His Excellency President of UN General Assembly Mr Dennis Francis, former Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Govt of India Suresh Prabhu, Ambassador Vijay Nambiar, Ruchira Kamboj, Permanent Representative of Bharat at the UN, Kumar Tuhin DG, ICCR, excellencies, other dignitaries; ladies and gentlemen !
It is a matter of great pleasure and also a privilege to deliver this key-note address at this Conference on Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam or the World as One Family.
It is also very natural for ICCR and Permanent Mission of India to join hands in organising this Conference. As we all know, in a different sense of the term; Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is not just the Permanent but Eternal Mission of India and Cultural Relations is the vehicle to accomplish this Mission.
It is historic that Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is being discussed where it requires to be discussed. In fact, there is perhaps no better way to articulate the organisational mission of the United Nations than Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. Recently, this theme, loosely translated in English as One Earth-One Family-One Future came into prominence because this was the motto of India G-20 presidency. However, the relevance of this theme is eternal and universal.
While in the precincts of this Head Quarter of United Nations, I remember what PM Narendra Modi had said while delivering his first address to the United Nations General Assembly in 2014. In his maiden speech Prime Minister of India had raised a particular point:"While we speak of an interdependent world, have we become more united as nations? Why can't we have a G-All grouping?” PM Modi had asked. His call for a G-All was nothing but the re-articulation of our collective aspiration to make the entire global community, One Family; that is Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam !
Friends, in this Key Note Address, I will be first taking an overview of India’s World View and the inherent centrality of the philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. While I will be reflecting upon some unique characteristics of the Philosophy of India, reviewing its global role in developmental and humanitarian issues, I will be leaving issues of Global Peace Keeping and Climate Justice to the experts to reflect upon as there are independent panel discussions covering these aspects.
Ladies and Gentlemen, India is a civilisational Nation and Family is the primary social institution that has helped sustain our society for centuries together. In its history of several millennia, India braved invasions after invasions, natural calamities like famines and floods, earthquakes and pandemics. And yet, if the onward march of our society has continued unstoppably, the credit goes to our social institutions, particularly our Family. With togetherness as the main pillar of this traditional social institution, commitment to this philosophy of fraternity continues to be reflected in our approaches to global issues today as well. Since times immemorial in India, it has been a part of our conviction that India is not just a mass of land. India is a Nation with a Mission. And this has been the case even in the past. This Mission of India is beautifully explained by our scriptures like Garuḍa Purāṇa (2.35.51) the last verse of which says:
sarveṣāṁ maṅgalaṁ bhūyāt sarve santu nirāmayāḥ|
sarve bhadrāṇi paśyantu mā kaścidduḥkhabhāg bhavet||
Obviously then, India’s Life Mission has been well-being of the entire Humanity. PM Modi had once eloquently mentioned that “India has not attacked anyone. It is neither hungry for any territory.” He further had also pointed out that in the two World Wars (in which India had no direct stake), 1.5 lakh Indian soldiers had laid down their lives fighting for others.Not for no reason, Michel Danino; a French educationist and writer who has made India his home was prompted to enlist few things India did not contribute to the World. They include “wars of religion, colonial conquest, slave trade, genocides, concentration camps and world wars .” Universal Peace for us is an article of faith, indeed!
Although much is said about Indian Nationalism, the idea of Nationalism in India was never about narrow mindedness. It was natural for Swami Vivekananda, some 130 years ago to deliver his iconic speech beginning with ‘Sisters and brothers of America!’, at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago on 11 September 1893 that captivated the audience.
History of India manifests in myriad ways the idea of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, or the World as one family. This approach is evident in the way Parsi community originally from Persia was given shelter in India, more particularly in Gujarat. It is also evident in the writings of Huen Tsung, Fay Hi Yan and Al Be Runi, or the first Russian visitor to India Afasani Nikitin all early travellers to India. The way King Zamorin welcomed Wasco-De-Game when the later landed in Kalikat reflected the same spirit. Tibetans and Bangladeshis given shelter in India when situations forced them move out of their homelands is also testimony to India’s approach to humanitarian issues. Again, the idea that the entire global community constitute our kith and kin made Indians happily settle down in countries like Fiji, Surinam, Mauritius etc. where they had originally gone as labourers. What Mahatma Gandhi did to fight against the system of racial discrimination in South Africa before joining India’s freedom struggle was also reflective of the same spirit. It is therefore, obvious that Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam cannot be seen as a stand-alone doctrinal approach of India. It is inherent to India’s World View.
