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Keynote Address by Shri V. Muraleedharan, Hon’ble Minister of State for External Affairs, Government of India at the 12th South Asia Conference

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  • Shri V. Muraleedharan, Hon’ble Minister of State for External Affairs, GOI
    January 29, 2020

    Director General IDSA, Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy,
    Distinguished Guest from South Asian countries, members of the strategic community, friends from the media, ladies and gentlemen,

    It gives me immense pleasure to be at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses today to deliver the Keynote Address. This is all the more so, given the theme of my talk, which centres around India’s Neighbourhood First policy.

    IDSA has successfully organised the South Asia Conference for many years. IDSA is India’s largest and most influential official think-tank. Established in 1965, it has an enviable record of working at the crossroads of defence, national security and foreign policy issues. It has contributed to furthering our common objective of promoting peace and prosperity in our region. The presence of scholars, academicians and officials from the region at this conference is testimony to IDSA’s outreach. Together, you will dwell on the theme of the Conference over these two days and come up with new ideas and perspectives that will benefit all of us.

    Friends,

    As a civilisation that has flowered over millennia through a syncretic process of give and take through the exchange of ideas, trade and cultural contacts, India has long advocated the importance of good neighbourly relations. The tradition of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is deeply enshrined in Indian thought, philosophy and action. This ancient tradition that continues to guide India’s foreign policy in general and its approach to its neighbourhood in particular.

    Our region’s prosperity hinges on how well we work together to build the foundation for our future, and how well we respect the principles of coexistence and dialogue. Prime Minister Modi has outlined the principles of engagement in the region, in the form of Samman (respect), Samvad (dialogue), Sahayog (cooperation), Shanti (peace) and Samriddhi (prosperity).

    I wish to share with you the underlying fundamentals which guide the framework and implementation of India’s Neighbourhood First policy.

    You are all aware that 2014 marked a watershed moment in India’s foreign policy and especially in relation to the approach towards its neighbourhood. What commenced with an invitation to all elected heads of state of South Asia and Myanmar, has continued with similar earnest and warmth over the next six years. Over time, the key components of India’s policy to enhance and improve its relations with all its neighbours became significantly perceptible. PM Modi had said that it is our neighbourhood which is the most critical for our future and our place in the world.

    PM Modi’s description of the Neighbourhood First policy is based on the principle of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Viswas which is the fundamental framework for all countries in South Asia marching forward together to achieve common prosperity. The applicability and suitability of this term can best be judged by its constituents and over time its effectiveness of implementation.

    India relations with its neighbours are collectively the most important component of India’s foreign policy. The priority that we have given to our neighbourhood, is evident in a number of spheres. Commencing with this government’s first term and continuing into the second, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited capitals in the region with unparalleled frequency. This has been accompanied by members of the government at all levels as also with people to people contacts, which are so very essential to reinvigorate centuries of linkages that we have maintained and cherished through trade, familial and cultural bonds. At the heart of my Government’s policy towards its neighbours in South Asia is the sentiment that India, as the largest country with the largest economy and population can and would share its capacities with its partners in the region on a non-reciprocal basis. The implementation of this policy over the past nearly six years has strengthened the spirit of mutual respect and closer cooperation between us in all spheres of social and economic development. In recent years, we have forged deeper mutual trust and successfully enhanced security ties to fight common threats and challenges including terrorism.

    The Neighbourhood First policy includes within its ambit five Cs that have become integral to its implementation.

    The first element of India’s neighbourhood first policy is the principle of collective cooperation. While India may be the largest, most populous and the biggest economy in the region, we are conscious of the fact that this advantage must be utilised more for the collective upliftment of the region, than for the people of one country. There is acknowledgement and realisation in India and within like-minded countries in the neighbourhood that economic and social progress can be multiplied through the cohesive effort and genius of people of the entire region. In a world interlinked through both physical and virtual connectivity, the idea of erecting psychological barriers to human progress can only be to our collective detriment. There is an understanding within India that learning is mutual, sharing is mutual, progression is mutual and respect is also mutual.

