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

September 09, 2019

Mr. Teo Chee Hean, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security,
My ministerial colleague, Hardeep Singh Puri,
Mr. Rajendra Nath, Minister in the Government of Andhra Pradesh,
Captain Divyashankar Mishra, Minister in the Government of Odisha,
High Commissioner, Jawed Ashraf,
Ladies & gentlemen,


It is always a great pleasure to return to Singapore and to the warmth of many friendships as well to feel the pulse of the region and forces that are driving the tectonic shifts taking place in South East Asia.

Before I speak about new India I want to speak about, the not so new High Commissioner. All of you know Jawed well. You all know he is an extraordinary diplomat. He has really raised India’s profile but today I saw a side of Jawed which was new to me, which was Jawed the choreographer, Jawed the photographer, Jawed the artistic spirit behind what was really an extraordinary display and I would ask all of you in joining me to thank Jawed and his team for what has been an extraordinary event.

In the ten years since I finished my tenure here, each visit also shows me how well India and Singapore have travelled together.

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 I had today with Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Tommy Koh earlier in the morning.

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 into 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 embodies is more, as Jawed said, than the metrics of its economy - growth, investments, trade, per capita income – important as these are, both as indicators of progress and as a means to transform the lives of people.

It is about making a real difference in governance and in our people.

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 the 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 – be that sports or Space.

The digital network is spreading across the country and 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 overlays diverse identities.

Scale and magnitude of a task is no longer a deterrence to its pursuit. Problems are no longer allowed to fester. No region, no community, no group will be left behind in our pursuit of modernity and progress.

The demands of better governance and faster development have prompted changes in respect to the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Modifying temporary laws that 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.

The 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 intractable problems and impossible dreams.Economic performance is becoming a determinant of political success at the state level, too. And, in a spirit of competitive and cooperative federalism, states, too, are competing for resources, investments and jobs. There is a new sense of partnership between the Centre and States that is so essential for India’s progress.

Many of the development initiatives today are successful, because they have ceased to be only government initiatives, and became a people’s movement. Millions voluntarily gave up their ownership of subsidized 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 Modi gave a call for Clean India campaign of universal access to sanitation. Since Independence, the absence of sanitation has become an accepted fact of life but in five years, we have built 96 million toilets, expanding the coverage from less than 40% of the population to today over 90%.

We have built 15 million affordable rural homes and are building 20 million more; added 195000 km of rural roads that 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 have 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 age-old pension and insurance.

India’s success in financial inclusion, creating a digital identity for 1.2 billion people and establishing the most sophisticated digital payment infrastructure is a matter of global recognition. It is one that that works even for someone who doesn’t have a phone, but just has Aadhaar.

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

To achieve our objectives, economic growth matters. It is the principle objective of the government and we have set a target of 5 trillion dollars by 2024. There were two ways to look at it. One, we moved up from a USD 2.0 trillion to another 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.

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 more than a 1450 laws since 2014 and 60 since it returned to office three months ago.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.But 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.

This confidence also stems from the new generation entrepreneurs – iconoclastic, attitudinally different, committed to innovate, benchmarking itself to the world standards and keen to launch and support startups. Around 60 startups from India are in the exhibition today outside this 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 and 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 networks.

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, urbanization is receiving attention, as economic opportunity and challenge and environmental concern, as it has 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 now 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 its people, it also wants a strong, secure and united India that can confidently deal with its challenges, meet the world on equal terms and fulfil its responsibility and role. And, a more engaged and proactive India is indeed responding to these expectations.It is a country that is prepared to defend itself with its strength, but will also 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 that could have an irreversible impact on our security.

The new decisiveness is also evident in our humanitarian efforts. When a devastating earthquake struck Nepal in April 2015, our aircraft with rescue and relief assets were airborne within a few 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 the new global International Solar Alliance. This addresses 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 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 the 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.The ASEAN region will always remain central to our vision of Indo Pacific. And, it would suit everyone’s interests if ASEAN’s 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, and our presence in and our commitment to this region will continue to grow. And, we are venturing further into East Asia and into 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, all at the same time. In Africa, sustained high level visits is backed by an opening of 18 new embassies 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 the guiding principles of our outlook. It is also essential for us, as we seek a predictable and stable global environment for these principle objectives 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 that others do. There is something else that is new. Our connection with the Indian diaspora has deepened significantly and as has our ability to provide services abroad, to Indians and to others.

Everyone knows that assistance is just a tweet 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 the old Buddhist links across Asia that can revive a new path to peaceful co-existence.In conclusion, let me say that the New India is as much about the intangible changes as about more concrete symbols of progress. It is as much about changes in attitudes and behavior, 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, in improving decision making, in reducing the burden of government on people and in becoming more accountable to our citizens. Trust me, 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 self-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 Narendra 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 our 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 forward into the future together.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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