India remains committed to an international order marked by robust, rule-based multilateral institutions. It has campaigned for the reform of the UN Security Council to expand its permanent membership to include a seat for itself ~ Ambassador Sanjiv Kohli
In a year when India is commemorating the 75th anniversary of its independence, this CorD interview sees Ambassador of India H.E. Sanjiv Kohli address current issues related to the war in Ukraine, reiterating his country’s stance that this is a time for right thinking and collaboration to deal with these challenges.
Your Excellency, this 15th August marks your country’s national holiday commemorating the 75th anniversary of Indian independence. What would you single out as having been the key junctures in that journey of liberation from colonialism to the creation of a country that’s influential and economically powerful?
We must remember that the India that achieved its freedom at midnight between 14th and 15th August 1947 was the product of several thousand years of history and civilisation. After all, for India, democracy was not just a choice we made in 1947, but rather represented a way of life long before that. Few societies can compare with the pluralism that has been our historical characteristic.
The fact that we have remained steadfast to our democratic values, despite major challenges in the last 75 years, remains the most defining characteristic of our journey as an independent country. To give your readers a sense of that, in 2019, when the last general elections were held in India, 912 million people were eligible to vote – more than all other democracies combined. Two out of every three eligible voters actually made the effort to go to the polling stations, in contrast to the indifference seen in many other societies.
Strong democratic institutions, a widely respected electoral body, rule of law, a vigorous media scene and a vibrant civil society have contributed to what India is today. India’s growth story over these 75 years has been truly impressive: from agricultural production to nuclear and space technology; from affordable healthcare to world-class educational institutions; from Ayurveda to biotechnology; from giant steel plants to becoming an IT power with the world’s third largest start-up ecosystem.
India has become the fifth largest economy and ranks among the fastest growing major economies. We are also among the top FDI recipients. We are not just self-sufficient in agriculture, but have also become one of the major exporters of agricultural products.
India is the pharmacy of the world and our contribution to fighting the pandemic – through the supplying of more than 70 million doses of domestically produced Covid-19 vaccines to 93 countries – underlined our continuing commitment to meet the needs of the global community. As India rises and its capacities and capabilities grow, it will naturally contribute more to the world.
We once again find ourselves living in times that are considered as leading to the formation of a new international order that will be characterised by multipolarity instead of being dominated by a single super power. Do you agree with that thesis; and where do you see India’s place in that new constellation of international relations?
India remains committed to an international order marked by robust, rules-based multilateral institutions. India has consistently sought reforms in the global multilateral system to reflect the shifted realities of the contemporary world. It has campaigned for the reform of the UN Security Council to expand its permanent membership with a seat for itself. And it has also sought the reform of the IMF and other global bodies to make them more contemporaneous. We stand ready to work with everyone to find solutions to global challenges. We are ready to extend a hand of friendship to one and all.
We must remember that the India that achieved its freedom at midnight between 14th and 15th August 1947 was the product of several thousand years of history and civilisation. After all, for India, democracy was not just a choice we made in 1947, but rather represented a way of life long before that
Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, many analysts have pointed to the interesting dynamic of relations beyond Europe – where, for example, Russia, Turkey and China are emerging with new ambitions, while Iran is considering the possibilities of BRICS membership. How do you see this development of events?
It is quite clear that our world is moving towards greater rebalancing and multipolarity. At the same time, the world is currently experiencing turbulence which, along with the consequences of the pandemic, has made the global outlook even more uncertain and complex. No single country can manage itself and manage everyone else. It’s the time for right thinking and collaboration when it comes to dealing with these challenges.
Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, which many suggest will change relations within Europe and around the world fundamentally, India has also approached the Western narrative of mandatory choosing sides with reservations. Your country was also restrained in abstaining during the UN vote on the resolution condemning Russia for the war, while India simultaneously maintains good relations with the U.S. Is it possible to be on both sides in today’s world?
A country’s external outlook is never shaped by one single event. India’s foreign policy has been shaped by our geography; strategic culture; India’s requirements and goals; global and regional challenges; and resources. At the same time, a country’s external outlook inevitably matches its internal values.
Throughout our history, we have always been part of the solution and never part of the problem. India sees itself as a stabilising power that finds benefit in multiple external engagements, hoping to build momentum for a multipolar world.
Talking specifically about the situation in Ukraine, India’s position on the Ukraine crisis is based on six principles. These include an immediate cessation of violence and an end to hostilities, a return to the path of dialogue and diplomacy and the global order being anchored in international law, the UN Charter and respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states. As for your specific query on whether it is possible to be on both sides, India has always been on the side of peace and, to quote our External Affairs Minister, we are “guided by our thinking, our views, our interests”.
You arrived in Serbia late last year and stated from the outset that relations between our two countries are characterised by a high level of understanding and historical friendship. What have you set as the priorities of your term in Serbia?
It has been a privilege and honour for me to be able to make my own contribution to this historic and important partnership between India and Serbia. I have tried to place a special focus on the economic and commercial part of our engagement. We are witnessing positive trends in that particular aspect of our relationship. This particular sector of our cooperation includes tourism, in addition to trade and investment. We continue to encourage the business community, chambers and trade bodies on both sides to engage more intensively with each other, while the governments will continue to play a facilitating role.
Will India change its stance on the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo being unacceptable?
There is no change in our principled stance on the Kosovo issue. India does not recognise the Unilateral Declaration of Independence of Kosovo.
Economic relations between India and Serbia were characterised by a trajectory of growth until the outbreak of the pandemic. How do things stand today and which areas of economic cooperation offer the greatest potential?
As I mentioned above, there has been a positive growth in bilateral trade between our two countries. There is a very significant amount of untapped potential in areas such as agricultural products and machinery, food processing, pharmaceuticals, construction materials, the ICT sector, chemicals, textiles etc. Our companies are keen to participate in projects related to infrastructure. Tourism is also a very promising area.
In 2019, when the last general elections were held in India, 912 million people were eligible to vote – more than all other democracies combined. Two out of every three eligible voters actually made the effort to go to the polling stations
It was suggested even during the period of the Covid-19 pandemic that Indian companies were interested in making significant investments in Serbia and launching the production of medicines that Indian companies are renowned for around the world. Does this interest still exist and, if so, has it developed into some more tangible agreements in the meantime?
I have already noted some areas of interest and a number of Indian companies have visited Belgrade to explore further opportunities in the last few months.
You spoke earlier this year with the Speaker of the Serbian National Assembly about the strengthening of parliamentary cooperation, and it was then that you also announced the possibility of the Speaker of the Lok Sabha visiting Belgrade. Will that visit be implemented soon?
There has been a history of contacts between our parliaments and institutions, as well as between our individual parliamentarians. We are keen to sustain those contacts.
On the fringes of last year’s summit commemorating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement, an agreement was signed between India and Serbia on cooperation in the fields of culture and art. Can some of the effects of this agreement be recognised already?
Yes, there have been continuing follow-up contacts between implementing agencies. We hope to see tangible action in the coming months.
India sees itself as a stabilising power that finds benefit in multiple external engagements, hoping to build momentum for a multipolar world
There is a very significant amount of untapped potential in areas such as agricultural products and machinery, food processing, pharmaceuticals, construction materials, the ICT sector, chemicals, textiles etc.
There is no change in our principled stance on the Kosovo issue. India does not recognise the Unilateral Declaration of Independence of Kosovo