    This cooperation becomes most useful, effective and critical particularly when the challenges faced are regional and at times global. It is at such critical times that vested interests attempt to ensure that the manifestation of the response remains weak and local. Such threats tend to exploit cleavages and cracks across boundaries and within societies, often at the cost of human life and property. This threat is most visible in the form of terrorism, both extra-regional and intra-regional. I don’t think there is any country in the region, which has not faced the challenge of terrorism, leading to the loss of innumerable lives. However, even as all of us have faced terrorism, there is only one country in our region that has willingly embraced terrorism as a defining feature of its regional engagement. It has become its epicentre, architect and exporter. Radicalisation, an integral ingredient of terrorism, knows no boundaries and nor does it recognise nationalities. In that sense, radicalisation, one of the major causes of terrorism, is growing in our region and we must all join hands to ensure that it is contained.

    India’s unequivocal rejection of terrorism has led us to fine-tune our policy towards countries that employ terrorism as a tool of their foreign policy. We have made it abundantly clear that New India will no longer remain a silent witness to repeated attacks of terrorism on its soil. We have also demonstrated that while we are the land of ahimsa, patience and reverence, we will take resolute measures to protect our people and defeat the menace of terrorism.

    The second element of our policy is capacity building. The support that India extends is non-reciprocal and it is not tied to strategic gains or interests that we wish to pursue. There are no strings attached to the capacity building support that India offers to its friends and neighbours. It would also be evident to our neighbours that India’s efforts at capacity building aim at positively impacting the lives of the largest cross-section of people.

    All countries of South Asia face a common challenge in delivering their citizens from the clutches of poverty and disease. Bringing economic development, enhancing prosperity, employment, education and healthcare remain foremost objectives that we all share.

    The third element of our policy is connectivity. As you are aware, it was India’s endeavour to bring all countries of South Asia into the connectivity grid within the region. And there was complete support of the idea as well. However, given the roadblocks imposed by one country, the path towards economic and cultural linkages was blocked. This has not deterred us and our like-minded friends. Bilateral and multilateral ways have been found to explore and implement connectivity projects, which will change the lives of people within the region and beyond. From roads to rail and from airports to power grids, collective cooperation is becoming the basis for infrastructure projects.

    The fourth element of our policy is cultural crosscurrents. The South Asian region and the extended neighbourhood has a long history of cultural congruity. The entire region is a melting pot of cross-cultural influences, which cuts across geographic and national boundaries. This is a region where religion was a unifier in the manner in which it spread on the wings of belief and peaceful co-existence. Languages, instead of becoming barriers, are the source of linkage. Dress and cuisine find close association even in the most remote areas of this part of the world.

    The last but perhaps the most important element of our policy is enhancing community connect. India is a country which is itself one of the most diverse in every sense of the word in the world. From linguistic, religious, ethnic and cultural perspectives, India represents every possible human identity within its kaleidoscopic manifestation. And we are proud of this diversity, which has time and again proved to be our strength and a true reflection of our identity.

    We realise that India’s success in its endeavours is a reflection of the connect that all communities have forged through trust, mutual respect and mutual accommodation over the years. It is this very connect that we endeavour to strengthen within the region and beyond. There is little doubt that foreign policy formulation and its implementation are important elements of state policy. However, it is even more important to forge people to people contacts. There is no bond stronger than the human bond.

    The initiatives taken in the past by all countries to support education of students, provision of scholarships, exchange of students, provision of medical support, sports and cultural activities and easing travel and tourism can all go a long way in strengthening the understanding and linkages that already exist within the region.

    The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seeks to bring about transformative changes in the core of India’s foreign policy principles. Panchsheel (five principles) that formed the essence of Indian approach for a long time has been supplemented by a new principle, Panchamrit (five nectars)—dignity, dialogue, security, shared prosperity and culture. And we feel that these can best be achieved through the five Cs that I mentioned earlier.

    India has never attempted to impose any political ideology on any of its neighbours. It has avoided any attempt to transfer its version of secularism or democracy on to any other country. We realise that each country has its own realities and circumstances that must guide its destiny.

    I take this opportunity to congratulate IDSA for hosting the South Asia Conference. IDSA has, over the years, forged close links with partner institutions and scholars in South Asian and other neighbouring countries. This is an integral and important part of the community connect initiative I spoke about. At the same time, it is also provides a platform for exchange of ideas and perspectives, which will help us better understand each other’s concerns and interests.

    Thank you.

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