Home and abroad: On India’s rightful place in the world

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at the UNGA catalogued welfare and development schemes that he had initiated. He sounded like a seer in his call for unity of humanity, but it was his emphasis on Indian diversity that stood out for its remarkable departure from the sort of domestic politics he and his party, the BJP, have come to be associated with lately. India’s achievements in housing, sanitation, health care, banking and education are significant, as the PM noted. His tenacious public campaign on issues such as water conservation, environment and girls’ education has brought these issues to the centre of the development discourse and he deserves full credit for it. Mr. Modi has consistently presented material development as an end in itself, sometimes ignoring that it might be at the cost of other markers of progress such as expansion of freedoms and equity. This idea is also the explanation of his government’s policy on Jammu and Kashmir, as reflected in his own pronouncements and those of other officials, during their diplomatic outreach in the U.S. A Prime Minister’s use of a global pulpit to showcase India’s progress and diversity to a world that is divided, and deliver a message of unity, would have been inspiring for all Indians. But his UNGA speech sits at odds with his campaign speeches at home, and corresponding administrative measures.

The claim that there can be a neat insulation of internal issues of a country from global concerns is antithetical to the rationale of all global institutions, particularly the UN. Populist politics around the world has sought to privilege national sovereignty over universal values and commitments, slacking off efforts to tackle critical challenges that are transnational. Human rights, democracy and liberty are as much global questions as climate change, health and terrorism. Selective globalisation is difficult to sustain or defend. India cannot aspire to meet global best practices in governance, infrastructure and investment climate on the one hand and on the other, choose to overlook soft power attributes such as tolerance, pluralism and diversity. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s bluster on Kashmir and the implied threat of a nuclear war were irresponsible and over the top, but that is beside the point. India cannot wish away questions regarding Kashmir at international fora. The best — and the only way — to keep domestic issues domestic is to resolve them through internal dialogue and accommodation. Tamil poet Kaniyan Pungundranar’s verse Yaadhum Oore Yaavarum Kelir — all places are our own, everyone is our kin — that Mr. Modi cited to underscore India’s ancient faith in universalism is a tenet far from fulfilment, but worth striving for. Deviation from it could be detrimental, and would have consequences at home and abroad.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2021 1:37:06 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/home-and-abroad-on-indias-rightful-place-in-the-world/article29550413.ece

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