Even before Covid-19 engulfed the world, it was apparent that the international system was under great stress. There was a backlash against globalization and the resulting class wars created political insecurity for others.
Policy-makers across the world dealing with the impact of the pandemic are now focussed on economic and social recovery. For us, the pandemic has brought to fore many shortcomings. And therefore, this is also an opportunity to contemplate deep reforms.
Basic amenities of power, water and housing can no longer be treated as a luxury. Nor can education, healthcare, skills and employment remain just options for some. In particular, a greater focus on technology and manufacturing is central to India’s prospects. Digitization could well hold the key to the credible emergence of social welfare in a nation with limited resources. A commitment to promoting more employment-centric growth may be assisted by labour reforms and skilling programmes. But, it also sees a strong and sustained effort towards making it easier to do business which is central to the rapid strengthening of India’s comprehensive national power.
Border infrastructure of India also needs immediate attention. After all, the periphery will reflect in large measure the capabilities, or their lack, in the heartland. By playing down issues like cross-border terrorism or competitive geopolitics, there has been a tendency to look away from the hard choices. In a more difficult world, that is going to be less possible.
While there is much to be done at home, it is also true that this cannot be divorced from global happenings. To give practical effect to an agenda of recovery, resilience, and reform, it is necessary to fashion a strategy at multiple levels. And thus, it becomes imperative to maintain optimal relationship with key international players and groupings.
Trust and resilience are two characteristics that will command a premium in the post-Covid times. The pandemic came when global suspicions were already rising and trade frictions were well advanced. The behaviour of states during this period only further highlighted the value of more dependable supply chains. And India must seize this opportunity,
It is also essential to realize that there has been an evolution in our very understanding of national security. The world was already visualizing economic security as its intrinsic element. To that, can now be added the requirements of health security as well. And increasingly, data security. In fact, a combination of these developments has also revived a debate on strategic autonomy.
Over the last two decades, we have firmly established a global ‘techie’ reputation that helps both business and branding. The pandemic has now shored up the perception of India as the pharmacy of the world. As the world moves towards a knowledge economy, the salience of engineering and innovation will only grow. Like many others, we approach the world to a considerable degree as a marketplace. But given our expanding talent pool, we also visualize it as a global workplace. If mobility is already so significant in our calculations, the work-from-home culture spawned by the pandemic could well open up new vistas.
Unlocking the potential of global cooperation requires strong relationships with major powers. While that also means that we have to do more, this shift in sentiment is a powerful factor that must be fully leveraged. And doing that means a more imaginative diplomacy that engages multiple partners to secure optimal outcomes.
Compulsions of global scenario have created stronger issues of convergance for India and the USA. Regarding China, large civilizational states re-emerging in close proximity will not have naturally easy ties. Sustained engagement based on mutual respecte and sensitivty is must to best serve each others interests. In recent years, India’s engagement with Europe has transcended the focus on its larger members. As a region full of capabilities, resources and best practices, Europe is a natural partner for a more ambitious India and its revived interest in the Indo-Pacific strengthens the relevance of this engagement. There is an equally strong case for accelerating the partnership with Japan. Japan can make a difference to India’s participation in global supply chains. The two nations cooperate closely on reforming multilateralism and have a strong shared interest in shaping the contours of their regions.
While engaging the different poles of an emerging global order, India will continue to give the utmost attention to its immediate neighbourhood. As an outlook, the Neighbourhood First policy remains generous and non-reciprocal in creating the basis for shared activities in different domains. However, if regionalism is to seriously develop, it would need not only a positive approach towards trade, connectivity and contacts but also an abjuring of terrorism as state policy.
India will approach the world in a more proactive way in the aftermath of the pandemic. Indian diplomacy will be more integrated with our defence and security needs, more supportive of our economic and commercial interests, more aware of our technology capabilities and offerings, and more sensitive to the diaspora. We will strive to be the exemplars of Team India, truly working as one so that our goals are met and our vision realized.
India will enter the UN Security Council for the eighth time as a non-permanent member on 1 January 2021. With the passage of time, the case for a permanent presence has only grown stronger. Starting now, we will press strongly for reformed multilateralism that would make the UN more representative of contemporary realities. Naturally, our priorities will reflect our national interests; but they will also speak for the larger developing world constituency that we represent. Voicing their concerns and needs has become even more important in the aftermath of Covid-19.
This worldview captures the agenda of recovery, resilience and reform that is the imperative of our times. India represents one-sixth of humanity and its success and failure will, in many ways, shape its future.