It isn't uncommon for the Prime Minister of India to address the annual United Nations General Assembly. However, this year the occasion was distinct when Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the global forum and community for the first time. There is much to value in the totality of his message, beyond the hype and excitement generated by his US visit and the delivery of his message in Hindi.
Prime Minister Modi sought to set the tone of how India seeks to define the contours of her global priorities and her engagement with the rest of the world. This is evident from the expanse of issues raised by him about the core challenges that confront humanity, the need for a G-1 or G-All to respond to the "call of our times" of an inter-dependent world, and the message of reining in reckless consumption and need for environmental protection.
His speech extended from the core of India's philosophical self to every region of the world, and finally addressed issues confronting all of humanity.
He began by acknowledging the expectations of the world from India, simultaneously reminding them of our timeless philosophy of Vasudeva Kutumbukam (All the world is one family), which embodies the essence of multilateralism. Thereafter starting with the surge towards democracy in South Asia, West Asia and North Africa, he touched the new stirring for stability and progress in Africa, the spread of prosperity in Asia and the coming together of Latin America. By specifically referring to the democratic transition in Afghanistan, the shift from violence to peace and democracy in Nepal and the flourishing of Bhutan's young democracy, he stressed the importance of South Asia and the neighbourhood.
To Pakistan, his retort was deftly delivered. He stated intent "to engage in a serious bilateral dialogue in a peaceful atmosphere, without the shadow of terrorism", but also shifted the onus on Pakistan to create the appropriate environment for it. He drew the world's attention to the impact of floods in Jammu and Kashmir including the need for relief measures in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. He made a specific mention that "our own region continues to face the destabilizing threat of terrorism" and "even today, states allow terrorist sanctuaries on their territory or use terrorism as instruments of their policy". He rebuked those who sought to differentiate between good and bad terrorism, and highlighted the danger of such a policy by forewarning that the seas, space and cyber space could become new theatres of conflicts.
His speech of about thirty minutes, that touched many challenges of global importance, was expansive and rare in that measure. It included the contrast between those who have benefitted by globalisation and the billions who live on the edge of poverty. He emphasised basic necessities of access to sanitation, electricity and drinking water. He urged the need to change the character of how future economies could function by achieving "the same level of development, prosperity and well being without necessarily going down the path of reckless consumption" and where "energy not consumed is the cleanest energy".
By calling for reform of the United Nations, including the Security Council, Prime Minister Modi also reiterated India's aspiration to become a major participant in global affairs, willing to share her resources and technology with others.
It was however, in the appeal for an International Yoga Day that the Prime Minister remarkably synthesized two aspects of Indian thought spanning millennia - the increasing global popularity of yoga not merely as an "exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and nature", and, a core Gandhian principle of "be the change you want to see in the world".
He carried that message further in the day, at the Global Citizens Festival in Central Park. Underlining the message of hope, belief, purpose and energy for one future, he concluded with a Sanskrit sholka wishing peace to all, and with the iconic dialogue from Star Wars "may the force be with you".
Prime Minister Modi confirmed that he is a leader seeking to bridge the gap between East and West, capable of drawing from the strengths of both. He drew on the eternal messages of the east and presented them in an idiom to appeal to the youth of today. In doing so he straddles, not just two lands, but two paradigms as well.
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