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Transcript of Interview of External Affairs Minister at the DD News Conclave Finale (October 07, 2021)

October 08, 2021

Harsh Vardhan Pant: Namaskar and welcome to Doordarshan DD conclave, a series that explores key themes in India's rise and its unprecedented transformation over the last few years as we look and enter the 75th year of our independence. A series that celebrates ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’. In this special edition of the DD conclave, today we look closely at India's foreign policy journey, a journey that has gathered unprecedented steam under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar. We have seen India scaling new heights globally in the last few years, making it clear to the world at large that in so far as India is concerned, it is now no longer willing to sit at the margins. Today's India is an aspirational one. It wants to be a rule shaper, not merely a rule taker. It wants to set the agenda and it wants to ensure that the agenda that it is exploring around the world is also implemented. Gone is the diffidence of the past.

There is a new spring in India steps and a new more confident assertion of India's national interests that is in the offing. The world had long wanted India to be more active on the global stage, and today's India is willing to step up to the plate, it is willing to take on the problems that have been left unattended for the last several decades. Led by leadership that is not scared of taking decisive actions.,India today is willing to stand up to the challenges that mount across the frontiers, but also willing to partner with those likeminded nations for the provision of global public goods that are much in need. And nothing exemplifies this better than India's policy approach over the last year and a half. As the world struggle to grapple with the challenge of COVID-19, India has been engaged in battling the crisis not only internally, but also globally, as it sought to help with other countries to the best of its abilities, especially at a time when much of the rest of the world, and especially the richest and the most powerful were turning inwards.

As the world gets more fragmented there are challenges all around but Indian leadership seems intent on turning those challenges into opportunities for a new India and for Indians. And who better to talk about India's foreign policy journey, its rise in the global hierarchy, its ambitions, and how Indian diplomacy is taking on some of the most critical issues of our times, than the India's top diplomat himself, Dr. S. Jaishankar. We are privileged to have him today with us for this exploratory journey as the first part of this conversation, which is something that I will explore with Dr. Jaishankar over the next half an hour or so, after that, in the second half of the conversation, we'll bring some of India's finest minds on foreign policy to discuss these issues in greater detail. But first, let me formally welcome you, sir. And it's a privilege to have you on board.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar
: Thank you. My pleasure.

Harsh Vardhan Pant: Before we go into the nitty gritty of some of these questions that I and some members of the audience would like to take upon. I think this is an important point that we are discussing 75 years of Indian Independence. And when you look back, you know, 75 years is not a long time in the nation's history, especially not when you talk about a country like India, which has been a civilizational state for millennia. But certainly it gives you a marker to step back and to reflect upon the journey, the momentous journey that we have had over the last seven decades. How do you reflect upon this journey, especially when it comes to Indian foreign policy and how India looks at itself as a transformative country today on the cusp of making real change on the international stage?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar: Well, I think this is really a good starting point for a discussion, because I agree with you that 75 years is a small period of time. And also, in many ways, actually, you know, 75 years is just a period where as a modern nation in our current incarnation that's the period we count. But let's look at even these 75 years. One, I think we all need to appreciate how much our capabilities have changed in these 75 years. That today, we are, in nominal terms, the fifth or sixth largest economy, in PPP terms, the third. That our political influence, our capability to contribute in many ways. I mean, we are seeing it today in terms of vaccines in response to COVID. But even in terms of humanitarian assistance or disaster response, in Nepal, in Yemen, in Africa and Sri Lanka, we are seeing very much as a first responder. In terms of connectivity, in terms of projects outside, in terms of the influence which we bring to bear on global debate. So, I would say the one big change, which I've seen, I mean, I've seen it in the course of my career, which is a little more than half of those 75 years. But the capability increase that we have is something, we all need to come to terms with.

