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Keynote address by External Affairs Minister at PBD Virtual Conference 'Forging Media and Entertainment Partnerships to showcase India@75'

December 22, 2020

It is a great pleasure to join you all at this conference on "Forging Media and Entertainment Partnerships to Showcase India@75”. As you all know, this is being done in the run-up to Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2021. At the outset, let me state that instead of regarding this format as a compulsion of our times, we are better off embracing it as an outcome of a different era. So, even as life becomes better which I am sure it will, such digital engagements may be pursued for their inherent value and efficiency.

2. Pravasis are, in a manner of speaking, our extended family. They live abroad but remain deeply connected in heart and soul. As with family members, we take great pride in their achievements. And again, as we do with our near and dear, there is always a strong sense of responsibility towards their welfare. These sentiments were tested this year due to the Covid pandemic. And the Modi Government responded strongly, putting in place perhaps the largest repatriation exercise in history. If 3 million of our people came back to India through the Vande Bharat Mission, we also facilitated the return of more than 100,000 foreign citizens back to their homes. Many of them were Pravasis too. The machinery of the State was pressed fully into service, whether it was Air India, our Armed Forces, our Embassies and Consulates abroad, or the Government at home. Our reputation as the pharmacy of the world may have been enhanced by providing medicines to more than 150 countries. But the goodwill that it has created – one of great value to our Pravasis – is even more. My message is a simple one: in times of trouble, we stand with our people; we will do what it takes for their welfare; and this Government will deliver. And this is the attitude and capability with which we approach the Pravasi world as we near India@75.

3. Since this Conference is focused on the media, allow me to also dwell on the importance of the image of India. We have long recognized that Pravasis have played a role in influencing how the world perceives us. Their individual and collective accomplishments are taken as our national traits abroad. In many ways, they interpret and explain what really happens in their Motherland. And that is why it is particularly important that all of us – those living in India and those abroad – pay attention to the media projection of key national developments. The Covid experience itself is instructive in that regard. As we near the end of the year, there is a greater recognition of our rapid health infrastructure development, our high recovery rates and our low case fatality rates. We also know from recent political outcomes that the people at large, in fact, repose even higher trust in the Government. But if we are honest, let us also remember that there were scaremongering efforts and distorted pictures presented that sought to lower the national morale. On the ground, the delivery of financial and material assistance to the most vulnerable was done on a remarkable scale. Yet, it was a story less than fairly captured when it came to the media abroad. Yes, in the end, the truth will always come out. But a more effective and accurate projection of our policies and record is clearly a pressing need.

4. These concerns, in many ways, precede the pandemic and will no doubt continue even after. The truth is that India has undergone a very significant transformation in the last six years or so. We have had a range of people’s campaigns that have addressed longstanding challenges of gender gap, digital gap, cleanliness, innovation and skills, etc. These have been paralleled by innovative schemes of financial and socio-economic inclusion, many of them on a scale without equal in history. Reforms have also been undertaken on a broad canvas, touching many domains of activity. Those in education, labour and agriculture are only the most recent in that regard. Making it easier to do business has created the basis for greater employment generation. We have seen other bold steps in governance and administration that seek to tackle issues left over by history. Together, these changes have the potential of enabling India to develop the strengths and capabilities that should naturally accompany the growth of its economy. The external manifestation of these changes has been in more intensive cooperation with the immediate and extended neighbourhood, as well as broader partnerships with major global power centres. India has emerged as a first responder in its near vicinity on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief situations. Its voice in international councils is more effective, as its ability to shape outcomes in major negotiations like climate change. The supply of medicines during Covid and the expectations of India on the vaccine front tell their own story. These are the outlines of the India that will emerge at 75. And getting that narrative across objectively to the rest of the world is a goal where the diaspora partnership can make a difference.

5. The perception of a country in the international community is also shaped by its cultural and behavioural attributes. We use the term ‘soft power’ to describe the attractive personality traits of societies. When it comes to India, there are a range of domains that contribute to our national image abroad. Few would question the assertion that entertainment ranks high in that list. For decades now, the world has appreciated our visual, creative and performing arts. Today, our traditions and cuisine are even more widely prevalent. By its very nature, these are spheres that are people-centric and people-driven. The Government can certainly make a contribution through encouragement, facilitation and support. But our very strength is derived from the view that these are all genuine expressions of societal urges and creativity. And indeed, it is our civilizational heritage in their contemporary manifestation that will define us most sharply. A multi-polar world is inevitably headed for cultural rebalancing, as it has for economic and political ones. That is taking place even as we speak, often in forms that we don’t always recognize. Taking that further is not just a national objective but an intrinsic aspect of creating a more democratic and pluralistic world.

6. This is the global context in which we need to discuss forging media and entertainment partnerships. I am confident that our success in doing so will help showcase better India@75.

New Delhi
December 22, 2020
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