Terming India the “mother of all democracies”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a defence of the state of democracy in India at the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday, referring to his own journey as a politician as an example in his speech.
In a wide ranging address, that began with a condolence message for victims of the Covid pandemic, Mr. Modi spoke about climate change, poverty alleviation, developments in Afghanistan, and UN Security Council reform.
He also took aim at Pakistan and China respectively with references to support to terror groups and violating the international rules based order. However, Mr. Modi did not mention either country by name, in contrast to Pakistan PM Imran Khan who named India more than a dozen times, in a speech that focused on Kashmir. India later responded to his speech.
“I represent a country known as the mother of all democracies,” Mr. Modi said, adding that India has entered its 75th year of independence but had democratic traditions for thousands of years. “Our diversity is a symbol of our strong democracy, where dozens of languages and hundreds of dialects are examples of a vibrant democracy. It is Indian democracy’s strength that a small child who once helped his father at a tea stall is today representing India as its prime minister at the UN General Assembly,” said Mr. Modi, referring to himself in the third person.
The Prime Minister’s statement at the United Nations came a day after his visit to Washington, where both U.S. President Joseph Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris had underlined the need for strengthening democracy and respecting human rights. In his response to those comments, Prime Minister Modi had said that democracy is a shared value, with his remarks at the United Nations adding to that response, particularly his decision to provide his own personal example at the world body.
Speaking about the Indian month-long presidency at the UN Security Council in August, Mr. Modi said India had built global consensus on the issue of maritime security and, in a possible reference to the Indo-Pacific, said the rules-based world order must be strengthened.
Mr. Modi also referred to the issue of the “origins of the Covid virus” and the cancellation of the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business Index”, both of which have been laid at China’s door for a lack of transparency in global institutions.
Turning to veiled references on Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan, Mr. Modi said “regressive mindsets were giving terrorism a political meaning” .
“We must be alert that no country uses Afghanistan's vulnerability for its own selfish interests to use it as a tool,” he added.
Earlier, in response to Pakistan PM Khan’s UNGA speech, Indian diplomat at the UN mission Sneha Dubey said he had “misused the UN platform to spread propaganda”, and accused Pakistan of giving terrorists a “free pass”, actively “harbouring and aiding” them while minorities faced attacks in the country.
“We keep hearing that Pakistan is a victim of terrorism. This country is an arsonist disguising itself as a firefighter,” Ms. Dubey said in her response to Mr. Khan, who had accused Mr. Modi’s government of promoting “hate-filled Hindutva ideology, propagated by the fascist RSS-BJP regime, [that] has unleashed a reign of fear and violence against India’s 200 million-strong Muslim community”.
Mr. Modi spent a considerable part of his speech on India’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and the scientific development of vaccines, including a “DNA vaccine, an MRNA vaccine and a nasal vaccine”. He extended an invitation to global vaccine manufacturers to “come, come to India and make vaccines”.
Confirming the government’s decision to restart vaccine exports through the international COVAX alliance, Mr. Modi said India has “resumed the process of providing vaccines to those who need it most in the world.”
The theme of this year’s UN General Assembly debate is “Building reliance through hope to recover from Covid-19, rebuild sustainably , respond to the needs of the planet, respect the rights of people and revitalise the United Nations”
Mr.Modi also referred to India’s commitments to combat climate change, including a resolve to build 450 gigawatts of renewable power capacity by 2030, and an ambition to make India a “green hydrogen hub”. Referring to India’s population that means one in every six people worldwide is Indian, Mr. Modi said the world benefits from India’s development, adding that “When India grows, the world grows. When India reforms the world transforms”.
Mr. Modi said the credibility of the UN and other global governance bodies had suffered on account of the climate crisis, COVID, the global proxy war and terrorism, as well as the outcome of events in Afghanistan.
Quoting from Chanakya’s foreign policy treatise Arthashastra , Mr. Modi said “when the right action is not taken at the right time, then time ensures the failure of action.”
“If the UN wants to remain relevant it will need to improve its effectiveness and enhance its reliability,” he added, making a pitch for an expanded Security council and multilateral reform.