The second, I would argue is the credibility, and the credibility argument being this that in the 1960s you know, there were basic questions which people in the world and I grant you they had an agenda, they were asking about India. We had a very famous book called ‘India, the most dangerous tickets’, people were not sure how we would survive as a system, as a polity. Today, you have Prime Minister, go out in the UN and remind people that we are the mother of democracy. That when Prime Minister Modi says "Democracy can deliver, Democracy has delivered”, he is actually today a rallying point and we in India are a rallying point for democracies all over the world. And that tells you a lot about our credibility. The third of course, is the context and the context is that you know, in these 75 years which is really post Second World War, you can say there's been the phenomenon of rebalancing which is a lot of countries, their relative weight to each other has changed. Overall Asia has collectively acquired a greater prominence, a greater weight. Within Asia, China obviously and India, constitute and ASEAN make a large part of it. There's also the emergence of what is called multipolarity, which is the relative weight has changed, but among them, some have the capability to have already become or more likely to become poles of the international order. So, capability has changed credibility has increased, context has transformed. So in many ways, I would argue that we have really entered a very, very different world.

Harsh Vardhan Pant: And when you talk of these aspects in particular, if we look at in the last few years, we have seen incredible amount of dynamism in Indian diplomacy. We have had Prime Minister himself and top leadership, including you, leading from the front in terms of engaging parts of the world where we had not travelled for a long time where top leadership had not engaged. And this has given perhaps Indian diplomacy, as you say, greater credibility in terms of its outreach to areas in terms of its outreach on issues that perhaps you were not talking about. So how would you explain this context to those who still would argue that there are enough challenges at home, we should not really be worried about what happens at the global level, global entanglements is something that India should be away from?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar: Look, we live in a globalized world. If anybody didn't understand it, surely the COVID would have educated them. Because look at it, some things started in some other country. Okay. It's devastated our lives. So the idea that, you know, we should focus at home not look abroad, somehow that there is some kind of firewall between us and the world, I think we need to put this kind of anachronistic ideas behind us. That's not the world we live in anymore. Think about it during this Vande Bharat Mission as a result of COVID people who were stranded abroad, wanted to come back. We brought back 7 million people, which meant that 7 million of our citizens, our nationals were abroad, and by the way, many of them did come back. So the actual number is very much larger. So for us today the world is a marketplace, the world is a workplace. People travel abroad. Look at we have, I would argue somewhere, perhaps what about three quarters of a million students abroad. We have maybe about 300,000 seafarers abroad. So the idea that somehow, you know, we can do things abroad or not do things abroad, I think that option is not there. We are integrated with the world, there is a seamlessness, what happens abroad will come to us at home. So we may as well get used to it, prepare for it, take advantage of it. And in many ways, what the Prime Minister has tried to do is really to make that globalization of India more effective, you know, prepare our people to engage with the world on much better terms than we did earlier.

And even if you look at our immediate neighbors, look, we are the biggest economy, we are the biggest country we are the biggest society, we need to build the connectivity, we need to drive travel, we need to drive cooperation, we need to drive trade. So I don't see it as a dichotomy at all. In fact, I would say the more you do in India, the more you will have to deal with the world, the more you deal with the world, the more of it will come back in some form into our lives. And it can be big things and little things, it can be imports. Today, the price of cooking oil in India is determined by what happens abroad. The quality of phones, which young people will use, is determined by what happens abroad. So, in a million ways our lives are affected by what happens abroad. I mean, COVID is an extreme example I gave you. So I think we need to today internalize foreign policy, understand it affects everyday lives of every person and get over this foreign policy is foreign and doesn't affect us at home. Foreign policy just happens to be located abroad. But it is very much in our daily lives, believe me.

