India 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 interview with The Indian Express, ahead of the mega G20 meet for which world leaders are converging in Delhi from today. At the same time, he has also sounded caution on using foreign policy for domestic politics.
Manmohan Singh, who was Prime Minister for two terms of the Congress-led UPA between 2004 and 2014, is among the leaders invited to a G20 dinner on Saturday, according to sources.
Speaking to The Indian Express on India’s G20 presidency, Dr Singh said foreign policy had become far more important to domestic politics than during his time. It was important to be restrained in using diplomacy for party politics, he said.
“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,” said the 90-year-old former PM.
Dr Singh weighed in on the government’s handling of a tough diplomatic position on the Ukraine-Russia war, saying it had done “the right thing”.
“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,” he said.
On China ties and President Xi Jinping skipping the summit, he said he hoped Prime Minister Narendra Modi would take all steps necessary to protect India’s territorial and sovereign integrity, but added that he would not like to offer advice to the government.
“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,” said the veteran Congress leader.
Speaking on challenges ahead as India celebrates 75 years of Independence, Dr Singh said he was “more optimistic than worried”, but sounded a note of caution.
“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,” said the two-time Prime Minister.
Dr Singh also praised India’s space agency ISRO for Chandrayaan’s successful moon landing. Chandrayaan 1 was launched when he was Prime Minister.
“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,” he said.
On economic challenges and India’s position, Dr Singh highlighted that the country’s external trade soared during his tenure. This played a significant role in integrating India’s economy with the global market.
“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,” he advised.