External affairs minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday made a strong case for a wider global role for India, saying that the country’s rise in the international system will be different from any of the nations that preceded it and its quest to be a “leading power” isn’t driven by “self aggrandisement” but motivated by a desire to take on greater responsibilities.
He also offered India’s G20 presidency, the country’s partnerships with a diverse set of international actors as a “vishwa mitra” (friend of the world), New Delhi’s support to the Global South and its immediate neighbourhood, and its own inclusive national development trajectory, as firm evidence of India’s distinct and responsible approach.
Speaking at the 78th UN General Assembly high-level week on Tuesday, where he articulated India’s national position, Jaishankar warned against the inequities in the global governance architecture, said “rule makers” cannot “subjugate rule takers”, declared that injustice across domains will be challenged, and used the inclusion of African Union into the G20 to offer a model to reform the UN Security Council and make it more representative.
Fresh from the success of the G20 Delhi Leaders’ Summit, and buoyed by the support of the Global South to India’s leadership, Jaishankar used the global stage to pitch India as a responsible and different power.
“All nations pursue their national interests. We, in India, have never seen that as being in contradiction with global good. When we aspire to be a leading power, this is not for self-aggrandisement but to take on greater responsibility and make more contributions. The goals we have set for ourselves will make us different from all those whose rise preceded ours,” Jaishankar said.
He offered four broad examples of the Indian approach.
Pointing out that the world was witnessing a period of “exceptional period of turmoil” after the pandemic, conflicts, and setback to developmental goals, the minister said India had taken over the G20 period with a sense of “exceptional responsibility”. India’s aim was to “focus on the key concerns of the many, not just the narrow interests of a few”, and in the words of PM Narendra Modi, “bridge divides, dismantle barriers and sow seeds of collaboration that nourish a world, where unity prevails over discord and where shared destiny eclipses isolation”.
Jaishankar said that at a time of deep North-South divide and East-West polarisation, the New Delhi summit showed that “diplomacy and dialogue” are the only effective solutions. Recognising the diversity, divergences and even differences within the international community was key, Jaishankar said, adding, “The days when a few nations set the agenda and expected others to fall in line are over…To listen to others and to respect their viewpoints, this is not weakness; it is the basics of cooperation.”
The foreign minister said that India had begun its presidency by convening the Voice of Global South summit which enabled Delhi to hear the perspective of 125 countries directly, place it on the G20 table, ensure that issues that merited global attention got a “fair hearing”, and produce outcomes with great significance.
More specifically, he pointed to the African Union’s (AU) inclusion as giving voice to “entire continent” which had long been its due and suggested this should inspire the UN to make the SC more contemporary. “Broad representation is after all, a prerequisite for both effectiveness and credibility.”
Jaishankar then listed out the substantial outcomes at the summit, including an action plan for Sustainable Development Goals, High Principles of LiFE (Lifestyle for Environment), the Green Development Pact, recognition of digital public infrastructure (DPI), reform of international financial institutions, resolution of debt vulnerabilities and salience to women-led development. “We have placed for the world’s consideration a set of actionable propositions, constructive solutions and new directions,” Jaishankar said.
The second example Jaishankar offered to showcase India’s distinct approach was New Delhi’s cooperation with diverse partners. “From the era of non-alignment, we have now evolved to that of ‘vishwa mitra’. This is reflected in our ability and willingness to engage with a broad range of nations. And, where necessary, harmonise interests.”
In this context, Jaishankar referred to the “rapid growth of Quad”, terming it as a really relevant mechanism in the Indo-Pacific; the expansion of Brics grouping “of independent-minded nations”, the emergence of the I2U2 (the grouping that includes India, Israel, UAE and the US), the launch of the India-Middle East-Europe economic corridor, and the forging of the Global Biofuels Alliance. “This willingness to work in an open-minded manner on specific domains is now a defining characteristic of the emerging multipolar order,” the minister said.
Third, Jaishankar pointed to India’s role as a friend of the global south, a first responder during natural disasters, and a supporter in its immediate neighbourhood. Offering specific examples, he pointed to the vaccine maitri (friendship) initiative during Covid-19, the International Solar Alliance, the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, International Year of Millets, development partnerships with 78 countries across geographies, support to the people of Turkey and Syria during emergency situations, India’s role in assisting Sri Lanka during its “severe economic crisis”, and engagement even in distant regions such as the Pacific Islands.
And finally, Jaishankar linked India’s external approach to its own internal developmental trajectory. “The most populous nation and the fifth largest economy in the world knows that its progress makes a real difference to the world. Especially when so many nations identify with us for reasons of history, geography and culture. They follow our experiences closely and evaluate our solutions for their larger relevance.”
Against this backdrop, he spoke about SDGs, the issue of resource paucity, the need to improve capacities, and India’s unique role “as the largest contributor to meeting SDG targets” and success in halving the global multidimensional poverty index by half in 15 years and lifting 415 million out of poverty.
“That progress has now moved on to a higher level, with ambitious socio-economic initiatives covering financial inclusion, food and nutrition, health and water supply, as well as energy and housing. We are seeking to demonstrate that social welfare need not be the sole prerogative of the developed world,” Jaishankar said. In particular, he noted the role of digital delivery of public goods in facilitating scaling up of programmes, enhancing efficiency, combating corruption, opening mindsets, instilling confidence, and inspiring innovations.
Based on this pitch, and a critique of the unfairness of the international order, Jaishankar said that the UN’s summit of the future in 2024 should serve as a “serious opportunity to drive change, champion fairness and reform multilateralism, including the expansion of the Security Council memberships”.
India, Jaishankar said, was entering a period of greater progress and transformation where its talent and creativity will power it forward, as evidenced in the Chandrayaan-3 mission, its digitally enabled governance, widening the ambit of amenities and services, growing infrastructure, startup culture, and vibrant cultural expressions, and just recently, the reservation of one third of the seats for women in Indian legislatures.
“I speak for a society where ancient traditions of democracy have struck deep modern roots. As a result, our thinking, approaches and actions are now more grounded and authentic. As a civilisational polity that embraces modernity, we bring both tradition and technology equally confidently to the table. It is this fusion that today defines India, that is Bharat,” the minister concluded.
Commenting on the speech, Harsh Pant of the Observer Research Foundation said, “Jaishankar’s speech connected well the aspirations of a rising India to a changing global order. When he talked about India moving away from non-alignment to this idea of being a vishwa mitra, he was articulating India’s desire to contribute to global public goods, to be a provider of solutions and to be a leader in shaping the global governance agenda.”
At the same time, Pant noted, Jaishankar had expressed the “dissatisfaction” with the existing order where few made rules for a large part of the world who weren’t a part of the decision making process. “As India looks to the world through the prism of a leading power, it is redefining its global role and the global governance agenda like it did during the G20 process. It is also articulating a desire of a larger constituency in global politics that feels cut off from the structures of global governance.”