Harsh Vardhan Pant: And one of the ideas you know, we have seen this also repeated in some of your speeches and some of the Prime Minister's speeches as well, that the sense that whatever we are doing at the end of the day in our foreign relations, it is linked directly to the developmental priorities at home. And that is a message that is connect with the youth has been quite spectacular in that sense, I think we see a tremendous youth involvement in foreign policy, but related to this sir there is this shift that is happening at the global level and India is part of that. So, as India explores a larger footprint, we are also talking of Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan and in that context, how would you shed some light between the synergy between a globalizing India and an India that also wants to be self-reliant at home?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar: Well, if I can dilate on the first part of your observation, for any country, any society which grows which transforms, there is a lot that you can get from outside, okay. Typically, countries which are growing at a rapid pace, need resources, they need capital, they need technology, they very often need best practices. I mean, somebody has figured out a way of doing something better, you know, take it from them. I mean, you don't need to reinvent the wheel. So, if you look, especially at changes in Asia, starting with Japan, 150 years ago, this idea of working with foreign partners on capital on technology on best practices is a very common thing. I mean, Japan did it, Korea did it, China did it, ASEAN did it. Today we are doing it. And it's doesn't have to be just a factory to do this, or a product to do it. I mean, we find very often say even in our national campaigns, I mean, I've seen for example in Namami Gange lot of experience in river cleaning up which European countries have. We are looking today at green technologies, you know, technologies which would cut pollution or deal with waste management. Again, there are countries who have that so there is a lot of benefit to working with countries abroad. Now how does that square with Atmanirbhar Bharat? I think, in the case of Atmanirbhar Bharat , let me explain to you what it is and what it is not. It is not protectionism. It is about building more capabilities, building more capabilities precisely to play a greater role in the world because you can't have a role in the world with less capability or no capability.

Now, why do we need the Atmanirbhar effort right now? largely, if we are honest with ourselves, because we recognize that in the last 25 years, even though we have grown, our economy has grown, our country has grown, many of our capabilities have not grown in parallel, deep strengths which say China has, or Japan has, or Korea has many of those deep strengths have not been built up in India, especially on the manufacturing side, not only on the manufacturing side, and there are various reasons for it, I think people have sort of fallen for a globalization mantra, where we opened our markets and instead of absorbing technology and absorbing best practices, we simply became a market where people were content to make profits and didn't think medium term, leave alone long term. That has changed under Prime Minister Modi. The idea of Atmanirbhar Bharat is really today to work with the world, build capabilities in India, contribute to the world. And I give you a very, very good example of that. Take vaccines. We have today in the field of vaccines, you know, one vaccine, the dominant one currently, which is a product of an international collaboration, but we have another vaccine, which is vaccine you can say, invented in India, we have some which we are going to be making, in collaboration with others and exporting. But we won't be using it ourselves. We are doing a DNA vaccine, we are making our own mRNA vaccine, nasal vaccine. Now, it's a very good illustration, we're working with foreign partners, has helped. It has stimulated creativity at home; we ourselves are much more enthused about developing our own products. We have used it for markets at home, we have used it for markets abroad, we have built our reputation. So now in different ways, this is expressed in different domains.

We have a initiative called Production Linked Incentives which has really spurred manufacturing in 13 different domains. It's a programme, which has started last year, and is really picked up momentum this year. So we say, Make in India, but remember, the Prime Minister always says, Make in India but Make for the World. So the idea is to play a bigger role in the world. But to do that, you know, we deserve to be something than more than just a market. I don't think this India ambition and dreams is limited to being a market for other people. I think we need to think bigger. I know we are thinking bigger, certainly young people are thinking bigger. I assure you, the Prime Minister is thinking bigger and the government is thinking bigger.

