March 01, 2016
H.E. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Former President of Sri Lanka,
H.E. Hamid Karzai, Former President of Afghanistan,
H.E. Sir James Mancham, Former President of Seychelles,
H.E. Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, Foreign Minister of Bangladesh,
Foreign Secretary Shri S. Jaishankar,
Senior functionaries of Observer Research Foundation,
Distinguished guests from India and abroad,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
- It is a great pleasure to welcome you all today to the inaugural session of the Raisina Dialogue. This is a new initiative taken jointly by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Observer Research Foundation. It is meant to create an international platform in India for policy makers and strategic thinkers to deliberate on the key issues of the day. In time, it is our hope that this dialogue would progress to become an important event in the calendar of diplomatic practitioners and analysts.
- The Raisina Dialogue has a context. It is now 20 months since our Government was voted in with a decisive mandate. Obviously, the desire for change reflected the aspirations of a large section of the electorate, especially the youth. Part of that was the expectation that India can and should raise its international profile. This connection is also visible in our endeavour since coming into office to leverage our diplomatic influence to accelerate development at home. Our successes in doing so have helped send the message that India’s growth can be the world’s opportunity.
- Since May 2014, we have brought a new sense of purpose to our foreign policy. By finding common ground and creating practical outcomes, we have earned a reputation of a constructive player in the global arena. There is a widespread impression that today, a decisive, energetic and action oriented leadership is in charge in India. As a consequence, India has become a natural participant in most important global conversations. It is but appropriate that this is also reflected now in a regular conclave in India that extends to think-tanks and analysts.
- The theme for this dialogue this year is ‘Asian Connectivity’. This is timely for a number of reasons. Connectivity today is central to the globalisation process. It is, of course, particularly important for Asia’s growth and development. Indeed, the last many decades have witnessed the restoration and modernization of connectivity as an integral element of the continent’s revival. Where India itself is concerned, whether it is domestic, external or regional, connectivity will determine how we meet our promise of growth, employment and prosperity. Both literally and metaphorically, it is an enabler of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’!
- In the contemporary world, connectivity has very diverse manifestations. Given the nature of the development process, it should come as no surprise that we are addressing a broad spectrum of challenges at different levels of complexity, all at the same time. Some are within the country, others just beyond our borders and the rest in the global commons. We are simultaneously seeking to overcome basic problems of physical connectivity, even as we endeavour to leapfrog and strengthen the digital one. Economic activities, while an outcome of connectivity, themselves form a bond between and within nations. They require a secure enabling environment which usually results in the multiplication of contacts. Migration for employment, a longstanding practice that has acquired special significance in a more globalised economy, cannot be left out of any conversation on connectivity. The global commons, whether on the seas or in space, also offer their own specific challenges as they do their solutions.
- The intangible can be just as important, especially if we note how strong our bonds of cultural connectivity are with so many other nations. We are also increasingly aware that connectivity is as much a driver of relationships as its outcome. Indeed, the rivalry for influence among nations today is often expressed in terms of their competition in infrastructure connectivity. Not surprisingly, many major initiatives underway, especially in Asia, focus on this very aspect. So too have the creation and expansion of institutions, including in the financial sector.
- While resources and capabilities drive the pace of connectivity, policy choices can be a critical factor. Even in South Asia, we have seen that good neighbourly ties can have a strong beneficial effect on building road and rail connections, opening waterways or supplying energy. The desire to cooperate has spawned institutions, bodies and groupings in different regions. SAARC, as you all know, is our local example and one where we are still striving to realise its full potential. But no one can deny that our openness to each other is an important consequence of this intent. But there is also the other side to consider. Political insecurity can block traffic even on roads that exist. It can prevent the exploitation of natural complementarities. As a result, demand and supply are often kept apart, mostly at the cost of the concerned populations. At times, we have creatively worked on sub-regional combinations like BBIN so that the momentum of cooperation does not slow down. But at the end of the day, it remains our conviction that the logic of larger regional cooperation will prevail over vested interests that block it.
- Another aspect that you will surely deliberate upon is the threat of disruption in connectivity. In its most radical form, this emanates from the spread of terrorism, which has mutated to keep pace with the march of technology. As a result, we confront the spectre of cyber attacks even as we struggle with violence inspired by medieval beliefs. Use or threat of use of force by nations in territorial disputes is another source of concern. Dissuasion and diplomacy are part of the answers in such situations. Sometimes, nature itself can be the source of problems, more than even conflicts. The importance of providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief is increasingly appreciated as a result. We saw that last year in both Yemen and Nepal, one man-made and the other natural. The security of connectivity in its various forms thus emerges as central to the maintenance of global order. The role of net security providers in different regions is also a natural corollary.
