India’s Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi addressed the general debate of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on Friday, on the theme of ‘effective international cooperation for poverty eradication, inclusion and climate action’.
Four years ago, on 25th September 2015, the Prime Minister had joined world leaders at the Special Summit of the UNGA to adopt ‘Agenda 2030’ on Sustainable Development. India’s success in achieving her nationally set development goals had been projected as a major contribution to the successful implementation of Agenda 2030, with its over-arching goal of eradicating poverty.
The address by Prime Minister Modi gave ample substance to this projection. It detailed several initiatives which had an impact on both poverty eradication and inclusion and gave the world “a new hope”. These included the world’s biggest financial inclusion scheme, the Jan Dhan Yojana initiative that opened 370 million bank accounts in 5 years to empower India’s poorer population. The Aadhar programme had digitally empowered 1.2 billion residents of India through its biometric identification database and staunched corrupt governance practices. Public health initiatives like the world’s biggest sanitation programme, the Swachh Bharat campaign had constructed 110 million toilets in 5 years to eradicate open defecation. The world’s biggest healthcare scheme under Ayushman Bharat provided universal healthcare coverage to 500 million people.
India is committed to eradicate tuberculosis by 2025; to ensure water supply to 150 million homes in five years; and to build 20 million houses for the poor by 2022.
On climate action, the Prime Minister’s address pointed to India’s decision to enhance her national goal for renewable energy generation from 175 GW to 450 GW, and her commitment to ban single-use plastic within five years. These initiatives provide the context for India’s global leadership initiatives on climate action, including the International Solar Alliance, and the proposal to create a global Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) to build infrastructure that can withstand natural disasters.
The Prime Minister emphasized the fact that India’s achievements in sustainable development had come about through her commitment to public welfare, and to peace. India had demonstrated the effectiveness of public participation for public welfare, and her efforts were “not just for the welfare of our people, but for the welfare of the entire world.” That is why, the Prime Minister said, “Our motto is Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas’.”
In the context of the current challenges facing the multilateral system, the address positioned India as a major supporter of multilateralism.
Philosophically, it drew on India’s centuries-old cultural tradition that emphasized the shared destiny of mankind when he quoted the Tamil poet Kaniyan Pungundranar’s words “we belong to all places, and to everyone”. The Prime Minister stressed the importance of Swami Vivekananda’s message to the 1893 World Parliament of Religions of “Harmony and Peace”, and of Mahatma Gandhi’s emphasis on truth and non-violence.
In terms of practical contributions to strengthening multilateralism, the Indian Prime Minister recalled that although India was the single largest contributor of troops to UN peace-keeping missions, “India is a country that has given the world, not war (yuddh), but Buddha’s message of peace.” He pointed to terrorism as “one of the biggest challenges”, that needed to be countered in a united manner, for the sake of humanity.
Referring to the new technologies were radically changing “social life, personal life, economy, security, connectivity and international relations”, the address emphasized the need for an inter-dependent world. It called for countering fragmentation and insularity through a “new direction and energy to multilateralism, and to the United Nations.”
The 74th Session of the UNGA has the mandate to implement a resolution adopted in June 2019 by member-states to reaffirm the UN’s collective commitment to multilateralism. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address points the way for India to play a substantial role in creating a roadmap to achieve this objective, which will be adopted by the 75th anniversary Summit of the UN on 21 September 2020.
Script: Amb.Asoke Mukerji ,Former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations