Mr. Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman, Hero Enterprise: Thank you Sanju. Minister, thank you for making the time. I’m going to pick a few pointers from the comments made by Sanjeev, Harsh, and Rekha. I have a few of my own, and we have also invited the audience to send in their questions, so off and on I will pick one from there as well. Since we were talking about this being a situation which has impacted the whole world. When I’m saying this, I’m talking about the pandemic right now. Couple of months ago, it looked like we were coming out of this. It certainly does not look like that today. So, to your mind, what are the big lessons that the pandemic has taught us this past one year itself.
EAM Dr. S. Jaishankar: Well, first of all let me begin by saying that it is a great pleasure to be with all of you today and Harshji is right, this is my first participation at the National Leadership Conclave of the AIMA. I thank you for inviting me to share my views with you. It’sa great pleasure to meet friends today and it’s a safe pleasure when you meet them digitally. Good to see you.
Let’s start with the pandemic. I again agree with Harshji that we shouldn’t yet be talking about post-Covid though our thoughts should go there. We are very much in the middle of Covid, no question about it. Now what is the situation today? I think anybody who’s honest about it, if you are not sort of doing the blame game routine which often characterizes our politics, people would accept that there are today multiple variants at play whose potency and whose infectivity was not naturally realized earlier. You have the UK variant, you have the South African variant, and you have the double mutant which is today especially impacting the western region of the country. In all of this, I think it’s also a reality that there was a lot of societal complacency. For any of us to point a finger at anybody else is a very short-sighted attitude because the fact is everybody was complacent for a certain period when our numbers had really come down very dramatically. Now, rather than getting into what went wrong and who is to blame and what could we have done, I want all of us to step back and look at the long-term problem and potentially the long-term answer. The fact is that the pandemic has brought out deficiencies in our developmental model, in our progress, in our health infrastructure. It’s like, if you subject a system to stress, all the cracks and the gaps show up in that period.
A year ago, I want you all to go back and think about it, we were scrambling how do we all make masks? how do you make PPEs? where do you get the ventilators from? The country sort of pulled up its socks, came together and one part of us recognized that we should have had all those things in some quantity earlier. Our way of doing business, our vision of development was inadequately anchored in our own capabilities. We were far too dependent on supply chains abroad and here I have a bit of a bone to pick with business. I would say that very candidly, I think business is very fixated on its bottom lines and is not doing enough to build its own supply chains at home, but I will come to that late in the conversation. I am throwing it out as a provocation early in the talk. The fact is today,if there is a huge surge in demand for medical oxygen, somewhere one part of us as a collective should be asking ourselves why there isn’t enough medical oxygen production at home. So,I think there are long-term lessons there. There is the finger pointing blame game which I put to a certain kind of mindset and the lack of which I don’t consider a responsible conversation. But I think for an association like yours which is so deeply anchored in industry, this is a moment to reflect on how we build deeper strengths and capacities which would allow us to face these kinds of storms in the future. For me, the great take away in the making is that this is a lesson to us that you can’t take risks in good times and think that the risks will not come back to haunt you in tough times. I hope as a country, as an economy, as an industry all of us take the pressure on us today to ramp-up production etc., as a message that we need to build stronger and deeper at home.
Mr. Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman, Hero Enterprise: Point well made, I am tempted to respond, but I have a list of questions with me I want to go through before I respond to the question that you have raised. Let me go a little bit to this nationalism that we are seeing around covid, around vaccine, around production of medication and others. How do you think it could impact WHO’s program and the GAVI program which was supposed to provide for those who cannot otherwise manage? We are hearing it in India itself. People are saying, why you are exporting the vaccine when you need it here and the same thing is happening in other countries. So, I am leading off the question from there.
EAM Dr.S.Jaishankar: Sunilji, I think that’s a very legitimate question and again I would say that the blame game walaswill have their attitude and their approach. As serious people let’s look at it. Today, as Foreign Minister, I am pushing other countries, particularly some big countries, saying please keep the raw materials flowing for vaccines to be made in India. Why I am doing that is because of the fact that there are global supply chains and that very few things are made exclusively in one geography. Very few societies can say we are autonomous of our reliance on others. Ask yourself this question,can we on the one hand go around the world and tell people to keep their supply chains flowing towards us but are not going to give the vaccine which is the end product of that supply chain for which we are asking for raw material? Look at the vaccine itself, today the largest vaccine under production is an international product. It is a co-creation, a co-production. It’s not that we are not prioritizing our people. As things got tough, we spoke to the world honestly and said we have done our best to live up to the commitments, contractual commitments of producers, COVAX commitments to GAVI. But right now, please understand that we have a very serious situation at home, and I think most countries understand that. But if you get into why export abroad at all? Then somebody else will ask why export to India?That is so short-sided. Only really irresponsible people, really non- serious people can make that kind of argument. And by the way, there are some around as you would have noticed.
Mr. Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman, Hero Enterprise: Correct. You are right. We are more in agreement than you would imagine with this approach.
EAM Dr.S.Jaishankar: No, no, I imagine it from you, I have no problem. I know that.
Mr. Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman, Hero Enterprise: Going back, if you see the entire world gained significantly from the globalization that was going on. This part of it happened with China, Russia, US pulling in different directions. Then the previous President in the US also caused some of this looking inwards and then country after country started to close their borders in a manner of speaking. The realityis, information flow is global right now, supply chains are global right now, exactly as you mentioned. The question that people are now asking is ‘What does Atmanirbhar Bharat’ translate into? Will it isolate India? How will it impact India’s foreign policy and its approach to business and economy?
EAM Dr.S.Jaishankar: Sunilji, first of all I would contest the assumption with which you started – entire world gained by globalization. I don’t agree. I think many countries gained much more, some gained less, some did not gain at all. More importantly, within countries, some people gained, many people actually lost and what you saw particularly in the United States. If you want to see the advocates of globalization, go to New York. Look at the Wall Street, everybody is for it. The old political establishment loved it. Go out to what they call middle America. After all, why did you have the Trump phenomenon? Precisely because masses of people saw their quality of life, their employment opportunities actually negatively impacted by globalization. But I don’t want to only talk about America. Look at our own country. You are all in business. Can you really tell me in the last 15 years globalization has worked for everybody? Would you look me in the eye and say your industrial estates and your MSME’s have not been affected by cheap imports from subsidized economies? Has it not impacted employment in this country? So, you have to understand, we haven’t had fair growth. GDP numbers look great, but GDP numbers don’t translate necessarily into the right employment numbers. You had a growing employment problem precisely because globalization skewed your economic fairness and economic opportunities within the country. Today, the fundamental assumption behind Atmanirbhar Bharat is to have a kind of human-centric or I would say in economic terms employment-centric growth. Look you guys could do well. It doesn’t mean that some guy in Noida or somewhere else gets a job. I need to ensure that as well. A lot of our challenges are not different. It is a variation of what happened in the US or what may be happening in other parts of the world. Today, we need manufacturing expansion at home, services growth at home, a transformed agriculture, and most of all a kind of an economic mentality which doesn’t say I will look after my bottom lines; I am prepared to integrate supply chains from abroad; I really don’t care what happens to my people and my smaller enterprises at home and somehow, it’s the government obligation to de-risk all that. I actually hear that. I have seen people in the business community, some of whom are professionally giving advice to the government, take this external supply chain as some kind of entitlement and they actually think that the government is obliged to secure it for them. That’s not my responsibility. My responsibility is to make sure that you guys all build businesses at home which will give employment at home.
So, I think we need a fundamental mindset change. Somewhere what started off as a good thing and all of us supported it, the 91-92 reforms, got off-track and we lost the sense of who’s benefiting from that and more importantly who’s not benefiting from that at home. I hope very much that this crisis will actually reinforce that because what the pandemic has done is it has actually expanded our sense of security. Today we are thinking of health security. Many countries are thinking of food security, we don’t fortunately have that problem. Don’t get me wrong, I am not arguing for return to the past. My idea is not that the government should take over stuff. But I do think that Indian industry owes it to India and the Indian people to create supply chains at home to constantly, shall I say, update that kind of pyramid on which you are all sitting at a top and find a way by which the country buys in to the largest economic path.
Mr. Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman, Hero Enterprise: Thank you. So, it’s a longer conversation. I am happy to have that with you as to what the Indian industry is both able and willing to do at this moment, especially in supporting the country and all its people in the crisis. And you are right, there are some in industry who could become more responsible. But to be fair there are plenty in industry today who are both willing and wanting to play a bigger and more responsible role not just towards themselves or bottom lines but to a much longer responsibility and I think that’s only right, its only expected. Let me shift gears a little bit. I have a question from Dinesh Natarajan. This is about China and it says Ambassador Jaishankar, nobody knows the country better than you. With their economic and military strength over India at this point, what form of diplomacy are the option available to us to counter and overcome their aggression?
EAM Dr.S.Jaishankar: If you look at the last 40 years Sunilji, we have had peace and tranquility on the border. I am not suggesting that we solved the boundary disputethinking this is something easy or that it was round the corner. We have been very honest about the complexity of it. But the fact was that the rest of our relationship got built because of an assumption that neither party would use force, neither party would threaten the other. We had different agreements which translated those good intentions into commitments. Now last year that changed. The Chinese, with no provocation, brought an enormous force to the border as you all know. Now the point is very very simple. This is not rocket science. You cannot completely disrupt the peace and tranquility on the border and then carry on with the rest of the relationship. I have been saying it for the last year and I will continue to say it is not changed. If this relationship is to progress, I must have a return to peace and tranquility on the border. There is no two ways about it.
Mr. Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman, Hero Enterprise: Absolutely, this is a clear requirement for any of us to live today in the world, that is to have peace and tranquility, both for civil as also for economic and business needs. It is a complex situation, no doubt. Moving a little bit towards newer developments, could the Quad become another NATO, or do you ever foresee it having a NATO like stature, ability and influence etc.?
EAM Dr. S. Jaishankar: A short answer. No. I will also give you the longer answer. Look we regained our independence in 1947 and we value it because it was achieved after so many decades of struggle, and so we have stayed away from alliances. And in many ways actually, as a country, we don’t know what all of that means, as we never bought into it. The people, who use that NATO kind of analogy, either don’t understand us at all and don’t know where we are coming from, what our independence means to us and what is the mindset of India. So, one explanation is complete ignorance or lack of understanding of the Indian mindset. Or the other could be that they are actually using these words deliberately to kind of, I would say, discourage us or dissuade us or mislead us from doing what is in our own interest. What is our interest? Our interest today as a country, just like in any other sphere for instance I would say this applied to four of us as people or to three of you as businesses, is that it is very natural for parties which have common interest to say let’s find a way of working together. I mean the three of you are together, because you have a common interest. So, think of Quad as a common platform of four important players who are actually looking at unmet demands in the market. At a recent conference in fact, I gave some examples: what is it that we discuss when we meet in the Quad? We are discussing vaccine production, what to do with critical and emerging technologies, how do we ensure that our students move around or that travel takes place in a covid environment more easily, how do we deal with issues like maritime security or cyber security. Its very reasonable in international relations for countries which have convergences and agreements and common interest or shared interests to work together. But I won’t exaggerate this, and frankly wrongly depict it to create the imagery of NATO, military alliance, cold war etc., because that’s never been India’s heritage. In fact, that kind of thinking was something which other countries in Asia used to propagate favorably in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Even during cold war, we stayed away from NATO. Not everybody in Asia did. So, it is natural for those guys to use NATO. I don’t buy into that analogy at all.
Mr. Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman, Hero Enterprise: Do you think, since you talked of common interest and you spoke of business and economy, that that could get a leg-up between the Quad members to work closer together in use of technology, also something you mentioned. And now technology increasingly is a driver for civil society, economy and business. So, do you think this could be leveraged for these countries to work together on the economic side?
EAM Dr. S. Jaishankar: Absolutely, for a variety of reasons. One, I think due to the stresses of Covid but even predating the Covid, in international relations today like in business, trust has become a kind of premium commodity. Reliability has also become more important. We all want to do business with each other in a way in which we don’t feel it is being unfairly leveraged.
So, I think when you are looking at the world ahead, countries would be more comfortable with partners who would not, in their view, leverage technology or link trade to non-trade issues. There would be those, like in society with human beings, who would have greater comfort with each other and those who may not have the same degree of comfort with each other. Because you mentioned Quad specifically, when I look at the US, I look at Japan, I look at Australia, these are all countries where we have very strong relationships. There is a great deal of comfort, there is a lot of business to be done, each of these relationships autonomously has a great future, and I think we have the ability to work together collectively.
But having said that, I would say there would be others. We had to look at sort of re-scheduling the visit of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but certainly it’s our expectation with the UK, for example, that we would be doing more business in the years to come. I just met the French Foreign Minister. We spent a lot of our time, really discussing what the possibilities are with France and with EU.
So, I do think, that what Covid has done, is it has brought into the global debate a sense that today, India is a good platform for global production. And by the way this is exactly what I was discussing yesterday in Abu Dhabi. I think the world is comfortable to see more production out of India. We are a market economy; we are an open society. You know our mindset is global. If I say so myself, I would say by and large the world trusts us. And I really think this is the time to step up. So, if I were to put your two questions together, Atmanirbhar Bharat, which gives me more capacity and this environment which gives me a more trusted profile, better branding if you would, I think there are possibilities there.
