Students in the Hall and those who have logged in from elsewhere, Teachers, Vice Chancellors, Heads of Academic institutions, my friends on the Dais
It is a very great pleasure to join you all today at University Connect, where we engage young minds on important issues. Today’s event is focused on the assumption of the G20 Presidency by India. For reasons that I will explain, this is not a development that should be regarded as just one more diplomatic happening. On the contrary, it is a crucial responsibility that is being assumed by India at a very challenging time in world politics and at an inflection point in India’s own history. And, we are going to do the G20 very differently, and today’s event itself, is proof of that.
2. You are all aware that the G20 brings together the 20 major economies of the world. They represent 85% of the global GDP, 75% of international trade and two-thirds of the world’s population. In addition, participants in the group include the major international organizations like the UN, WTO, WHO, World Bank, IMF, ILO, ASEAN, African Union, International Solar Alliance, CDRI etc. As the host, it is also India’s prerogative to invite guest nations. We have exercised that right in respect of UAE, Bangladesh, Mauritius, Egypt, Nigeria, Oman, Singapore, the Netherlands and Spain. So, as you can see, this is a gathering of extraordinary importance. And one that in many ways , unparalleled in our history.
3. But it is not just the collective weight of the participants that you should take note of. The very process of holding the G20 itself is uniquely impactful. There will, of course be the G20 Summit in September 2023 in New Delhi. But, in addition, there are almost 200 meetings at various other levels, from Ministers and officials to domain experts, civil society and of course, the youth. Given its significance, we would like G20 not to be a Delhi-centric set of events, but one that is hosted; indeed that is celebrated across the width and breadth of our country. By doing so, the world will get to know better the fullness of India’s extraordinary diversity and rich heritage. Similarly, our own citizens will develop a sharper appreciation of the world, its challenges, and its opportunities. So, we must all approach the G20 and its delegates in the true spirit of Athiti Devo Bhava and understand that as a result of the G20, it will, in a sense, make the world more India ready and make India more world ready.
4. Now, our G20 Presidency is taking place at a very critical moment in international affairs. Over the last three years, we have seen the economic and social devastation caused by the Covid pandemic, quite apart from its human toll. It has aggravated the financial situation of developing countries, undermined the pursuit of sustainable development goals, and created a health divide between the developed and the developing. To this was added the knock-on effects of the Ukraine conflict, especially the difficulties in the availability and affordability of fuel, of food, of fertilizers. There are then the longer term trends like extreme climate, whose events are now unfolding with greater frequency and more impact. And do not forget the perennial challenges that we have faced, whether it be terrorism, black money etc. The G20 is the premier grouping devoted to addressing the financial, economic and developmental challenges of the world. And in these difficult times, it is particularly vital that world leaders focus on the right issues, issues that especially affect the more vulnerable sections of the world.
5. The attention obviously needs to be given not just to the problems, but equally; perhaps even more so, to finding viable solutions. In this regard, India’s example is of increasing relevance to the rest of the world. Whether it is our last mile delivery done using digital platforms, our way of responding to the Covid and other public health challenges, or indeed the transformation in green and clean energy that we have seen in the last few years; there are very good reasons why today, the world is taking a much deeper interest in us. The G20 Presidency offers us an opportunity to share our story with others, particularly those who may transpose some of our experiences on their performance on challenges. It is also a time when we must become the voice of the Global South, that is otherwise under-represented in such forums. Countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America trust India to speak up for them. We have of late been in the forefront of expressing their concerns on fuel, food and fertilizers. We share too the apprehension that sustainable development, climate action and climate justice could be side tracked due to more dominant issues. But our task will end not just with articulation. India has to take the lead in pushing for collective action. And that is exactly what we intend to do at the G20.
6. There are established mechanisms and working platforms to take forward various issues that come up in the G20 agenda. But the G20 naturally responds to the pressing issues of the day. It is also a tradition in the Presidency for the Presidency to flag concerns that are most immediate and seek support of the larger membership. Where India is concerned, some of the priorities are self-evident. Energy security and food security are two such examples. After the pandemic, there is a global expectation that more equitable solutions would be found for health challenges. As the driver of the widely appreciated Vaccine Maitri, the Global South has hopes that India would take forward this cause. Our commitment to climate action and climate justice is again well recognized. This is even more so in the context of national actions and policies on this subject in the last eight years. Most of all, our digital prowess and its effective application on the ground; that has really caught the world’s attention. While noting all these developments, let me address some specific issues that are likely to come up in the G20 context.