In a way, Indians can look at the entire global community as their very own family because of their firm belief that all spiritual paths finally converge in one fundamental truth, as suggested by Ekam Sat Viprah Bahuda Vadanti, a verse from Rigveda (1:164-46) The literal meaning of ‘ekaṃ sad viprā bahudhā vadanti’ is ‘Truth/ ultimate Reality is one, sage call it by many names.’ Acceptance of this fundamental truth helps one move beyond all apparent differences and diversities. It is this conviction that has defined India’s democratic approach in spiritual matters. We have always believed in the notion ‘Let thousand flowers bloom’ and rejected any monopolistic view of spirituality, lock, stick and barrel.
Acceptance of the principle that ‘Truth is One and Manifestations are Diverse’ has been the key to peaceful coexistence of innumerable communities, languages and traditions in a country like India which could be called as a living example of what they now call as ‘Multiculturalism.’ In fact, it would not be out of place to mention here that while in the context of level playing field for economic development, Flattening of the World should be welcomed, but the entire global community will be culturally poorer if we accept Cultural Flattening, and unmindfully ape lives and styles of the rich societies and wealthy countries. This trend will prove to be detrimental to the very beauty of the entire World.
And since language is the vehicle of culture, it is important that global governance is taken to every nook and corner of the World in a language that locals can understand. While Local needs to think Global, Global also needs to be mindful of Local. That alone would help the cause of universal fraternity and fellow feeling.
This principle of Unity not just ‘in’, but in fact ‘of’ our diversity is also central to the integrationist philosophy embedded in India’s World View. Like Individuality and Collectivism, our Diversity and Unity are not mutually exclusive. Our diversity is in fact nothing else but the diverse manifestations of our innate Unity.
For India, therefore it was very natural to politely turn down the idea of observing 1995 as the International Year of Indigenous People. Under the Prime Ministership of P V Narsimha Rao, India convincingly argued that in our country all are indigenous and hence a special celebration is entirely irrelevant.
The family model told in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is essentially based on emotional connect. Remember, the scriptures talk of Family and not society, grouping or a home. Because as against all these; family is about give-and-take, participation and partnership. Simply staying under one roof doesn’t necessarily make a family. Sharing is the foundational value of the concept of Family. Hence, when we say Kutumbakam, it is all about mutuality, respect, sacrifice, and togetherness.
Also inherent to the Indian model of Family, is striking of a fine balance between individuality and collectivism. Indian family doesn’t have only aunts and uncles. It has a particular nomenclature for every individual relationship. Indian family respects both individual freedom and the value of collectivism. In India, we say, प्राप्तेतुषोडशेवर्षेपुत्रंमित्रवदाचरेत्।। Meaning- When he/she reaches the age of sixteen, parents should treat their children like a friend. In a way, this approach defines our traditional Youth Policy.
The Bhagavad Gita reflects the spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam in many verses. Gita clearly states the ideal as being able to see everyone in oneself and oneself in everyone. When this feeling is deep rooted in one’s inner consciousness it naturally leads to broadening of one’s approach and widening of horizons.
When one enlarges the idea of a family, it is natural that we tend to take more care of those members who need more attention. Within the global community, India has been trying to provide leadership to developing countries in diverse spheres through multiple ways. Today we are in the era of attention economy and visibility has become the driver of global narratives. Obviously then, it was natural for India to try and give voice to the voiceless, whether to the most developing countries, smaller countries or countries that are generally considered invisible since they belong to the global South. Incidentally, there is a striking similarity in approaches to issues of many cultures in Global South. Africa’s philosophy of Ubuntu, which means ‘I am because we are’, also highlights inherent interdependence of our existence. India’s strong advocacy of greater democratisation of global governance, including the UN must be seen in this context.
Unlike any other institution, Family is a continuously evolving institution. Like India, Family as an institution is ‘ever ageing but never old’. The underlying principle is that of नित्यनूतन, चिरपुरातन! Generations change but families continue. Many initiatives of India at the United Nations reflect this continuity and through that an attempt to add some distinct value to the functional agenda of this global body. Through co-sponsoring the landmark 1960 Declaration of the UN on Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples which proclaimed the need to unconditionally end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations, India achieved this goal. India was also elected the first chair of the Decolonization Committee where its ceaseless efforts to put an end to colonialism have been lauded by all.
Even during the early years of UN, India had taken active part in drafting the Universal Declaration on Human Rights highlighting the need for reflecting gender equality by changing the language of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights from ‘all men are created equal’ to ‘all men and women are created equal’. Two latest examples of how well-being of the global community has acquired centrality in Indian initiatives at the UN are declaration of June 21 as International Day of Yoga, and declaration of 2023 as the International Year of Millets by the Food and Agriculture Organisation. Through these again, India has given an essential message of the need for marrying our cultural traditions to Life Style generated challenges of wellness.
