In the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war, India has a “pivotal role” in “steering” the new world order and has “done the right thing in putting its sovereign and economic interests first while also appealing for peace,” former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said.
In an exclusive interview to The Indian Express ahead of the G20 summit that begins Saturday, Manmohan Singh said that he was “more optimistic about India’s future than worried,” but that optimism is “contingent on India being a harmonious society.”
Manmohan Singh, during whose term the G20, as a leaders’ summit, came into being after the 2008 financial crisis, also struck a note of caution calling for “restraint” in using “diplomacy and foreign policy for party or personal politics.” Excerpts:
India hosts the G20 summit beginning Saturday; you were Prime Minister of for a decade (2004-14) during which you were a part of many G20 summits. How do you see the changing or evolving role of foreign policy in domestic politics?
Manmohan Singh: I am very glad that India’s rotational chance for the Presidency of the G20 came during my lifetime and I am witness to India hosting world leaders for the G20 summit. Foreign policy has always been an important element of India’s governance framework, but it is fair to say that it has become even more relevant and important to domestic politics today than earlier. While India’s standing in the world should rightfully be an issue in domestic politics, it is equally important to exercise restraint in using diplomacy and foreign policy for party or personal politics.
How do you view India’s place at the global high table now and its role in the current — and changing — world order?
Manmohan Singh: The international order is very different now, especially after the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the geo-political rift between the Western nations and China. India has a pivotal role to play in steering this new world order. As a peaceful large democracy with Constitutional values, built since Independence, and a large growing economy, India commands immense respect globally.
G20 was elevated from a forum of initial ministerial level consultation into heads of government summits following the global financial meltdown in 2008. Both the global economy and Indian economy have seen many ups and downs since then. What are the challenges before the global economy now, and how is India positioned at this juncture?
Manmohan Singh: India’s external trade as a share of its GDP doubled in the decade from 2005 to 2015, which benefitted us enormously, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. This also means that India’s economy is much more integrated with the global economy. During the 2008 financial crisis, the G20 did very well in coordinating policy responses, strengthening global financial safety nets and initiating a process of inter-governmental coordination. Currently, there is talk of de-globalisation and new types of trade restrictions. These can disrupt the existing order but also open new opportunities for India in global supply chains. It is in India’s economic interests to not get trapped in conflicts and maintain an equilibrium of trading relationships across nations and regions.
As a peaceful large democracy with Constitutional values, built since Independence, and a large growing economy, India commands immense respect globally.
Manmohan SinghFormer Prime Minister
What are the challenges before the G20 countries now, especially in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war? How deft has New Delhi been in managing its relations with Russia and the West?
Manmohan Singh: When two or more powers are caught in a conflict, there is immense pressure on other nations to choose sides. I believe India has done the right thing in putting our sovereign and economic interests first while also appealing for peace. The G20 was never envisaged as the forum for settling security-related conflicts. It is important for the G20 to set aside security differences and keep its focus on policy coordination to tackle the challenges of climate, inequality and confidence in global trade.
India and China are members of the G20 as also BRICS. The tension on the LAC is far from resolved. As a former Prime Minister how do you see the India-China relationship and what is your advice to the government?
Manmohan Singh: It is not right for me to offer advice to the Prime Minister on how to handle complex diplomatic matters. It is unfortunate that the Chinese President Xi Jinping has chosen not to attend the G20 summit. I hope and believe the Prime Minister will take all steps necessary to protect India’s territorial and sovereign integrity and defuse bilateral tensions.
I believe India has done the right thing in putting our sovereign and economic interests first while also appealing for peace.
Manmohan SinghFormer Prime Minister
Chandrayaan-1 was launched when you were the Prime Minister. Now India has landed a spacecraft near Moon’s South Pole. How do you evaluate the Chandrayaan program and its success?
Manmohan Singh: It is a matter of great pride that India’s scientific establishment has once again proved its mettle as being among the best in the world. Our efforts over the last seven decades in promoting scientific temper in society and creating institutions have yielded enormous gains and made us all proud. I am really thrilled that the Chandrayaan mission, which was launched in 2008, has reached new heights by being the first to reach the south pole of the Moon. My heartfelt congratulations to all the women and men in ISRO.
What are the challenges before India — in the medium term what are the reforms critical for the economy and how would you sequence them? Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that India will become the third largest economy in his next term. How do you see this?
Manmohan Singh: As I wrote in an article last year in The Hindu, India stands at the precipice of a unique economic opportunity in a changing world order. As a peaceful democracy with a large market and abundant human and natural resources, India can rise to become an economic powerhouse of the world in the coming decades through emphasis on manufacturing and production combined with services. As the world transitions to an environment-friendly development model, it opens new avenues such as green mobility, minerals and clean technologies that India must be ready to capitalise on, which can yield jobs and prosperity to our people.
As India celebrates 75 years of Independence, how do you see the challenges ahead?
Manmohan Singh: On the whole, I am more optimistic about India’s future than worried. However, my optimism is contingent on India being a harmonious society, which is the bedrock for all progress and development. India’s innate instinct is to welcome and celebrate diversity which must be preserved.