Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday expressed frustration at the pace of reform of the United Nations and its response to challenges such as terrorism and the Covid-19 pandemic, and questioned how long India would be kept away from a seat at the high table of the world body.
In a pre-recorded video address to the UN General Assembly, Modi listed the reasons why India deserves to be part of the world body’s decision-making structures, including its contributions to peacekeeping missions, its history as a non-colonising power, its green initiatives such as the International Solar Alliance, and its actions to ensure development and security in regions such as the Indo-Pacific.
Both Pakistan and China, with which India is currently engaged in a months-long border standoff, found no direct mention in Modi’s 20-minute speech. There was only an indirect reference to China when he noted India’s partnerships aren’t directed against someone, and that its development partnerships come without the malafide intent of “making the partner country dependent or hapless”.
Modi focused largely on the need to reform the UN, saying today’s world and contemporary challenges are significantly different from those of the era when the body was created in 1945. “Therefore, the international community today is faced with a very important question: Whether the character of the institution, constituted in the prevailing circumstances of 1945, is relevant even today?” he asked.
“Reform in the responses, in the processes, in the character of the UN is the need of the hour…the people of India have been waiting for a long time for the completion of the reforms…Today, people of India are concerned whether this reform process will ever reach its logical conclusion,” he said.
He questioned “how long will India be kept out of the decision-making structures of the UN”, noting it is the world’s largest democracy with more than 18% of the global population.
While the UN has had several achievements in the past 75 years, there are several instances pointing to a “serious need for introspection”, such as wars, terror attacks and bloodshed. “Were the efforts of the UN sufficient during those times or are these efforts adequate even today?” he said.
Turning to the global pandemic, Modi questioned whether the UN’s response had been effective. “Where is the UN in this joint fight against the pandemic? Where is its effective response?” he said.
Modi cited historical and contemporary reasons to argue for a bigger role for India at the UN. He pointed to the country’s growing economic and strategic clout and the responsible role it has played in areas ranging from peacekeeping missions to helping other nations during the pandemic.
“When we were strong, we did not trouble the world, when we were weak, we did not become a burden on the world,” he said.
India’s philosophy of working for the interests of humankind, and not its own interests, has been the driving force of its policies such as “Neighbourhood First”, “Act East”, and “Security and Growth for All in the Region” (SAGAR), and its approach to the Indo-Pacific, he said.
Amid the pandemic, India’s pharmaceutical industry sent medicines to more than 150 countries. “As the largest vaccine producing country of the world, I want to give one more assurance to the global community today. India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity will be used to help all humanity in fighting this crisis,” Modi said.
India is moving ahead with phase III clinical trials within the country and its neighbourhood, it will help all countries improve their cold chain and storage capacities for the delivery of vaccines, and its initiative for self-reliance in the post-pandemic era will be a force multiplier for the global economy, he added.
Modi also highlighted his government’s domestic initiatives such as promoting women entrepreneurs, paid maternity leave, ensuring rights of trans-gender people, connecting 400 million people to the banking system, freeing 600 million people from open defecation, and providing access to free healthcare services to more than 500 million people.
Looking to India’s future role as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Modi said the experience of the world’s largest democracy will be used for the benefit of the world. “India will always speak in support of peace, security and prosperity. India will not hesitate in raising its voice against the enemies of humanity, human race and human values – terrorism, smuggling of illegal weapons, drugs and money-laundering,” he said.
India’s candidature for permanent membership of an expanded and reformed Security Council has been backed by all the current permanent members of the council barring China. India recently called for text-based negotiations within a fixed timeframe for UN reforms that would also ensure proper representation for African nations.