In conversation with Subrahmanyam Jaishankar
ON JUNE 13th Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Indias Minister of External Affairs, sat down for an interview with The Economist at his office in South Block in central Delhi. He offered his views of Indias relationships with America, China and Russia and its effort to be a leader of the global South. He also laid out his vision of Indias long-term future role in the world. This is a transcript of the conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity. The Economist: Thank you very much. So, what are you hoping to see next week in DC? And what should we understand about the state of the India-US relationship based on next week? Subrahmanyam Jaishankar: I think what you will see next week is a public and visible expression of the state of the relationship between India and the United States, which is very good, which is getting better by the day, which is getting more consequential by the day. That will manifest itself mostly in conversations, perhaps in some understandings, certainly in some directions which would be publicly signalled. So when we come out of that visit, I think the unmistakable message would be that this relationship is on the right track and moving forward very, very rapidly. You could say this has been the story of the last two decades, but in the last decade it has really picked up momentum. During these two decades weve actually had four presidents in the United States who couldnt be more different from each other. And yet the one commitment that has united them has really been developing the relationship with India. On the Indian end, youve had two governments. I would certainly argue that this one has been less hesitant to take that relationship forward and give it the kind of substance or weight that it has today. Read more of our package on India: Joe Biden and Narendra Modi are drawing their countries closer America is courting India in part for its growing economic clout Indias foreign minister on ties with America, China and Russia Banyan: Narendra Modi is the worlds most popular leader Indias diaspora is bigger and more influential than any in history TE: You referred to the announcements that we may expect next week. The Biden administration has already briefed that the defence co-operation agreements that we expect to see will be the biggest milestone in the relationship since the 2005 civil-nuclear-co-operation deal. Would you agree with that characterisation? SJ: Its for them to do what they are comfortable doing. Im a cautious guy, Ive been around a long time. I generally dont do predictions, I give people a broad kind of expectation. So I would say, thats the direction. Well have to wait and see specifically what we are able to close out by the time the prime minister leaves. TE: Well, let me not ask about specifics, but how important is defence co-operation of this kind in the relationship? SJ: Important is a very understated word. I think its crucial. In this changing world of ours the United States, when it looks at the Indo-Pacific, sees the value of India as a political strategic partner. And where we are concerned, when we assess the new possibilities which global competition and global diversity throw up, the United States is a very unique partner. So over the last 20 years the relationship has intensified and a lot of that is actually in security and defence. Two decades ago India had virtually no defence dealings with the United States, there was an arms embargo after 1965. There were a few exceptions here and there. But by and large, for 40 years, there were actually no significant military sales from the United States to India at all. Now, if you look today, we operate three American aircraft, the P8, the C-130, and the C-17. We operate a number of helicoptersChinooks, Apaches. Some of our artillery is American. Its the country with whom we probably exercise the most, and with whom we have very deep policy consultations. So theres no question that the strategic side is the centrepiece of that relationship. I dont want to underplay other aspects of change, which I believe are also very important. Certainly the human connect, and flowing from that the technology connect, is really quite extraordinary. I dont think theres any other country with which the US has that kind of technology bonding that it has with India. And trade and investment has been picking up... TE: You mean through the private sector? SJ: This is a predominantly private-sector economy. There was a time when you spoke about economic matters and said it was the private sector. Today my assumption is it is the private sector unless you need to qualify it by saying no, this one is actually done by the government. Trades been good, investment flows are growing. The technology connect has been strong. The number of students going up and down is good. You have a lot of Americans residing in India, because many of them are of Indian origin. So by any metric civil-society support is very strong. This is a relationship which has support in the street. And thats not always the case with the United States, nowadays. Its a popular relationship. And I think theres an enormous tailwind that is propelling us forward. TE: I think you said and perhaps others, too, that its a relationship that is popular in the streets of India, but not always among the Indian elite. Is that still the case? SJ: This was partly the subject of a book that I wrote. And my view was that the elite was ideologically very constrained or very suspicious of the United States. So there were possibilities which could have been exploited after the end of the cold war. These were exploited relatively cautiously, in some way suspiciously. The previous time the BJP [the governing Bharatiya Janata Party] was in power under