7. As a civilizational state, it was imperative that India is not only conscious of its heritage and culture but brings those perspectives to bear on contemporary issues. As we currently consider the challenges of climate action, it is natural that we reassert our innate reverence for nature and search for solutions that are not just material, but also behavioural. We would seek to encourage a rethink around the world, both on how we produce, but equally important, on how we consume. Green transition at scale is possible only when climate action is converted into a people’s movement. During our G20 Presidency, we will spotlight LiFE (Lifestyle for Environment), with its associated, environmentally sustainable and responsible choices, at the level of individual lifestyles as well as national development. Only then will it lead to globally transformative actions resulting in a cleaner, greener and bluer future. We will make LiFE a global movement: one that envisions replacing the prevalent ‘use-and-dispose’ economy with a ‘circular economy’. It intends to nudge individuals to undertake simple acts in their everyday life that can contribute to effectively addressing the challenges of climate change, environment degradation, energy crises and rapid, sustainable growth. Pro-planet people adopting fundamentally sustainable lifestyles will change the way we do business in the 21st century. India will seek to be a catalyst of that change.
8. When taking over the G20 Presidency in Bali, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about a sense of trusteeship. We want that message also to go out from the G20 - that for the sake of future generations-for people like you, every generation should leave the planet in a better shape than it inherited. After due deliberation we have therefore taken up "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” or "One Earth, One Family, One Future” as our G20 Presidency theme. Drawing from our cultural ethos, this is a strong assertion of beliefs in shared and common solutions. It may apply to climate action and LiFE, where the power of example, the diffusion of technology and the spread of best practices can make a decisive difference. The same drivers are even more powerful when it comes to digital delivery in order to ensure that we leave no one behind. And remember, we have demonstrated it even at a time of extreme stress by undertaking successfully Vaccine Maitri.
9. The G20 is a diverse platform that seeks to forge common ground on key issues amongst prominent countries. Our endeavour is to make that consensus more relevant through a wider process of consultation. Indeed, our very choice of guest countries is reflective of this intent. Harmonising various interests is something that is ingrained deeply in India’s history and culture. We have long been a pluralistic and consultative society, who have debated issues openly before we arrive at a decision. Since this is deeply ingrained in our DNA, we have never been insecure with diversity. Our essential unity is not only the basis for pluralism but also the source of confidence for engaging the world. As the mother of democracy, India’s G20 Presidency will be consultative, collaborative and decisive.
10. Having noted that, we must also recognize that the global order today is not truly reflective of the state of the world. Institutions and practices created 75 years ago still dominate global decision making. A representative and democratic international order must press for a change, not just in the United Nations but in other international institutions as well.
11. While we strive to progress on this broad agenda of issues, the G20 cannot be impervious to immediate developments that have a direct consequence on global well-being. This year, much of that debate has centered around the Ukraine conflict. As you all know, Prime Minister had declared that this is not the era of war and that dialogue and diplomacy alone can provide solutions. At Bali, the significance of this position was widely recognized by G20 leaders. In fact, the universality of this message is being appreciated as well.
12. Many of you today would have read in the newspapers you would have seen in the morning. Or read on your phones, Prime Minister’s own thoughts about assuming the G20 Presidency. And that, by the way has appeared in newspapers across the world. We should reflect on what to my mind were the 8 key points that he has articulated in his piece. And those points are:
(i) The greatest challenges can be solved not by fighting with each other but by acting together;
(ii) Technology gives us the means to address problems on a humanity-wide scale;
(iii) Digital public goods that we have created are increasingly perceived by the world as delivering revolutionary progress;
(iv) India’s experiences can provide insights for possible solutions;
(v) Our G20 priorities will be shaped by the interests of the Global South;
(vi) We will encourage sustainable and environment friendly lifestyles based on trusteeship towards nature;
(vii) We will seek to de-politicise the global supply of food, fertilizer and medical products; and
(viii) We will encourage an honest conversation among the most powerful countries.
13. As the youth of India, it is important that you are not only aware of G20 activities but also of India’s approach that I have just summarised. Under the Youth20 Engagement Group of G20, India will focus on skill development, future of work, access to quality health, and youth as equal partners in development agenda. During the year, in the spirit of Jan Bhagidari, I would encourage the youth to conduct and host a wide range of practical activities like university lectures, roundtable discussions, Model UN conferences in colleges on G20 agendas. And welcoming the G20 delegations including through cultural performances at various meeting venues.
14. Remember, each one of you present, physically here and virtually across, each one of you is an ambassador of India to the G20. I urge you to collectively be the radiant lotus of creative brilliance and generational optimism. Our success in the G20 will surely draw strength from all of you.
Thank You very much.