Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday told India's envoys that the challenge ahead lay in creating a liberal and interdependent world order where India would have room to grow and prosper. If New Delhi, he added, wished to fulfil its aspiration of a place on the international high table it needed to be seen as being more constructive rather than obstructive on issues of global concern like climate change and trade talks.
The prime minister spoke "from his heart" for about 40 minutes to 112 ambassadors and heads of missions as well as top officials of the external affairs ministry on the second day of the three-day conclave at the Vigyan Bhavan, according to sources privy to the closed-door session who spoke on condition of strict anonymity. The sessions were not open to the media and only a gist of his speech was put out by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).
Expounding his vision about India and its place in the world, Manmohan Singh stated that India could not "pursue prosperity in isolation" in South Asia and should ensure that its neighbours "develop a stake in India's stability and prosperity".
"We should strive to engage our neighbours constructively and resolve differences through peaceful means and negotiations," he said, a day after External Affairs Minister SM Krishna said meaningful talks with Pakistan would only be possible after Islamabad ended cross-border terrorism.
The prime minister spoke extempore, did not consult any notes and, according to an aide, gave a brilliant exposition of the nation's key challenges - fighting poverty, disease and ignorance - and the role of foreign policy in mitigating them.
He said India needed to get back to its GDP growth of 8-9 per cent as soon as possible and Indian diplomacy should act with greater self-assurance in a complicated but inter-dependent world, keeping in mind the "integral link of India's foreign policy with domestic policies, particularly economic policy".
In this context, the prime minister identified three pillars of India's global engagement that included sustaining capital inflows to supplement domestic investment, leveraging access to high-end technologies around the world for development and ensuring that the country's growth was not constrained by scarcity of natural resources.
All these require active engagement by India in all multilateral forums, and in the shaping of the world order, whether in the field of trade, international finance or the international economy, the prime minister said.
Insularity is not an option, the prime minister emphasised.
"India should play a role in the international arena in a manner that makes a positive contribution to finding solutions to major global challenges, whether in the field of trade or climate change," he said.
He stressed that India's role should not be seen as unnecessarily confrontationist - an allusion to past stances - and it should cooperate with other countries in finding solutions to issues that are proving intractable like the Doha round of trade talks or on emission issues of climate change negotiations.
Without naming Pakistan, Manmohan Singh said India had been a victim of terrorism but would strive to engage neighbours constructively to resolve differences through dialogue.
"India has a stake in the prosperity and stability of all our South Asian neighbours," the prime minister said, outlining a vision of the region where each country has a stake in the growth and development of the other in common interest.
On Monday, the envoys had a closed-door session with National Security Adviser MK Narayanan that stretched for over two-and-a-half hours.