Harsh Vardhan Pant: If you can come to a few questions on some of the bilateral and multilateral engagements. We are just coming off the heels of a very reasonably successful visit by the Prime Minister to the US, Quad summit and of course, his address to the UN. And when you look at the nature of the Indo US engagement, for example, on the Indo Pacific, when you look at the kind of a transformative change that has come in the last few years, India-US bilateral partnership, but also now increasingly embedded in the Indo Pacific domain, and the larger trends in the Indo-Pacific domain. How do you assess as India's top diplomat the health of the multilateral order that we confront, as well as the concept of the Free and Open Indo Pacific?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar: Look the Indo-Pacific, from our perspective, is the evolution of an India which has developed more and more interest to the east. In a way, this particular story, you can say started 25 years ago, but like many other things in our country was sort of proceeding at a relatively slow pace. I think the pace has quickened, the domains have increased. So what began in our business we say as the Look East policy, the shift from Look East to Act East was because there was a much greater element of connectivity, we started discussing security, we started doing many more projects out there. It went to beyond the ASEAN. If you today look at our foreign engagements, more than 50% of our foreign trade is actually east of India. And if your foreign trade is east of India, obviously a lot of your maritime interests are also east of India. Many of our key partners are located beyond the Indian Ocean, you know, Australia, China, Japan, Korea, west coast of the United States, I would argue even parts of South America. So we have got pulled very much more into that domain. And again, as I said, context is important the world has also changed. So the old distinction between this is Indian Ocean and that is Pacific Ocean and somehow deal with it separately, I think that period is behind us. Every major country actually traverses both oceans quite seamlessly. And we need to sort of put that mentally and psychologically behind us. We have interests, which extend beyond the Indian Ocean, and therefore, that's how really the concept of Indo Pacific came. And by the way, because we are discussing 75 years, but we are a much older civilization, a lot of it is part of our history. I mean, if you look at an Indian footprint actually extended all the way up to the east coast of China. It definitely was very strong at the outer edges of the ASEAN. So I would argue in many ways we are reclaiming history by being more active out there. Now, when we are active out there, what is natural? It is natural to find partners who have similar interests. In this case, the United States happens to be one, Japan, Australia, two other examples. There are, I would say, still more partners. So the concept of Indo Pacific has stuck route. The idea of a platform like Quad has grown. It reflects a contemporary convergence of interests between these four countries. But we have many other relationships out there, say Indonesia is a good example, Vietnam is another example. We are very deeply involved in the ASEAN structures, East Asia Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum, etc.

So one of the changes in these 75 years is really how much more Asian, Indo Pacific, India has become, how much less we are looking, I would say literally to the best of us. I mean, I'm not diminishing them. I think there are very important relationships. In fact, under Prime Minister Modi, we've devoted a lot of time there as well. But there is a big historical point here, which goes beyond the Indo Pacific. You know, what the Partition did is it made us think smaller that because we ended up with Pakistan on one side, and Bangladesh on the other, we thought, you know, somewhere, we got straitjacketed, we straitjacketed ourselves in many ways. So what we are also trying to do is to rebuild our historical connects with the extended neighborhood. In the East it is ASEAN and then further into the Indo Pacific, I would argue in the West, it is the Gulf, where enormous amount of energy has been expended in building those relationships and into Africa. And that's work in progress, that is really a very big part of the foreign policy changes that you're seeing.

Harsh Vardhan Pant: And sir when we talk of the East, of course, there's this big question of China. And you have recently and you have repeatedly said, over the last year and a half, how the template of engaging with China seems to be changing, that unless the border issue is resolved, there are challenges on the other fronts would continue that the Beijing cannot expect, you know, that normal relationship elsewhere, but the border remains volatile. Now leaving that, you know, that the challenge that we are confronting as of now, along the borders. What is your long term vision for this relationship, as you look, you know, the next 75 years?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar: Well that's ambitious, no, but I want to be clear about what I have said on China. I've actually said that the basis for developing our ties, especially after 1988, has been peace and tranquility in the border areas. If the peace and tranquility in the border areas is disturbed, which is currently the case, then, it is natural that the development of our ties will be affected. I'm not advocating that we should solve our boundary dispute. That's a much more complicated issue. I think we must distinguish between the boundary dispute solution and maintaining peace and tranquility, which is much easier and much more common sense thing to do. And it is in fact, even the peace and tranquility whose disturbances caused the current situation. Now, in terms of thinking the next 75 years- tall order, but I would say, look, we are both China and India, old civilizations, who are becoming prominent in the world stage again, China is ahead in this path. It is a much larger economy. It has obviously much more deeper, comprehensive national power, but I would say we are also moving along that track and I'm very confident our own growth will accelerate in the days to come.

Now, my next 75 years would therefore have both India and China very much among the premier powers in the world. And for me, it would be important that there is mutual respect between them, that they give each other space. We recognize each one of us has interests. So, in a sense, I would say, I’ve spoken earlier about a multipolar world. I think it's very important we have a multipolar Asia. You're not gonna have a multipolar world if you don't have a multipolar Asia. So a lot of the dynamics between India and China would be how well they understand each other, how much they respect each other, how sensitive they are to each other, as I said, do they give each other enough space and recognize that, sometimes, you know, they will have different interests, and learn to live with it. And this is easily said, as we have discovered, it's not always done. So I think this is one of the big challenges for the foreign policy of each country. But I think it's also something which is very important for the world and to the world order.

Harsh Vardhan Pant: And a lot of your time and investment as well as I think Prime Minister himself has invested a lot of time in the neighborhood. So Neighborhood First policy. And if you look back over the last few years, how do you look at the successes of this policy? Do you look at in terms of connectivity, or in terms of economic integration, that there have been a consensus that you know, that is South Asia has not done very well, in that regard, over the last few decades. Are we turning a corner there? Are we looking at some new realities emerging with our very robust engagement in the region?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar: You know, if you ask me, relative to other regions, how integrated we are- I would say yes; we have a long way to go. But if you were to ask me, have you made progress in the last seven years, I would say - Yes, very much. Let me give you a very, very obvious example, the obvious example would be with Bangladesh. The fact that we are able to settle the land boundary through an agreement, the fact that we were able to resolve our maritime boundary dispute. What it has done is it has really transformed the ethos, really the nature of the relationship. So, we first started rebuilding the pre-1965 links, which had sort of broken up the rail links, the road links. Today the ambitions go well beyond that, I mean, if you actually look at what is happening between India and Bangladesh purely in terms of connectivity, it's actually transformational you know, we are supplying electricity to Bangladesh, fuel to Bangladesh through a pipeline, there are inland waterways which have been activated, there's a rail link from Agartala to Akhuaura, which is being built our goods today come in and go out of Bangladeshi ports, parts of Northeast India state like Tripura for example, uses a Bangladeshi port for its imports and exports. So, in fact, what the neighborhood first has done in respect of Bangladesh it has completely changed the opportunities for all our northeastern states.

Now, to varying degrees, I would actually argue that we have had progress in many other neighboring countries, I mean, Maldives is another example where we have a lot of projects. In fact, if you look at the number of tourists who go, we are among today the largest number of tourists who go out there. So, my yardstick, and Nepal again, you look at our energy links today, you know, what a substantial provider of electricity we have become to Nepal, we have, again, a pipeline Motihari Amlekhgunj which gives fuel to them it has actually reduced fuel costs in Nepal very substantially. So, if you use the parameters of, you know, movement of people, of business, trade and investment of projects, of connectivity, look at rail, road, energy I think you will see, actually, that there is a lot that has happened on the ground I'm not talking about plans, I'm actually talking of what has actually happened and is already working on the ground. I mean, Bhutan, of course, has always been a very much more progressive story. Even with Myanmar, actually, a lot of these projects and connectivity has grown; with Sri Lanka, too. The exception has been Pakistan. So I would say, overall, the policy has been good. I think it is credible, it has delivered in many ways. But I would say, given the nature of the challenge, the fact that we have so many years to make up, the fact that the potential is so big, yes, we have to put in much more effort, much more energies into it. And that is one of the things we are doing.

Harsh Vardhan Pant: And Dr. Jaishankar will be coming to the end of the conversation. I have one question that the audience asked you a few questions. But in one of your speeches, you had mentioned you talked about the need to shed the dogmas of Delhi when it comes to Indian foreign policy. So as India continues its rise in the global hierarchy. And if you look at the last few years, in particular, which of these dogmas do you think we have been able to share and which still remains to be shared in your opinion?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar: Look, I think, we have shed some of the dogmas, I think more than one. I would say the one we have clearly shed is a dogma where it has a, I would say, a premium on argumentation, rather than on achieving outcomes and advancing interests. We have often allowed others to have a veto on our choices, because we are trapped in some kind of argumentation about what is safe, what is not safe, should we be doing it. We should be doing what is in our national interest. You know, that should be the single factor that should give us clarity when it comes to choices. I think the other dogma, I would say we have shed, you know, we had over the years’ sort of developed a theology of timidity. You know, that, you know, we shouldn't be doing that, how would it look, I think today, we are a self-confident nation. We have a polity, which is much more rooted in our own culture, in our own values and our own history, our tradition, we have a personality, the world should see our personality, the world should hear from us, the world should know what we are about, not through the lens of other people. We should not try to imitate other cultures to make ourselves acceptable, we are what we are, we should be proud of it. And I think a lot of those changes, you know, what we are, how we engage the world, what confidence we bring to bear, how we pursue our interests, we should be relentless in that. We should be very clear headed in that. I think in many ways, we have taken some very tough calls, including on national security issues, I would say all of that is part of shedding the dogmas.

