Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s online address to the High-Level Segment of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) meeting was notable for outlining the emerging contours behind India’s call for “reformed multilateralism”.
Recalling that the United Nations emerged from the “furies of the Second World War”, the Prime Minister urged member-states to use the current existential crisis posed by the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure the “rebirth and reform” of multilateralism.
Mr. Modi’s address highlighted the key role of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in this context. The success of India, representing one-sixth of humanity, in achieving her development objectives would contribute significantly to the global achievement of the SDGs. This would require working together in the spirit of inclusive growth based on a “whole-of-society” people-centric paradigm, which met the core SDG principle of “leaving no one behind.”
The Indian Prime Minister highlighted how India’s effective use of a multi-stakeholder ground-based approach engaging her state and local governments, civil society, communities and people to meet her national development goals had given impressive results. These included full sanitation coverage in India’s 600,000 villages, coverage of 500 million individuals in ‘Ayushman Bharat’, the world’s largest health protection programme, and the ongoing construction of 40 million new homes to ensure housing for all by 2022.
Three major sustainable development initiatives taken by India in recent years resonated in the Prime Minister’s address. These were gender equality, the use of technology for development, and climate action.
India’s achievement of gender parity in elementary and secondary education had enhanced the empowerment of women. Nearly 70 million rural women were earning their livelihood through self-help groups (SHGs), while over a million women had been elected to local governments to lead the process of participatory development.
India’s innovative use of technology for financial inclusion combined the opening of about 400 million new bank accounts, including for 220 million women, with a unique identity number (Aadhar) and a mobile connection. This had enabled direct benefit transfers of $150 billion to over 700 million persons, while ensuring 813 million citizens got the benefit of the world’s largest food security programme.
The electrification of India’s villages and supply of clean cooking fuel to 80 million households had reduced carbon emissions by 38 million tons annually. India’s ambitious target to install 450 Gigawatt of renewable energy, restore 26 million hectares of degraded land by 2030, and discourage the use of single-use plastic would enhance her ancient tradition of living in harmony with nature.
The Prime Minister underscored the importance of international cooperation in achieving sustainable peace and prosperity through multilateralism. India would support other developing countries of the Global South to meet their SDG goals. India’s initiatives for proposing and establishing an International Solar Alliance, an international Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, her assistance to over 150 countries including in the SAARC region to counter COVID-19, and her credentials as a White Knight first responder to natural or man-made crises illustrated India’s specific contributions to meet this objective.
In his address, Prime Minister Modi promised to use India’s role as an elected member of the UN Security Council to fully support the United Nations’ agenda.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi underlined that the challenges facing the international community required “reformed multilateralism with a reformed United Nations at its centre.” The key to a reformed United Nations lies in reforming the UN Security Council to make it more effective and representative. SDG 16 specifically targets broadening and strengthening the participation of developing countries in institutions of global governance.
Between the 75th anniversary of the United Nations this year and 2022, when India participates in the UN Security Council and chairs the G20, a unique window of opportunity exists to create what the Prime Minister called a “new type of human-centric globalization”. Leading this structural change will reflect how a “self-reliant and resilient India, integrated with the global economy”, can reform multilateralism to meet the “aspirations of humanity”.
Script: Amb. Asoke Kumar Mukerji, Former Permanent Representative Of India To The United Nations