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India’s Roadmap to Global Leadership : An International Perspective
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Dr. Mohan Kumar

H.E. Dr. Mohan Kumar is a ranking diplomat of the Indian Foreign Service with experience of over 33 years in a variety of interesting and challenging assignments. Soon after joining the prestigious Indian Foreign Service in 1981, he served as Third Secretary in the Permanent Mission of India in Geneva until 1984 where apart from learning the French language, he familiarized himself with work at the UN. Between 1984 and 1990, he served as Second Secretary and First Secretary in the Indian diplomatic Missions in Morocco and Congo respectively. Both were francophone countries and he was charged with political and commercial relations between India and these countries. Between 1990 and 1992, he served at the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi as the Desk Officer for India’s bilateral relations with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives.

Allow me to begin on a personal note. In 1981, when I joined the Indian Foreign Service and was posted to Geneva as a negotiator at the UN, Indian diplomats had to “shout” to be “heard”. Three decades later, I am proud to say that Indian diplomats are not only heard with respect when they speak but are actually the most sought after!

It is crucial to understand what brought about this change. To me, the simple explanation is that India’s global reputation and prestige has evolved directly in proportion to its economic growth and development over the last three decades. Therein lies an important lesson. The basic mantra for India’s roadmap to global leadership is : economic strength backed by social cohesion.

In 1992, when I was India’s negotiator at the Uruguay Round of Trade negotiations in Geneva, India’s share of global trade was below one percent, less than that of Nigeria. If despite this, we enjoyed some negotiating clout it was due to the ability of our diplomats and due to the massive potential of the Indian market. The landmark economic reforms undertaken by us in 1991 gradually gave Indian diplomats some negotiating leeway and indeed went a long way in India accepting the results of the Uruguay Round Trade Negotiations.

If India is to exercise global leadership, then its economy has not only to grow at a fast clip but it also has to remain very open to foreign direct investment and crucially, to the latest technology transfer. To some extent, the one depends on the other. The role of the Indian private sector in this is vital. Traditionally, the Indian private sector has argued against state monopolies but has not unconditionally favoured opening up our economy to foreign firms and investment. This has changed in recent times, but in my view the change has neither been fast nor is it irreversible. There are still voices in our industry which ague against foreign firms and investment, even when it is desirable for the Indian consumer and the economy.

Three things are therefore imperative and the Indian Industry has an important role to play in this. One, the need to make our economy globally competitive which can happen only if there is competition from abroad with the latest technology and business practices. Two, the need for economic growth to be “inclusive”. In this regard, the last general elections in May was perhaps the first time in history that Indians “cast their vote rather than vote their caste”!! Development was such an important theme in the last elections that the whole world sat up and took notice of “Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikaas”. Lastly, we must continue to be the hub for global innovation, be it IT or pharma.

One final point. Regardless of high growth, latest technology transfer and a globally competitive economy, India still needs to maintain strong internal, social cohesion. Our Constitution provides in great detail how this can be achieved. All we have to do is to follow the Indian Constitution in both letter and spirit at all times ad especially when in doubt.

India’s global leadership will be decided in the coming period whether it is climate change negotiations, WTO negotiations or indeed at the Conference on Disarmament. In all these multilateral fora, India’s leadership will be determined by adhering to principles, ethics and national interest. But global leadership is ultimately dependent on negotiating clout and that comes with economic strength, social cohesion and strong political leadership. I am convinced that we have all these three in abundance today.

India, with a myriad religions, ethnicities and languages is both a puzzle and a marvel to outsiders. As Indians, we can be legitimately proud of the political and economic strides made by our great nation. But the journey has just begun. And there are miles to go before we can rest.



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