Harsh Vardhan Pant: Thank you. And let me invite the audience now. I think Gunjan please.

Gunjan: Good afternoon, sir. My question from you is what is the specific aspects which you think that of India's cultural heritage that the world should learn from us? And what are the strategies we have been framing in this regard?

Harsh Vardhan Pant: And Vishal Verma.

Vishal Verma: Sir, on our western front, we have witnessed a major development in Afghanistan. And over the last few years, New Delhi has been largely successful in marginalizing Pakistan in the global community of nations. So, as we look at the future, what does this mean for the India Pakistan relationship for the next few years and will the shadow of the first 75 years of their existence continue to shape the trajectory of the relationship?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar: Okay. You know, there are two very different questions, but in some ways, they have a common answer. You know, when you ask, what is our culture? How do we project it? Look, we are an old civilization, now, a modern state playing an increasing role on the world stage. There is a lot in our heritage and traditions and culture, which is part of a global, you know, I would say it's part of the world's heritage in many ways. I give you a very interesting example, which actually Prime Minister referred at the UN. Take democracy, okay. You know, a lot of us have been brought up to believe that democracy is essentially a Western concept. But think about our own lives, you know, we in India, we are so pluralistic, we have different languages, we have different faiths, we have different identities. Now, that kind of diversity, I mean, that diversity is what is inherently, that's what makes a democracy. Unlike a lot of other countries, we have not insisted that a nation state means everybody must be uniform, in that sense. So the pluralism of India, the diversity of India, which by the way, is rooted in our own culture and in our own faith, that I think, in many ways, is a very good example of what we can bring to bear at a global level.

You may find very specific expressions, you know, in 2015, for example, we took the initiative in the UN to move the International Day of Yoga. Now, the reason was that the yoga tradition was something deep rooted in us, but it was prevalent across the world, it was something which everybody appreciated. Now, people want, you know, other countries to express themselves through their own traditions, to add to the richness of a, I would say, a global culture, if you would, and I think you can find this in cuisine, you can find it in music, you can find it in any form of creativity today, even in technology.

Now, while I think it's common with the other question, is, in many ways, look a lot of our challenges with Pakistan, when you say, are we fated for the next 75 years to go through the same 75 years? A lot of it frankly depends on their mindset. Because what is the difference between us the difference in many ways, is we have been increasingly democratic, you know, when it comes to that, I mean, you know, what their record is. They have sort of artificial uniformity, which didn't even last because Bangladesh split from Pakistan. Their mindset, has been very much inclined to use terrorism as a instrument of statecraft, is something which we would never accept. So, when it comes to what is happening on the west, I think it's important for us to stay true to our beliefs. We have friends, you started with Afghanistan, I think, the Afghan people know what India has done for them, what kind of friends we have been, I'm sure they're contrasted with what Pakistan did for them in the same period. And I think the differences are obvious. And in terms of where our relationship with Pakistan goes, everybody wants to be friends with their neighbors’, but you want to be friends on terms which a civilized world will accept. Terrorism is not one of those terms. So, you know, neighbors’ are supposed to trade with you, neighbors’ are supposed to give you connectivity, neighbors’ are supposed to promote contacts, to increase travel. Now, all of that hasn't happened with this neighbor. So, I think they have an important choice whether to be a normal neighbor, to us, a lot of it the next 75 years would depend on the choice that they make.

Harsh Vardhan Pant: Thank you sir, it's always a pleasure to listen to you and to hear you talk about Indian foreign policy, India's rise, India's global aspirations, the more self-confident India becomes the more self-confident I think its foreign policy has been evolving in that direction. So thank you for taking time away from much more important things and coming here. But I think we all enjoyed your time with us and all the best. Thank you. Thank you very much.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar: Thank you. It's been a real pleasure and I say that to all of you as well. Thank you very much.

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