India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar UN
India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on September 24, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

United Nations: India’s foreign minister laid out the country’s plans for its turn at the G-20 presidency during his speech Saturday in front of the UN General Assembly.

India assumes the mantle of the consortium of leading developed and developing nations in December. Subramanyam Jaishankar said India’s approach would be “based on principles of mutual respect and national ownership with a commitment to sustainable development for all.”

Among India’s priority issues: the growing debt in weak economies, economic expansion, food and energy security, the environment and “the reform of governance of multilateral financial institutions.”

While India has expressed concerns over Russia’s war in Ukraine, the South Asian country - nonaligned during the Cold War - has maintained a neutral stance, refusing to abrogate business ties with Russia and join Western sanctions.

“As the Ukraine conflict continues to rage, we are often asked whose side we are on. And our answer, each time, is straight and honest,” Jaishankar said. “India is on the side of peace and will remain firmly there.”

He called for constructive dialogue, diplomacy and action to resolve the conflict for the sake of all.

“We are on the side of those struggling to make ends meet even as they stare at the escalating costs of food, of fuel and fertilisers,” he added.

Jaishankar repeatedly brought up the scarcity and expense of those three staples and said that India has had to contend with other challenges while “the global attention has been on Ukraine.”

Jaishankar touted India’s aid of regional neighbours like Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, as well as its function as a “bridge on some serious but divisive issues” during its expiring term on the UN Security Council.

He also acknowledged India’s 75th anniversary of Independence, which was marked in August, and pledged to make India a developed country by its centenary and “liberate ourselves from a colonial mindset.”

Voice of Global South

Jaishankar said one of the key takeaways from his visit to the 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York was how India is being perceived as the “Voice of the Global South.”

“We are today perceived very widely as the voice of the Global South. There is a huge crisis right now in the world economy, where the costs of food the cost of fuel...there is worry about fertilisers. There is great frustration that these issues are not being heard,” Jaishankar said.

At UNGA, India used the global stage to step up its diplomatic engagements in the bilateral and plurilateral formats stressing on South-South cooperation which is a broad framework of collaboration among countries of the South in the political, economic, social, cultural, environmental and technical domains.

“These are very deep anxieties for a lot of countries. The debt situation for example, and there is great frustration that these issues are not being heard. They’re not being voiced. They’re not going up the chain in the global consoles. And to the extent, there is anybody at all who’s speaking up and voicing the sentiments it is India. Therefore, part of the reason why I think there were so many meetings with my counterparts was the gut feeling that you know, this is a country which speaks for many of us,” Jaishankar told reporters as he concluded the New York leg of his 10-day visit to the United States on Saturday.

During his visit, the External Affairs Minister interacted with more than 100 counterparts, some bilaterals, multilateral and the others plurilateral on the sidelines of the UNGA.

After concluding his high-level discussions on Saturday afternoon, Jaishankar interacted with a group of reporters.

On being asked whether India’s focus on Global South or South-South was returning in some ways to an early adopter of Indian foreign policy, Jaishankar asserted, “ Global South solidarity has always been with us, it’s part of our DNA.”

Jaishankar said that there have been a number of initiatives and partnerships that India has taken the lead in the establishment of the International Solar Alliance, Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure and Vaccine Maitri that have scaled up under the Modi administration.

“We have approved, implemented completed something like about 700 projects in 70 countries ...I think translating vision into delivery is Prime Minister Modi’s strong point. So, therefore, much more of it is visible on the ground. And because more is visible on the ground, the other party also feels more things are happening.” Jaishankar added.