient and reliable supply chains, data and cyber security or indeed terrorism, violent extremism and black money, India has interests and views that it has put forward with assurance. Now many of you have been our interlocutors in these exercises and I thank you today for your understanding and cooperation. It would have left you with a clear sense that we take global issues, the global commons and global good very very seriously.
14. The proof of the pudding is however in the eating and that was certainly so when it came to our Covid response. We supplied Made in India vaccines to 98 countries and continue doing so even today. Our medicines and medical personnel also made contributions abroad in these very crucial times. We count Vaccine Maitri as one of our key achievements of this period, not just for reasons of health but as a statement of solidarity.
15. The Covid pandemic has undoubtedly been the most devastating phenomenon in living memory for many of us. We cannot overlook it even as we go on with life. But just as we were hoping to recover from its effects, the world is now confronted with the repercussions of the Ukraine conflict. Our position on the matter itself has been stated at length at various forums. But beyond the conflict, the world today faces severe challenges in the rising costs of energy, food and fertilizers. The Global South is particularly impacted. The need for an early end to the fighting and a return to diplomacy truly gets stronger with each passing day.
16. The difficult realities of international relations make themselves felt in multiple ways. For some of us, that is expressed in the challenges of hard security. In India’s case, we have specifically seen that in the phenomenon of terrorism. Diplomacy has contributed to addressing that challenge by delegitimizing it and by denying support and sustenance to terrorism. Our borders also need safeguarding and we will never accept any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo. A posture that departs from established understandings will evoke its own responses. When it comes to security, we will do what it takes to ensure national well-being. I acknowledge also the role of trusted partners who work with us to help keep India safe and secure every day. We have overcome the hesitations of history and will not allow anyone a veto on our choices.
17. A nation like India obviously needs to contemplate its security in the broadest way possible. In the past, mantras of globalization lowered its defences and discouraged the building of deeper strengths. That realization is responsible for the commitment we now see to Atma Nirbhar Bharat. We certainly want to make in India, but we want to make with the world, and we want to make for the world.
18. An economically stronger India expresses its deep belief of the world being a family through greater development partnerships. The last eight years have witnessed a tripling of our Lines of Credit commitments over the previous eight year period. The value of project completion also went up by 38%. Our neighbourhood and our African partners were the main beneficiaries, even as we expanded projects into new areas. In the coming years, we intend to focus even more on green growth, on digital delivery and on health capacities.
19. An expanding engagement with the world encourages us to visualize it in an era of technology as a global work place. Some of that comes in the form of development partnerships that I have spoken about. But we do perceive that a knowledge economy requires smooth flow of talent and skills. Accordingly, we have prioritized mobility and migration agreements that addresses the interests of all stakeholders. We note significant progress in that regard and would urge you all to appreciate the win-win outcomes that they generate. The million-plus Indian students studying abroad are also an important facet of India’s external interaction. Responding effectively to their requirements is our shared responsibility. The New Education Policy now provides opportunities to address this domain more creatively and help us to welcome more foreign students into India.
20. In a more globalized world, it is equally natural that a large number of Indian citizens and persons of Indian origin live in other countries. Some may be there more recently, temporarily and professionally. Others could have settled down, in some cases for multiple generations. But they are a unique living bridge between India and the world and should be valued accordingly. From time to time, their interests and well-being are a subject of our conversation. We particularly appreciate the support of many of your governments during the pandemic time in this context. If the Vande Bharat Mission was so successful, some of the credit goes to all of you as well. Similarly, the support that we received from Ukraine’s neighbours during Operation Ganga was also very valuable. On our part, it is by now established tradition that any rescue and relief effort also covers citizens of other countries.
21. The changes that Indian diplomacy is undergoing is expressed in multiple ways. Some of that are in policies, in priorities and in practices that I have outlined. But there are other steps that indicate new thinking and fresh approaches. The International Day of Yoga and the promotion of Ayurveda represent the projection of a confident culture. The establishment of a division dealing with States speaks of cooperative federalism. A technology division underlines the relevance of that domain. The opening of new Embassies signifies our growing footprint abroad. Our engagement with think-tanks and civil society has intensified, underlined by initiatives like the Raisina Dialogue. Indeed, our very way of assessing performance has changed, putting greater emphasis on trade, technology and tourism.
22. The India that you live in and report on is obviously different from the one before. It has development as its focal point, whether at home or in foreign policy. It is a daily proof that democracies can deliver. Its human development indices improve constantly, even as it rises to meet unprecedented challenges. This is a polity with an enhanced popular participation in its decision making and greater authenticity in its expressiveness. It is one that harmonises its national interests with its international obligations. Appropriately, as India celebrates 75 years of independence, it seeks to do so with the world.
23. So today, I thank you all here for your presence. But through you, I also send a message to your Governments from mine how much we value our relationship and how committed we are to enhancing further our cooperation.