UN leadership, developing countries hail India’s contribution to global good

Updated on Sep 25, 2022 06:53 AM IST

“India is a multilateral institution in its own right when it comes to its commitment to humanity… It is not just the fifth largest economy in the world but it is the largest economy in terms of its heart, compassion, humanity and putting lives ahead of profits

For India, it was a moment of pride but also a moment where it strongly sent out a message. (ANI)
For India, it was a moment of pride but also a moment where it strongly sent out a message. (ANI)
By, Hindustan Times, New York

“India is a multilateral institution in its own right when it comes to its commitment to humanity… It is not just the fifth largest economy in the world but it is the largest economy in terms of its heart, compassion, humanity and putting lives ahead of profits.”

As Guyana’s foreign minister, Hugh Hilton Todd, spoke about the role India has played in helping countries in the Caribbean with its pandemic management, especially with the provision of vaccines, there was emotion and a sense of deep gratitude in his voice. “Can you imagine this is a country which has to take care of 1.3 billion of its citizens, yet finds time to help the world?”, he added with a sense of wonder.

It was this sense of wonder and acknowledgment of India’s post-Independence journey, coupled with hopes about its future and expectation that India will continue to contribute to global public goods, that marked a special event to celebrate India@75 and India’s special partnership with the United Nations (UN), on the sidelines of the UNGA, in New York on Saturday. The event was organised by the Permanent Mission of India to UN, led by India’s permanent representative Ruchira Khamboj.

And the message came from all quarters, with the UNGA president attending the event in person in the busiest week of the year for him; the UN deputy Secretary General (SG) reading out the SG’s message on the occasion; the French foreign minister sending a message; and foreign ministers of Armenia, Antigua and Barbuda, Guyana, Jamaica, Tanzania, Maldives, Gambia, Timor-Leste, Cyprus and Yemen hailing India’s contribution from vaccines to food security, from development projects to international peacekeeping.

For India, it was a moment of pride but also a moment where it strongly sent out a message of commitment to multilateralism and solidarity with the global south, and the UN and global south reciprocated with all its vigour.

External affairs minister S Jaishankar said he had a story to tell. “This year, India turns 75. In the 18th century, India accounted for quarter of global GDP. By the middle of the 20th century, colonialism ensured that we were one of the poorest nations in the world. That was our state when we became founding members of the UN. Now, India stands before you proudly as the fifth largest economy in the world. And it is the strongest, most enthusiastic and definitely the most argumentative democracy.”

Jaishankar spoke about how India’s development rested on digital public infrastructure that was designed to ensure that no one was left behind. “India today envisions itself as a developed country by 2047. We dream of digitising our most remote villages and landing on the moon and perhaps even digitising it.”

And through this journey, he said, India had benefited from partnership with the UN and its agencies. He then listed out India’s own contribution to global good — the India-UN development partnership fund is the first ever single country south-south initiative and extends to 66 projects in 51 countries; a quarter of a million Indian personnel have participated in UN peacekeeping, more than that of any other country in the world; its leadership of the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure is helping countries with clean energy and fighting the climate crisis; the provision of vaccines during the pandemic; and food assistance as the conflict in Ukraine has “aggravated food and energy inflation to make it one of the biggest challenges of our times”.

Csaba Kőrösi, the president of the GA, wished India on its “diamond jubilee”, adding that this was preceded by thousands of year of its civilisational history. He said that the UN had spent the past week in unpacking various interlocking crises. But one thing was clear. “These are hard and difficult times. These are times of a paradigm shift..So far, we haven’t been able to analyse all the symptoms but conditions of global cooperation have changed. We have entered a new era, a new chapter of history.”

And it was in this backdrop that as home to one-sixth of humanity, India’s “leadership and strong voice” mattered. The UNGA president pointed out that India was leading in digital public infrastructure, both in terms of innovative governance and citizen services. “International community has much to learn from India.” He added that during his stint, he aimed to bridge the gap between the global north and south, and India’s experiences and partnership in this regard would be very useful.

The UNSG Antonio Guterres’s message, read about by DSG Amina Mohammed, quoted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s message at the last UNGA, “When India reforms, the world transforms”. The SG said India would be central to the attainment of sustainable development goals (SDGs) and recognised India’s post-independence development journey, in terms of poverty allievation and growth, life expectancy and health, education, food production, and solar capacity.

But just like in the case of Guyana, the most heartfelt messages came from foreign ministers of countries that had benefited from India’s support.

Jamaica’s foreign minister, Kamina Johnson Smith, recalled the devastating consequences of the pandemic for her country and said she had never felt as “impotent” as she did when looking for vaccines. “When I spoke to Dr Jaishankar, it gave me hope.” Jamaica’s vaccination campaign kicked off with Indian provision of vaccine doses and for that, at a time when others were holding back their support, Jamaica was deeply grateful to India. She also noted how it was also India that provided vaccines to protect UN blue helmets, the peacekeepers.

Tanzania’s foreign minister, Liberata Mulamula, brought the house alive with her energy and said, “Our countries agree on everything. We are committed to end colonialism, to non alignment, to south south cooperation, combating climate change, SDGs and work together in maintaining global peace and participate together in peacekeeping operations.”

Maldives foreign minister, Abdulla Shahid, who finished his term as the UNGA president, said, “Maldives count on India’s leadership at multilateral fora”. He acknowledged India’s support in areas spanning disaster relief, pandemic and vaccines, economic recovery and helping address water related infrastructure in 34 of his country’s islands. Yemen thanked India for providing food supplies at a time of desperate need in recent months.

At the end of the event, hours before he was to give his address at the UNGA, Jaishankar tweeted, “At #UNGA, India normally speaks to the world. This morning, at India@75 event, the world spoke about India…This morning, at the India@75 event, a Foreign Minister said that she carried Vaccine Maitri inside her. Another, also from the global south noted that while India may be the 5th largest economy, it was one with the largest heart. How can you not have a good day after that!”

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    Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India's Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.

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