With India set to become an elected member of the UN Security Council next year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi presented an upbeat and forward-looking agenda stressing India’s contributions to the global good, while also pointing out the shortcomings of the UN.
Modi told the UN General Assembly’s High-Level Meeting in a pre-recorded speech, “We treat the whole world as one family. It is part of our culture, character and thinking. In the United Nations too, India has always given priority to the welfare of the whole world.”
At the fractitious UN Security Council, he said, “As the world’s largest democracy we will bring our years of rich developmental experience for the benefit of the whole world. Our way forward is to proceed from human welfare to the welfare of the world.”
But he asked, “The international community today is faced with a very important question: Whether the character of the institution, constituted in the prevailing circumstances of 1945, is relevant even today?”
Making the case for a permanent seat for India on the UN Security Council, he said, “Today, the people of India are concerned whether this reform-process will ever reach its logical conclusion. For how long will India be kept out of the decision-making structures of the United Nations?”
Stressing on the need for UN reforms, he pointed out its failure on the COVID-19 pandemic front.
He said, “Over the last eight to nine months, the whole world has been battling the pandemic of the coronavirus. Where is the United Nations in this joint fight against the pandemic? Where is its effective response?”
His statesman-like speech stayed off any contentious regional issues and did not mention any country or, unlike many, did not criticise others directly.
The threatened protests outside the UN failed to materialise on a grey day overshadowed by rain clouds in New York. His speech may have also been a disappointment to those who expected a sharp take on regional issues and were preparing to rage.
Setting out India’s pharmadiplomacy, Modi took on the overwhelming concern of the world, the COVID-19 crisis that has been a running theme in the speech of every leader, and offered to put his country’s vaccine-making capacity – the largest in the world – at the service of “all humanity”.
“India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity will be used to help all humanity in fighting this crisis,” Modi said.
As many developing countries may not have the facilities to store and distribute vaccines, Modi added that India will help countries set up cold chain and storage capacities.
He noted that as the world’s pharmacy, “even during these very difficult times of the raging pandemic, the pharmaceutical industry of India has sent essential medicines to more than 150 countries.”
At the UN Security Council, Modi said, “India will not hesitate in raising its voice against the enemies of humanity, human race and human values – these include terrorism, smuggling of illegal weapons, drugs and money-laundering.”
He added, “India’s cultural heritage, tradition, thousands of years of experience will always stand in good stead for the developing countries.”
“It is a fact that the faith and respect that the United Nations enjoys among the 1.3 billion people in India is unparalleled,” he said.
Turning to India’s foreign policy, Modi restated his view of a post-polarisation, dynamic non-alignment.
“Any gesture of friendship by India towards one country is not directed against any third country,” he said.
“When India strengthens its development partnership, it is not with any malafide intent of making the partner country dependent or hapless,” he added.
On regional policy, he said, “From India’s ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’ to our ‘Act East Policy’, as well as the idea of ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’, or our views towards the Indo-Pacific region, we have always worked for the interests of humankind and not driven by our own self-interests. India’s partnerships are always guided by this very principle.”
Modi spoke of his policy of Aatmanirbhar Bharat – or ‘Self-reliant India’ – in the post-COVID world.
He said, “In the changed circumstances of the post-pandemic era, we are moving forward with the vision of a Self-reliant India. A Self-reliant India will also be a force multiplier for the global economy.”
Modi showcased India’s developmental efforts as a democracy of 1.3 billion people.
“Following the mantra of Reform-Perform-Transform, India has made great efforts to bring about transformation in the lives of millions of its citizens. These experiences are as useful for many countries of the world as they have been for us,” he said.
But he added with a touch of humility, “In its journey towards progress, India wants to learn from the world as well as share its own experiences with the world.”
His development scorecard included bringing over 400 million people into the formal financial sector; giving 600 million people toilet facilities; providing free health care for 500 million people, and ensuring 26 weeks of maternity leave for women.
He said that women have been the biggest beneficiaries of entrepreneurship and micro-finance programmes.
The rights of transgender people have been legally secured, he said.