From celebrating Gandhi@150 to telling the world about India’s future goals, the Prime Minister communicated much to the world
The transformation of India from a country which prides itself in its past to a new India which is confident of its future was demonstrated best when Prime Minister Narendra Modi upgraded India’s gift to the UN of a precious 11th century statue of the Sun God to a Gandhi Solar Park to power the United Nations.
When the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wanted to offer India’s first gift to be displayed in the UN lounge in 1982, she selected an exquisite piece of the early Kushan period, a standing Sun God with his consorts, seven horses and lotus flowers that bloom with the first rays of the sun. I recall the excitement on the arrival of this rare ancient work of art at the UN.
A few days ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose the Sun God again, but this time inaugurating the Gandhi Solar Park with 193 solar panels, each representing a member of the multilateral body, at the UN Headquarters during the Gandhi@150 commemorative event to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and mark India’s global leadership in renewable energy.
The 50 kilowatt hour (kWh) rooftop solar park was built at a cost of USD one million. Each panel is powered to reach a maximum of 50 kWh of generation power, which will take the park’s annual output to 86,244 KWh. This equals 61 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, 30,242 kg of coal burned and carbon sequestered from 1008 seedlings grown for 10 years.
“Whether it is climate change or terrorism or selfishness in public life, Gandhiji’s ideals are the guiding light for us when it comes to protecting humanity. I believe the path shown by Gandhiji will lead to a better world,” said Prime Minister Modi.
In future years, visitors may still visit the statue in the lounge, but will recall that the UN is powered by the same Sun God in a technological incarnation.
In fact, PM Modi focussed on a new India in all the speeches he made at the UN, whether it was the Terrorism Summit, Global Health Conclave, Swachh Bharat and most importantly, his address to the General Assembly.
Pakistan had made a concerted effort to raise Kashmir at every forum, but he totally ignored it and soared higher and higher as Prime Minister Imran Khan went lower and lower.
The basic theme of Modi’s speech at the General Assembly was that all of India’s efforts for economic development were not for India alone, but for the development of the whole world, echoing Pandit Nehru’s words at the dawn of India’s freedom that India’s dreams were those of the world.
“We have to work and work hard to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world,” Nehru had said.
The Prime Minister said, “All our endeavours, are centred on 1.3 billion Indians. But the dreams that these efforts are trying to fulfil, are the same dreams that the entire world has, that every country has, and that every society has.
The efforts are ours, but their fruits are for all, for the entire world.
And this conviction of mine gets stronger every day, when I think of those countries, who, just like India, are striving for development, each in their own way.”
A former Foreign Secretary, Kanwal Sibal said: “Narendra Modi’s speech at the UN General Assembly and that of Imran Khan was a study in contrast. Modi’s was dignified, mature, statesmanlike, focusing on the big picture, reflecting India’s aspirations, its social goals, the leadership role that India sees for itself as we grow in stature, India’s responsiveness to contemporary concerns of the international community.”
PM Modi said that India had given the world Buddha, not yuddha (battle). His message was of peace and harmony, deriving from India’s traditions and its civilisation. His remarks were relevant to the agenda of the UNGA - that of climate change, Millennium Development Goals, universal healthcare, terrorism and multilateralism.
In contrast, Prime Minister Imran Khan sounded incoherent, abusive and aggressive. He openly expressed his disappointment that his allegations against India were ignored by the international community as the 8 million people locked up in Kashmir were Muslims. He went to the extent of saying that if they were Christians or Jews, there would have been an uproar. He even threatened to unleash a nuclear war if the changes in Kashmir were not reversed.
I have been attending or following UN General Assembly sessions since 1979, but I have never seen such a contrast between India and Pakistan. Bitter exchanges used to take place, but this time the two were operating at different levels.
The credit should go to the bold and creative approach of PM Modi, who dazzled all, despite the Kashmir issue, which permeated the UN. He may have made his position clear to the many interlocuters in private, but, in public, he focused on Gandhi, terrorism, health, energy, environment, hygiene etc which engaged the entire international community.
Even the worst critics of Modi are likely to judge his performance at the UN impeccable. His immaculate address to the General Assembly broke all records of brevity and he said that he made Foreign policy not only for India, but also for the common good of mankind.
Similarly, every speech he made on occasions like the Gandhi Solar Park Inaugural, the Climate Summit, the terrorism debate and the Gates Award, he was eloquent, but restrained, proud but modest and politically correct. If there was any restraint in praising him, it was only for fear of being labelled as a “Sanghi.” Many who came to scorn, knelt to pray. Modi has done India proud.
Of course, the value of speeches at the UN are only of limited value. Most delegations listen only to their own leaders. The truth is that there is wide concern about the growing tension between Pakistan and India, as indicated in the speeches at lower levels.
The bitterness between Pakistan and India was demonstrated when the Ministers boycotted each other’s statements at a meeting of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
Such developments are of concern to the world, which fears a nuclear conflagration. But PM Modi succeeded to allay these fears to some extent by his statesmanlike statements. On his return, he needs to find a way to normalise the situation in Kashmir.