Mr. Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman, Hero Enterprise: Let me push a little bit beyond this point. You pointed out the positive side of good connections that many of these nations are demonstrating, the need to work together or friendship etc. At the same time there are also hot spots. There are also some old fault lines that are starting to show up again. There are some new ones getting developed. There are points of tension that we have seen, really getting to a point where they are becoming serious conflicts or near conflicts. Do you see the possibility of a war like situation anywhere in the world before we settle down to what looks like it could be the new world order that you are talking about?
EAM Dr. S. Jaishankar: You know there could be local conflicts, some of them very significant. We are looking at a very worrisome situation, say in Afghanistan. And there are ongoing conflicts, say in a geography like Africa. So, there will be always be conflicts in the world, but I think at a kind of a mega level between the really big powers, that era is behind us. Because all said and done, and as I said to you earlier, globalization has not been fair but that does not mean that globalization has not been real. We are a very globalized world, and there is enormous interdependence and interpenetration. Among the major players, if they do things, it will have a cascading impact on them too! They are so interlinked with each other. Among the favorite theories of the last decade or two has been for example, this whole Thucydides traps. I mean, these are mind games, you know. These are ways of me telling you, don’t do this or else. It is a way of discouraging you from exploring options. That’s part of diplomacy.
Mr. Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman, Hero Enterprise: We say that in the stock market too very often by the way, for example you got to cash in as now it is going up or you are going to cash out as its going to collapse. It happens very often, you are right. I have a question from Zubin Kabraji I on Afghanistan as you mentioned, “With the exit of the US forces, do you see a larger role for India to play in the region economically, in the larger geopolitical framework?” In a sense you referred to this, that the US government has hinted that India needs to come in and be more a part of this conversation. Where do you see this ending up in terms of India playing a more active role here?
EAM Dr. S. Jaishankar: You know India has always played an active role in Afghanistan, not just after 2001 but even before 2001. Afghanistan is a doorstep away, so how can we not have a role, influence, presence, activity out there. It is just that you select your pathway or your platform which is most suited to the situation. In the post 9/11, post 2001 situation, for us the best way of helping out was through developmental projects and socio-economic activity. Because other people were doing other things and our intention after all, of going there, was not to do one upmanship. Our intention of being there was to help out and contribute to a larger global endeavor. In the last 20 years what that has done is, it has won us a lot of friends, it has created great goodwill for India, and a lot of acceptability for India. People look at us in these last 20 years and associate us with good things in Afghanistan. In the same period there have been some tough things which have happened, a lot of which gets blamed on somebody else, who you and I both know. When we look at the future ahead, I think it is important for us to work with the international community, and see based on our strengths, our capabilities, our networking and our relationships, where is it that we can help to create a better Afghanistan. The point I keep making is that at the end of the day our relationship is with the Afghan people. We are not there to play politics, and we are not there to say, ‘this is my favorite and that is not my favorite’, that’s not the game we are playing. We are actually playing a larger stability, development, progress for prosperity game.
Mr. Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman, Hero Enterprise: Minister Jaishankar, that was very well covered. We have only two minutes to go and I have a long list of questions. Instead of me asking a question, let me ask you, is there a comment you would like to make to us, which you think is important. You started off with some comments regarding Covid and the role of industries. Is there anything else from the point of view of diplomacy, geo-politics, geo-economics, which is a comment that you would like to make to us right now as we close this session?
EAM Dr. S. Jaishankar: The only comment that comes readily to my mind, and I say this based on a brief stint which I did in the corporate sector after leaving the Government and before I came back to it, is that there has to be a stronger partnership between business and Government in taking forward our national development. I mean, you are just as nationalistic and patriotic and aspirational as everybody else. But I do feel, we need to think much more. In a sense, CSR should not be a box to check and the cheque to write, or even just a project to make. There has got to be a CSR mentality. I spent a lot of my life, you know, five years in Japan, three years in Singapore, four and a half years in China, and these were the countries where actually economies got built in this era. At the end of the day, when I look at business, it is an employment creator and to my mind the question is how we build a stronger national economic base because that is the big takeaway from the Covid experience. That we have to de-risk our interaction with the world by actually having a stronger baseline at home. I would hope very much that the post-covid conversations are focused on that line of thinking.
Mr. Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman, Hero Enterprise: Minister Jaishankar, thank you very much for a very comprehensive, very straight forward and open dialogue which truly helped us to start the National Leadership Conclave on a high. Thank you very much, as always for a wonderfully interactive session.
EAM Dr. S. Jaishankar: Thank You.
The text is sourced from www.mea.gov.in and reproduced.