Ministry of External Affairs of the Republic of India

09/09/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 09/09/2019 13:02

Remarks on New India By External Affairs Minister at Gala Dinner in the India-Singapore Business Summit Singapore (September 09, 2019)

Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Mr. Teo Chee Hean
High Commissioner of India
Excellencies, my many friends here, distinguished guests.

It is always a great pleasure to return to Singapore - to the warmth of friendships and to its many familiar treasures; but, also to get a glimpse of the new, in the way the city constantly renews itself and sets new benchmarks, such as the Changi Jewel; and, the manner in which its intellectual discourse mirrors the opportunities and challenges of our times. To visit Singapore is to feel the pulse of the region and the forces that are driving the tectonic shifts taking place in Southeast and East Asia.

In the ten years since I finished my tenure here, each visit also shows me the distance India and Singapore have travelled together since then. In every dimension of our bilateral relationship and international partnership, we are making enormous progress.

Our strategic partnership is free from the constraints of doubts, hesitation, contests or claims. We neither argue about principles nor need to reassure each other of our intentions. Indeed, our only challenge is to avoid complacency; our only obligation is to set higher ambitions and devote ourselves to achieve them.As the world enters a phase of multiple global disruptions and transitions, eroding weight of global institutions, weakening multilateralism and growing pressure on rules-based order, the imperatives for India-Singapore strategic partnership are stronger than ever before.

This is the message that came through clearly in the conversation that Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and I had with Professor Tommy Koh and with one of the largest audiences I have seen here.This Business and Innovation Summit embodies the spirit of our partnership. Here we see the energy and enthusiasm for this partnership, the quality of human resources and the depth of expertise that is a source of strength for us and the power of innovation that will drive our partnership in the digital age.

Indeed, the scale, breadth and the quality of this Summit is also a reflection of New India.The New India that Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks about is more than the metrics of economy - growth, investments, trade, per capita income - important as these are, both as indicators of progress and a means to transform the lives of people.

It is even more about change - in governance and in our people.

There is a new energy, a vigour of youth, in the country; a desire for change; willingness to pursue it; and, confidence about achieving it. There is a surge of expectation, a tide of aspirations and a strong current of self-belief.

There is rise of belief outside big cities, in small towns and villages. There is diffusion of ambition and democratisation of opportunities. It is a nation where being from a village and poor family is no longer a barrier to success; where a background of power and privilege is no longer an entitlement to success and opportunities; where talent and hard work matter more than identity. The new stories of achievements and accomplishments, and the impatience for change and spirit of enterprise, are coming out of small towns and villages.

The youth today is more engaged, more conscious of environment, more willing to contribute to society, more committed to nation building, more willing and able to innovate and compete with the best in the world. Women are no longer passive bystanders, but equal - and, often better - participants in the development process and national pursuits - from sports to Space.

The digital network spreading across the country is unifying us, bridging distance between the city and the village, between the rich and the poor.

There is a greater sense of national cohesion as a more Pan-India consciousness and aspiration is supplanting diverse identities.

As Prime Minister Modi said, New India is a nation of individual aspirations and collective endeavours. As change has become visible, the sentiment has changed from 'can we?' to 'we can'.

Scale and magnitude of a task is no longer a deterrence to its pursuit. Problems are no longer allowed to fester.The challenge of Jammu and Kashmir's full integration into India and into the development process that the people of Jammu and Kashmir so richly deserve has been postponed for decades, even though the special status was meant to be temporary and had become more of a barrier than a bridge.

In the course of the last few years, people have demanded and got a clean, transparent, decisive, responsive and proactive government. Power of digital technology is transforming governance and public delivery of services and making it more citizen-centric and participatory. It has also enabled us to address what once seemed to us as intractable problems and impossible dreams.

Laws have changed, too, to improve not just ease of doing business, but also ease of living. It took us until 2014 to remove a vestige of colonial era that used to affect us all - attestation of personal documents by gazetted officer. We now have self-attestation and are moving to digilockers and digisignature and consent architecture.

Economic performance is becoming a determinant of political success at state level, too. And, in a spirit of competitive and cooperative federalism, states, too, are competing for resources, investments and jobs.India's 115 Aspirational Districts, which are behind others on development indicators, get resources on the basis of competition for the most innovative solutions and outcomes, not on an arbitrary determinant of allocation by the Central Government.

There is a new sense of partnership between the Centre and States that is essential for India's progress.

