Positive Impatience, Legitimate Aspirations
PM Modi’s historic address at the UNGA was a bold and uncompromising call for the world to unite in the face of new challenges — exhorting the UN to change with the times
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address to the UNGA's 75th General Assembly must necessarily rank as one of the boldest, most earnest, frank and far-seeing speeches in the history of the UN. Just as Churchill's 'Iron Curtain' speech delivered at Fulton, Missouri in March 1946, in another context and for another arena, is repeatedly referred to by historians and experts of the evolution of the post-World War II global order and geo-strategy, PM Modi's address which may be called the 'How long would a country have to wait' speech, expressed, exuded and articulated the positive impatience — not desperation — of a rising power, which has diligently and consistently fulfilled its international obligations. It described the impatience of a country, which, in the last six years has especially demonstrated a definite international vision and aspiration. Besides deftly and imaginatively navigating the often choppy waters of international politics, India under PM Modi has placed before the world several alternatives in so far as collective living and exploration of a new and lasting energy framework is concerned.
Not only has India under Modi continued with a transformative agenda which is altering the matrix at the grassroots domestically by mainstreaming the marginal and empowering the relegated, but it has also displayed an impressive involvement at the global level as well. PM Modi referred to this transformative programme at home and its impact on the world at large, in his now-famous sentence, "How long would a country have to wait particularly when the changes happening in that country affect a large part of the world?" Be it the vigorous and imaginative push in the global climate change narrative, be it the articulation of a new vision of energy sources, through the International Solar Alliance, be it the push given to the acceptance and dissemination of an alternate lifestyle inspired by Indian knowledge systems and tradition — when the International Yoga Day came through in 2015 few could have imagined how relevant it would eventually become in a world struck by the Corona pandemic — India, PM Modi pointed out, in its dealing with the world, manifested its philosophical belief of the world being a family.
It is reflected in India's development partnership vision, it is reflected in India's neighbourhood first policy, it is felt in the narrative and vision of SAGAR. This approach has never been with the intent of imposing a hegemony, it has rather insisted on the need to evolve a framework of development partnership based on mutual trust and transparency. As PM Modi said in his historic speech, "This philosophy has always been the driving force of India's policies. One can see the glimpses of this philosophy in India's 'Neighbourhood First' policy to our 'Act East' policy, in the thought of 'Security and Growth for All in the Region', and in our approach towards the Indo-Pacific region. India's partnerships are also guided by this very principle. Any gesture of friendship by India towards one country is not against someone else. When India strengthens its development partnership, it is not with any malafide intent of making the partner country dependent or hapless. "We have never hesitated from sharing experiences of our development," Indian external affairs minister, S Jaishankar, pointing at this approach by India, observes, that "India's progress in social development has the potential to make it a key source of trusted talent for the global knowledge-based economy" as well. A crucial source of knowledge — both technical and civilisational, talent and innovation is how India is being increasingly seen. India today is brimming with possibilities and opportunities and it cannot sit on the side-line of the global arena and merely applaud.
Even during the pandemic, while catering to its one billion plus population and handling the many challenges and diverse needs and demands internally, India continued to be responsive and sensitive to the needs of the world. India's response to the world was not utilitarian or commercial, it was humanitarian, driven by this deeper civilisational perspective of the globe. On this, PM Modi observed, "As the largest vaccine producing country of the world, I want to give one more assurance to the global community today, India's vaccine production and delivery capacity will be used to help all humanity in fighting this crisis." It is in such a crisis that the collective mind of a nation becomes evident and its sense of global responsibility too becomes clear. India's global responsibility and approach was evident during this phase. This continues to be in stark contrast to China's whose terms and conditions of partnerships across the world are placing strains on national resources, societies and societal frameworks.
But the fundamental, core message of PM Modi's speech, was that the world view which had formed the United Nations and had shaped it, no longer reflected the realities of the world today, seventy-five years after it was formed. New aspirations, new alignments, new formations have made the need for a thorough restructuring of the world body an imperative that can no longer be postponed. When PM Modi spoke, he spoke for the collective aspirations of many countries and people who were awakening to this urgent need. The perception that without such a historic restructuring the UN as a body symbolising the hopes of humanity will become incongruent in global dealings is also emerging. A certain dominating mindset which has got conditioned to controlling the international political discourse through the UN and its many paraphernalia will naturally grudge this call for introspection that PM Modi made. Today, he said, "We are in a completely different era. In [the] 21st century, the requirements and challenges of our present, as well as our future, are vastly different from those of the past. Therefore, 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? If the century changes and we don't, then strength to bring changes becomes weak." PM Modi's call has, in a sense, rekindled the will to change. No one can dispute India's commitment to a reformed multilateralism, no one can find fault with India's earnest zeal for creating an international partnership framework on several positive global agendas that will affect or determine global living, and therefore this call coming from India's Prime Minister at this juncture is a sincere and empowered exhortation, not the exhortation of a balancing power.
With his call for the need to reform the UN, PM Modi has also launched the process of correcting a historic wrong committed in the 1960s, when India squandered away her chances, driven by a hollow morality, of being at the UN high seat. PM Modi's call to the UNGA, on its 75th year, is the call of a confident nation, a nation which has vastly contributed to global welfare, which has legitimate power aspirations and which has consciously emerged on the world scene as the voice of a just, fair and equitable international order. None can honestly dispute that.
The writer is the Director of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation. Views expressed are personal