- In India, we are responding to these opportunities and challenges in a variety of ways. Key flagship development programmes are addressing the domestic side, among them the Make in India, Digital India, Smart Cities, Skill India and Namame Gange initiatives. A unified national market is an important priority and we are investing massively in rail and road connectivity. Special emphasis is being given to connecting our frontier regions. Similarly, the development of ports is good not only for the Indian economy but to the larger region as well. Transit agreements that take advantage of neighbouring connectivity have become a regular outcome in our diplomacy. Our international outreach is aimed at attracting resources, technologies and best practices to make these initiatives succeed. The involvement of our State Governments through cooperative federalism has added new dimensions to this effort. In terms of the cultural connect, the further strengthening of links to the diaspora has been accompanied by a larger endeavour to project Indian heritage globally. The International Day of Yoga is a good example.
- Beyond our borders, a ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy that began with the very inauguration of our Government underlines a strong commitment to connectivity, commerce and contacts with the larger region. With many of our neighbours, the last year and a half has seen visible enhancement of cooperative ties. With Bangladesh, Foreign Minister Mahmood Ali will tell you that a range of new initiatives in rail, road, border crossings, waterways, coastal shipping and energy have built on the settlement of the land and maritime boundary. With Bhutan, our longstanding energy cooperation has reached much higher levels with the acceleration in ongoing projects. Similarly, a new sense of urgency pervades three major projects that would make our connection to South East Asia a reality – the Trilateral Highway, the Kaladan Multimodal project and the Rih-Tedim road.
- In Nepal, we are deeply involved in the post-earthquake reconstruction efforts and the recent Prime Ministerial visit saw a renewed commitment to building the Terai roads as also the inauguration of a new transmission line. In Sri Lanka, as President Chandrika Kumaratunga would also confirm, our footprint extends from the rebuilding of railway lines to the clearing of ports and construction of power plants. As for Afghanistan, probably President Karzai knows more than all of us the significance of the Zeranj-Delaram road, Pul-e-Khumri transmission line or Salma dam.
- Looking beyond, our efforts to work with Iran on the Chahbahar Port are getting underway. Perhaps less well known are other initiatives under discussion to cooperate with Iran as a transit corridor to Central Asia and Russia. India’s connectivity horizons, earlier limited from Singapore to the Gulf, now expand well beyond as its economic capabilities and interests grow.
- The vast sea space to our south means that connectivity is as much maritime as it is territorial. The oceans around India and the associated blue economy link security and prosperity as strongly in the maritime domain as they do in other spheres. Our vision was articulated by Prime Minister as SAGAR-Security and Growth for All in the Region. It is a commitment to safe, secure, stable and shared maritime space. We have focussed on capacity building bilaterally and strengthening regional mechanisms to that end. President Mancham would testify that in Seychelles, for example, our partnership is today reflected in coastal surveillance, offshore patrolling, improvement of logistics and expanded hydrography. Meeting traditional and non-traditional threats, contributing to a climate of trust and transparency, ensuring respect for international maritime rules and norms, resolving maritime disputes without threat or use of force – these are all different aspects of promoting connectivity in this domain. India preaches what it practices and the agreement with Bangladesh on our maritime boundary should stand out as an example to others.
- Cyber connectivity is of growing importance in an increasingly digital world. It is connected to the question of how the contemporary global order should be governed and regulated so that it remains a free medium but yet allows Governments to protect their citizens. India has supported a multi-stakeholder approach aimed at preserving a free and integrated internet, but has also asked for a more democratic distribution of critical internet infrastructure and for closer international cooperation on cyber security and cyber crime to build trust and stability among the various stakeholders.
- In essence, connectivity is not just key to India’s development ambitions but an important and integral aspect of its vision for international cooperation. It will drive our interests and relationships in Asia and beyond. We bring to bear a cooperative rather than unilateral approach and believe that creating an environment of trust and confidence is the pre-requisite for a more inter-connected world. This is in our DNA; after all, we are the inheritors of two powerful connectivity legacies - the message of Buddha and the Spice Route.
- Let me conclude by wishing you all very productive deliberations over the next two days and expressing my appreciation to the organisers of the Conference.