Many of the development initiatives today are successful, because they ceased to be government initiatives, and became people's movement. Millions voluntarily gave up their ownership of subsidised cooking gas so that it could go to the poorer sections of the population.

The achievements of the past five years speak for themselves.In 2014, Prime Minister gave a call for Clean India campaign universal access to sanitation. Since Independence, the absence of sanitation had become an accepted fact of life. In five years, we have built 96 million toilets, expanding coverage from less than 40% of the population to over 90%.

We have built 15 million affordable rural homes and are building 20 million more; added 195000 km of rural roads than now connect 97% of all habitats in the country; provided 80 million women with free cooking gas connections; provided 200 million micro-credits, of which nearly 75% went to women.And, yes, we added 360 million new bank accounts. These are not just bank accounts, but also a source of opportunity, identity and dignity. More than USD 60 billion in direct benefit transfers from Government have flown into these accounts. Millions of farmers, small merchants and workers are now connected to old-age pension and insurance.

India's success in financial inclusion, creating a digital identity of 1.2 billion people and establishing the most sophisticated digital payment infrastructure is a source of global inspiration. It is one that that works even for someone who doesn't have a phone, but Aadhar.

We launched the world's largest healthcare scheme, Ayushman Bharat, that will cover 500 million Indians with medical care. It seemed audacious to even conceive of it; there was a high level of cynicism about our ability to finance and implement it. But it is quickly becoming a reality on the strength of governance, digital systems and people's involvement.

Nothing demonstrates the change in sentiments or the new belief in the possibility of scale more than our new national mission - providing water in every tap and covering the 50% of the population or over 600 million, who do not have access to potable water delivered at home. It is no longer dismissed as a grandiose idea that will remain on paper, but one that is achievable within the set time frame.

Today, the collective national endeavour is extending to many things - giving up single use plastic, avoiding chemical fertilizer, shifting from cash to digital payments, switch to LED bulbs, conservation of water - all that involves change in behaviour and must necessarily be a partnership between government and citizens.So, the New India is not a government project, but a national endeavour based on the dreams, energy, drive, talent, hard work, skills, enterprise and innovation of all sections of our society.

To achieve our objectives, economic growth matters. It is the principle objective of the government. We set a target of 5 trillion dollars in 2024. There are two ways to look at it. One, we moved from a USD 2.0 trillion to USD 3.0 trillion economy in five years. So, our target is not beyond our reach. Two, this is the first time we are setting ourselves a clear target or goal. It is like a national mission statement. And, it is call for each sector of the economy and section of society to rally together for a common goal.

There are short term concerns about slowing growth, weakening demand, anaemic private investments and a vulnerable financial sector.

The Government is conscious of it and has taken a number of steps to address it. With election behind us and the budget approved, public spending will also increase now. You will hear more about it tomorrow at the Summit from experts.

The deeper point, however, is that this is a government that will not shy away from bold decisions. It implemented the GST, the biggest tax reform in decades, in the complex setting of a central government and 29 state governments and competing economic demands in a resource-constrained environment. It has repealed 1450 laws since 2014 and 60 since returning to office.

It has introduced the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, a quick, transparent and market driven approach to resolve stressed assets and release both funds and productive capacity for the economy.It is doing something more. It is reforming the corporate sector, making it more accountable and responsible. It will, in the long run, make it cleaner and more efficient and innovative. And, it will improve the ability of banks to recover loans and keep the engine of the economy running.

Cleaning up the corporate sector and restoring its health may take time. But it will benefit the industry and the economy in the long run. Manufacturing, too, will grow.The confidence also stems from the new generation entrepreneurs - iconoclastic, attitudinally different from the earlier generation, committed to innovate, benchmarking itself to the world standards and keen to launch startups. Around 60 startups from India are here in the exhibition outside the hall. Some are from schools and colleges. Over 5000 Atal Tinker Labs with the most advanced technology and equipment set up by the government in schools are producing the future innovators of India.

In a country of India's size, scale at speed is important. And, it is changing the landscape of infrastructure in India, from national highways to aviation and railways, from ports to inland waterways, from power grids to digital network.As we take a leap into the new economy, India today is the fastest growing market for renewable energy and has the cheapest data cost in the world.

