Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday highlighted India’s ambitious development and social welfare programmes, pitched for a reformed multilateral world order, and asserted India’s determination to fight terrorism, which he described as one of humanity’s biggest challenges, while stressing on the values of peace and harmony.
Modi’s address to the UN General Assembly, as officials had said well in advance, made no reference to the Kashmir issue or tensions with Pakistan, and the Prime Minister instead focused on how India’s implementation of the world’s largest sanitation, health insurance and financial inclusion schemes could serve as an inspiration for others.
In contrast, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who spoke shortly after Modi, largely focused on the Kashmir issue and repeatedly spoke about tensions between the two countries triggering a confrontation or war that could see the use of nuclear weapons.
Modi said he was proud to address the world body on behalf of 1.3 billion Indians after his government received a greater mandate than before in the largest election in the world’s biggest democracy. The occasion was also special as the world is celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, whose message of truth and non-violence continues to be relevant for global peace and development.
Reeling off figures about the world’s largest sanitation campaign, which built more than 110 million toilets in five years, the largest health insurance scheme providing free treatment of up to ~5 lakh a year to 500 million people, the largest financial inclusion programme that opened bank accounts for more than 370 million poor people, and the largest digital identification programme that saved more than $ 20 billion by curbing corruption, Modi said such measures gave a motivational message to the world and showed it a new path.
Modi made a strong pitch for multilateralism and a reformed United Nations with new strength and direction to tackle changes brought about in social and private life, economy, security, connectivity and international ties by modern technology. “A split world is not in anyone’s interest under these circumstances. Nor do we have the option to stay within our borders,” he said.
As the land of Buddha, he said, India has given the world peace and not war. “That is why there is seriousness and outrage in our voice when we warn the world about terrorism,” Modi said, speaking in Hindi.
“We believe this is one of the biggest challenges, not for any single country but for the entire world and humanity”, he said.
“A world divided in the name of terror hurts the principles on which the UN was born. Therefore, for the sake of humanity, I consider it imperative for the world to be united against terror,” he added.
Modi did not name any country, not even Pakistan, which India has described as the “hub” of terrorism. The omission was intended to avoid “getting into the mud” with Pakistan, which attacked India as always and raised Kashmir, but to rise above the annual mudslinging and increase India’s profile as an emerging power with global goals and responsibilities, officials said.
This was only the second time in the past 10 years that a speech at the UN General Assembly by an Indian leader didn’t mention Pakistan, the last instance being in 2011 by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It found 10 mentions in 2010, five each in 2013 and 2014, and three, six, 15 and 12 mentions over the next four years.
Modi also highlighted other development goals of his government and spoke of how they could benefit people around the world. Referring to a sign on the wall of the UN building, “No More Single Use Plastic”, he said India is running a major campaign to be free of single use plastic.
Though India’s contribution to global warming is very small from the perspective of history and per capita emission, it is working on the target of generating 450 GW from renewable energy and has established the International Solar Alliance, he said.
As the number and intensity of natural disasters increase due to global warming, India has taken the initiative to create the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), which will help create infrastructure that can withstand the impact of disasters, he added.
In the next five years, 150 million homes will be provided water and more than 125,000km of roads will be built in remote villages. By 2022, when India celebrates 75 years of independence, 20 million more homes will be built for the poor, and India has set a target of eradicating tuberculosis by 2025, five years before the global target.
Modi cited his government’s motto of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas” and quoted the Sangam era Tamil poet Kaniyan Pungundranar’s lines “Yaadhum oore, yaavarum kelir” (We have a sense of belonging for all places and all people are our own), and said the country’s ancient culture and traditions embody global dreams.
“Our efforts keep 1.3 billion Indians at the centre, but the dreams for which these efforts are being made are of the whole world, of every country, of every society. The efforts are for us, the results are for the whole world,” he said.
As other countries make efforts to develop themselves, Modi said, his determination becomes stronger “that I should develop my country at a faster pace so that the experience of India will also work for those countries”.
In the past five years, India has strengthened the world fraternity and world welfare, which were the aims for the establishment of the UN. “The topics that India is raising and the new global forums that India has come forward to build are based on global challenges, global themes, and the collective efforts needed to solve serious problems,” he said.
Modi also cited Swami Vivekananda’s message to the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893 – “harmony and peace and not dissension” – and said the message of the world’s largest democracy to the world community remained the same.