Seeking Greater Role For India, Modi Questions Relevance Of United Nations

Articulating an inclusive vision for the world and India’s role in manifesting it, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) how long India would be kept out of the top UN decision-making bodies. He assured the world of the adequate supply of vaccines and highlighted India’s contribution to UN peacekeeping mission and its non-exclusive foreign policy, making the case for India playing a leading role in the UN.

In his address to the 75th United Nations General Assembly on September 26, 2020, the Indian Prime Minister said the problems and solutions of the world in 1945 were quite different from today. “Today we are in a completely different era,” he said, asking if the character of an institution from those times is even relevant today. He said the UN enjoyed “unparalleled” respect in India but Indians were concerned whether the reform process would “ever reach its logical conclusion.”

Modi questioned the relevance of the United Nations to meet 21st Century challenges with a 19th Century structure that did not include India as a permanent member of the Security Council, and made a call to arms for nations to work for all humanity in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Modi posed the question of “Whether the character of the institution, constituted in the prevailing circumstances of 1945, is relevant even today?”

Despite several “stellar achievements” Modi in effect, argued that the UN had failed to stem the tide of terrorism and civil wars despite avoiding a ‘third world war’. And as for the pandemic, Modi slammed the international institution, asking, “Where is the United Nations in this joint fight against the pandemic? Where is its effective response?”

His answer: “Reform in the responses, in the processes, and in the very character of the United Nations is the need of the hour.” India has been waiting for the long-pending promised reforms which are supported by the United States and virtually all nations. “For how long will India be kept out of the decision-making structures of the United Nations?” Modi demanded, noting that this is the largest democracy in the world with more than 18% of its population, “which was a leading global economy for centuries and also one which has endured hundreds of years of foreign rule.”

In his speech, Modi noted that even during these very difficult times of the raging pandemic, the pharmaceutical industry of India has sent essential medicines to more than 150 countries. As the largest vaccine producing country of the world, “I want to give one more assurance to the global community today. India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity will be used to help all humanity in fighting this crisis.”

India is now in phase 3 of clinical trials and Modi promised to help all the countries trying to enhance their cold chain and storage capacities for the delivery of the vaccines. Modi contended that India had never been a power-hungry nation through history. “When we were strong, we were never a threat to the world, when we were weak, we never become a burden on the world. Your Excellency, How long would a country have to wait particularly when the transformational changes happening in that country affect a large part of the world?” Modi questioned.

Drawing attention to India’s standard view of the world as one (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam), Modi detailed the contributions his country had made in the last 75 years of the UN, including 50 peacekeeping missions where India has lost the most number of peacekeeping personnel.

He attributed numerous initiatives India jumpstarted and which were adopted by the UN including ‘International Day of Non-Violence,’ ‘International Day of Yoga,’ the initiatives of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure and the International Solar Alliance, among them.

He articulated India’s strategic priorities like ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’ and the ‘Act East Policy’, taking a swipe at China’s power moves in the region including in the South China Sea, he mentioned the Indo-Pacific region’s security and growth, going on to say that India helped nations not with a “malafide intent” at the cost of making a partner “dependent or hapless.”

“We must congratulate him for his firm, decisive approach to China,” Parikh said referring to Modi’s comments on following the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific region. India’s experiences at development, Modi said, would help many countries who are trying to progress.

He claimed that during his administration over the last 4 years, India had succeeded in bringing more than 400 million people into the formal financial sector, provided toilet facilities to 600 million people; and within 2-3 years, provided more than 500 million people access to free health care services. He also dwelt on progress toward a ‘digital’ India, mentioned the water supply initiative as well as the goal to achieve a tuberculosis-free nation, empowerment of women, and ensuring the rights of transgender people.

“Prime Minister Modi has eloquently made a case for India’s inclusion (in the Security Council),” said Anju Bhargava, a management consultant, formerly in the Obama administration’s inaugural Advisory Council on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnership, as well as founder of Hindu American Seva Communities. “He has presented India’s strength from the ancient past to the present as well as pointed to the future. Despite its challenges India has tremendous strength and can play a significant role on the world stage in the future,” Bhargava added.

“In the changed circumstances of the post-pandemic era, we are moving forward with the vision of a “Self-reliant India”. A Self-reliant India will also be a Force Multiplier for the Global Economy,” Modi declared, concluding with a poignant hope that the UN would remain relevant in the brave new world.

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