While the Cold War (US-USSR) was raging international politics, in the initial two decades following India’s independence, India’s foreign policy was heavily determined by the policy of non-alignment, which later became a full-fledged movement and forum of discussion in 1961 (Non-Alignment Movement). And today, India has come a long way from non-aligned to all-aligned, once again underscoring the importance of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
Ina multi-polar world today, multi-alignment is ‘India’s way’ to set new rules of engagement among countries that need to build safe spaces in a changing world order. In this changing world order, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has mastered a ‘multi-aligned’ foreign policy that is strengthening India’s role as a cornerstone of two major trends: the institutionalization of the Indo-Pacific (IPEF, QUAD), and the relaunch of the BRICS as the vanguard of the Global South.
Develop and let others also develop has been India’s approach towards what could rightly be described as Development Diplomacy. Indian initiatives in establishing International Solar Alliance and a global body for Traditional Medicinal Systems are reflective of our democratic approach towards developmental issues. Take the example of Digital Economy. India has topped the list for digital payments and recorded 89.5 million transactions in 2022, according to a report. Interestingly, India's payments are more than the digital payments made in the next four leading countries combined. India has happily shared its UPI technology with many countries including France, Australia, Singapore, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and others. A successful and vibrant democracy, India is also helping countries in the flawless conduct of elections. India has given technical support related to the Electronic Voting Machines to Jordan, Maldives, Namibia, Egypt, Bhutan, and Nepal. Out of these, Bhutan, Nepal, and Namibia are in fact using Electronic Voting Machines made in India.
India has always been a knowledge -society and Indian Institutions too are now going places. Many private Indian Universities have already established their campuses abroad. Now, the first Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campus outside the country will be set up in Tanzania following the signing of an agreement between the educational authorities of the two countries during external affairs minister S Jaishankar's recent visit to the African nation. With teacher-taught relationship as the centre piece of its Educational Philosophy, schools run by Indian spiritual organisations are becoming increasingly popular abroad. Again, under India’s Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme (ITEC prohramme) over 200,000 professionals from 161 partner countries have benefited since 1964. Indian Council of Cultural Relations awards scholarships to approximately 3940 students annually from 140 countries across the World.
Right since independence, India has always served the cause of Humanity. Although India’s partition was mainly at the behest of religious fundamentalists and hence on religious grounds, India opened its doors to all, regardless of their way of worship and accepted them as citizens of independent India. When Tibetans had to flee from their homeland, they were not just given asylum but every assistance was provided to them by this land of Buddha. Again, when countless Bangladeshis had to leave their country to save themselves from the atrocities of the aggressors, it was India that provided shelter to them for about a decade.
In the recent past, India’s humanitarian assistance has largely been provided in three contexts: conflict/post-conflict, in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, and support addressing the challenges of COVID-19.
From Operation Raahat (2015) in Yemen to Operation Ganga (2022) in Ukraine, India has always rushed to rescue not just its own citizens but also other Nationals stranded in difficult situations. India has shown its prowess in vaccine research and development, manufacturing, and implementation under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Under the Vaccine Maitri initiative, India supplied vaccines to 100 countries and provided drugs to 150 countries during COVID pandemic. Many small and developing countries have thanked India profusely for having rushed to their help when they needed it most.
Before I close, I must mention here that not just in the past but even in the contemporary world, India has been playing its role strictly without sounding condescending or obliging. And simply to understand the enormity of India’s role, let me share with you what Will Durant has said in his book The Case for India. Will Durant eloquently mentions:
‘India was the motherland of our race and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages; she was the mother of our philosophy, mother through the Arabs of much of our mathematics, mother through Buddha of the ideals embodied in Christianity, mother through the village community of self-government and democracy, Mother India in many ways the mother of us all.’
As a responsible member of the Global Family, and a civilisational nation with a glorious history of several thousand years, India will continue to play its role in this family. However, the success of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam depends on acceptance of this family-relationship by all the nations. For any family to hold together all family members have to pursue the path of democratic functioning, justice, inclusiveness, participation, partnership and above all mutuality! Equality of opportunity, equality of security and equality of dignity are the three pillars of Family as an institution. Let’s hope this conference would motivate all of us think in that direction.
Lastly, I must mention here that the theme of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam emerged in India because India symbolises the spirit of Humanity. French Indologist Sylvain Levy endorses this in so many words. Says he
‘From Persia to the Chinese Sea, from the icy regions of Siberia to the islands of Java and Borneo, from Oceania to Socotra, India has propagated her beliefs, her tales and her civilisation. She has left indelible imprints on one-fourth of the human race in the course of a long succession of centuries. She has the right to reclaim the rank that ignorance has refused her for a long time and to hold her place amongst the great nations, summarising and symbolising the spirit of Humanity.
Thank you very much !