Addressing the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar spoke in strong terms of a new, more “equitable and democratic” world order emerging, one that was more reflective of diverse interests. He linked these diverse interests to India’s G-20 presidency, saying that “the days when a few nations set the agenda” were over.
While the rules-based order and U.N. Charter were invoked in deliberations, it was still a few nations that shaped the agenda and sought to set the norms, Mr. Jaishankar told the General Assembly in New York on September 26 morning.
“A fair, equitable and democratic order will surely emerge, once we all put our minds to it. And for a start, that means ensuring that rule makers do not subjugate rule takers,” he said, adding that “vaccine apartheid” should never be allowed to recur and climate action must address historical responsibilities (i.e., the idea that wealthy countries must significantly finance the response to climate change).
Mr. Jaishankar was speaking at the end of a week of national addresses, where Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has continued to remain a focus, especially in the speeches of western leaders. However, a second issue emerged last week, with an explosive allegation by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the government of India was involved in assassinating a Khalistani separatist leader in British Columbia in June this year.
“Nor must we countenance that political convenience determines responses to terrorism, extremism and violence,” Mr. Jaishankar told the U.N., presumably referring to countries such as Pakistan, China but also Canada, which India has accused of coddling separatists, such as pro-Khalistan leaders.
“ Similarly, respect for territorial integrity and non-interference in internal affairs cannot be exercises in cherry picking,” he added.
The Minister spoke of the Indian G-20 presidency as catering for divergences, and called for the reform of the U.N. and other multilateral institutions.
COVID-19 and “ongoing conflicts” (a likely reference to Ukraine) had rolled back socio-economic gains, Mr. Jaishankar said, adding that India had taken up the G-20 presidency with a “sense of exceptional responsibility”. He pointed to a deep divide between the Global North and South and polarisation between the East and West.
“The international order is diverse. And we must cater for divergences, if not differences,” the Minister said. “The days when a few nations set the agenda and expected others to fall in line or over,” he added, linking the idea to the agenda for India’s G-20 presidency this past year.
New Delhi’s push to have the African Union join the G-20 should, Mr. Jaishankar said, inspire the “ much older” United Nations to reform the Security Council. The Minister spent some amount of his speech on the G-20 outcomes and priorities from the Indian presidency, including the emphasis on sustainable development goals, the reform of the international financial institutions and digital public infrastructure.
‘Namaste from Bharat’
Mr. Jaishankar’s U.N. address also emphasised the BJP party line and practices in several instances. He invoked the idea of ‘Amrit Kaal‘ ( a term first used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2021 to describe the next 25 year’s of India’s development) and used ‘Bharat‘ in some instances, instead of India. Starting his address with “Namaste from Bharat”, the Minister ended it by referring to “India, that is Bharat”.
Citing India’s membership of diverse country groupings — including the Quad (India, Australia, Japan and the U.S.), or expanded BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India , China, South Africa) and I2U2 (India, Israel, the U.S. and the UAE), Mr. Jaishankar argued that India had moved from the non-aligned era to one of ‘Vishwa Mitra (a friend to the world)‘.
This reflected India’s ability to work with a diverse set of nations and “harmonise” interests when necessary, the Minister said.
“This willingness to work in an open-minded manner on specific domains is now a defining characteristic of the emerging multipolar order,” he added.
India aspired to be “a leading power”, not for “self-aggrandizement” but to take on “greater responsibility”, Mr. Jaishankar said. India was confident that it would be propelled forward by its talent and creativity, he said, as he cited the Chandrayaan-3 moon landing.
“The goals we have set for ourselves will make us different from all those whose rise preceded ours,” he added, referring, presumably, to China’s rise but also to the U.S. and former colonial powers like Britain.