That has also changed our own belief in the scale of projects that we can conceive and execute.And, as we embark on what would be an urban century for India, urbanisation is receiving attention, as economic opportunity and challenge and environmental concern, as it never had before.Perhaps, the most encouraging sign of New India is the renewed emphasis on quality of education in schools, colleges and universities, and on basic research. This was in a drift for some time, as we focused more on expansion and had also increasingly brought it under state direction.Just as a New India seeks growth, prosperity and transformation in the lives of all people, it also wants a strong, united and secure India that can confidently deal with its challenges, meet the world on equal terms and fulfil its responsibility and role in the world. And, a more engaged and proactive India is responding to these expectations.It is country that is prepared to defend itself with its strength, but will deal with the world on the basis of its pluralist and inclusive ethos and democratic values.We demonstrated our will to defend ourselves against terrorism and against unilateral efforts to change ground situations in the area of unsettled boundary that, if it had succeeded, would have had irreversible impact on our security.

The new decisiveness is also evident in our humanitarian efforts. When a devastating earthquake struck in Nepal in April 2015, our aircraft with rescue and relief assets were airborne within two hours. When war broke out in Yemen, our naval ships pulled out citizens from 48 countries.It is also reflected, for example, in our new approach to climate change. We have gone from being defensive to setting the agenda, and, together with France, have created a new global International Solar Alliance to make combating climate change and dealing with its impact a global possibility, by offering affordable solutions, not just demanding adherence to a global compact.For long focused on our continental security challenges, we have now turned our attention, as never before, to our maritime domain, which has shaped so much of our history. We have articulated a new vision for a prosperous, secure and inclusive Indian Ocean Region. We have redefined our strategic geography to Indo Pacific Region, in response to the growing geopolitical and geo-economic reality, as also to the boundaries of our vital economic and security interests.ASEAN region will always remain central to our vision of Indo Pacific. And, it would suit everyone's interests if ASEAN unity and centrality is maintained. As you just saw in the cultural show, India has travelled an ancient route to this region. The links are natural. And, as India's economy grows and we become more outward oriented, our links with, our presence in and our commitment to the region will continue to grow. And, we are venturing further into East Asia and the Pacific.

In West Asia, we have shed some of the imagined constraints of the past and have transformed our relationships with Gulf countries, Israel and Iran at the same time. In Africa, sustained high level visits is backed by opening of 18 new embassies to add to the 34 we already had and stronger delivery on development projects.The bigger challenge today is the disruptive consequences of great power rivalry. None of us, big or small, want it. None will gain from it. We are building independent relationships with all major powers, clear about our interests and committed to our principles.

Adherence to international law and norms, and support for multilateralism, will remain a guiding principle of our policy. It is also essential for us, as we seek a predictable and stable global environment for the principle objective of our foreign policy - to support India's national economic transformation.That also applies to the multilateral trade regime. India will remain open, but it will also seek to define the terms of her trade arrangements that suits her strengths and interest, in the same way others will do.There is something else that is new. Our connection with the Indian diaspora has deepened significantly and our ability to provide services abroad, to Indians and others, has increased exponentially. Everyone knows that assistance is just a tweet of 280 characters away. Today, we care as much for a stranded worker as for a harassed woman abroad. At the same time, we expect our diaspora, citizens and others, to be model residents in their adopted homes.

Our engagement also reflects a higher consciousness of civilizational identity, but never an exclusivist one, and our cultural and spiritual links with the world, from East Asia to West Asia. For example, we have explored if the old Buddhist links across Asia can revive a new path to peaceful co-existence.In conclusion, let me say that New India is as much about the intangible changes as about tangible symbols of progress. It is as much about changes in attitudes and behaviour, as about rapid growth in infrastructure, manufacturing and digital technology. Governance has to be a key component of that change. And, it is happening - in tackling corruption, improving decision making, reducing the burden of government on people and becoming more accountable to the citizens. The bureaucracy is already feeling the difference.

The challenges are not simple. It is easier to change laws and rules than mind sets. But, it is happening.At the heart of this new India is belief- belief that is permeating through all sections of society.There is an element of inspiration from Singapore's own story. It was in this silent tribute that Prime Minister Modi came here for founding father Lee Kuan Yew's funeral in March 2015 and declared public mourning in India.But, the future will ask more from both of us. Because we share so much in common, as much in history as in the shared vision for the world. And, we can contribute to our region more when we do more with each other. That is going to be the defining agenda for India and Singapore as we step into the future together.

Thank you.

Disclaimer : This is an approximate transcription of the EAM's speech at the event