Prime Minister [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee, there was some advancement. Then under Prime Minister [Manmohan] Singh, you had the nuclear deal. But the forward steps which should have come out of that did not come because there was hesitation. And clearly public sentiment was far more open and welcoming of the United States relationship than political sentiment. That changed after 2015. For the last decade you have had a government which does not have those ideological hesitations. So you will see the relationship move forward much more smoothly. TE: Despite that, I was interested that when you gave your remarks a few days ago, on nine years of the Modi governments foreign policy, you almost didnt mention America at all, two very, very passing references to America. Why was that? SJ: Look, it depends, honestly, who Im talking to, and where Im talking. When I spoke, I dont know which one of my speeches youre referring to. Ive done quite a few, I did one in Varanasi, where I was there for the G20. I did a few in Delhi before I set out there. TE: This was a presser in Delhi. SJ: You know, to the public, you really dont talk about India and country A and India and country B. What you try to do is to present to them a picture of an India which is able to play on the big stage, which is able to handle the contradictions of multiple powers who often do not get along with each other. An India thats making this huge effort to transform the immediate neighbourhood, so that we create the kind of regionalism which has sadly been absent for four decades. So you are talking to a domestic audience, and you are giving the big happenings. I could also point to talks and interviews where Ive said that the transformation of the India-US relationship has been the big change in my professional life, which is well into its fourth decade now. So if you ask me what changed since you first started in this business, I would say its actually the India-US relationship. TE: Thank you. Western governments still often talk about the need to uphold the post-1945, US-led global order. Is that an order that India acknowledges or supports? SJ: No, I think you do injustice to Western governments here, and certainly injustice to the US and to the Biden administration. I think theyre acutely conscious that the post-1945 order has been severely challenged, and that they need a new template, new partners, that they need to look beyond alliance constructs. So if you do not take it amiss I believe that in many ways the media lags behind in its understanding of policy. Broadly the Western governmentscertainly the US, I would say the same for Australia, which is our other Quad partnerthink that the world has undergone a fundamental change in the last 20 years and that this today requires a very, very different set of relationships TE: To the Quad, which you mentionedis that grouping primarily about security? And as a follow-up, if I may, how will it evolve over time? SJ: That group is getting along with each other. If you were to ask me, is your relationship with the UK or US primarily about security? I would say, look, relationships are about relationships. Do security issues come up? Of course they do. But its attractive to pick one particular facet and say, this is really what its about. I think reality is far more complex. Ive been associated with the Quad from its inception, from its earlier incarnation, when it didnt work. And when I look at the Quad today, the Quad does humanitarian assistance, disaster resilience, the Quad had a stab at vaccination. It does fellowships, it does critical and emerging technologies. It does telecom. The Quad has really been the basis for two very interesting initiatives that are still unfolding. One is the Indo-Pacific economic framework, which involves many other countries, and also the Indo-Pacific maritime domain awareness, which has to do with co-operation to deal with challenges like illegal fishing, etc. So the Quads four countries, who happen to be in the four corners of the Indo-Pacific, have come together because they believe that their interests are better served by working together. So I wouldnt limit it to a subject. None of us have agreed in court that we will discuss this and not discuss that. So I think we will go with how the world goes. TE: That suggests that security is not front and centre of what the Quad is about, although its clearly in the mix. SJ: You know, I dont want to get into a parsing exercise. Its the totality of how these four countries deal with each other. I could turn around and ask you, how do you see security? To me today, technological security and economic security are probably the most crucial aspects of security. So if I were to sit and work out with my Quad partners, an understanding on critical and emerging technologies and understanding on lets say, 5G and 6G, would you ask me, is this telecoms or is security? Ill tell you, its both. Security has got that much bigger, so in a way, the answer is a yes. If you use a very narrow, old-fashioned view of security, I would say maybe you need to look at security rather than look at Quad. Security is not just about militaries dealing with each other. To me, security is such an enormous landscape out there, a whole very intricate set of connections and interactions and relationships. TE: Turning to the northern border region, youve spoken of the need to return to peace and tranquillity along the line of actual control. Would agreeing a buffer zone [with China] on the last remaining positions achieve that peace and tranquillity? And how likely is it, do you think? SJ: I want to rewind this a bit. Our problems with China are not new. They actually go back into the 1950s. If my memory serves me right, our first negotiation with China was as early as 1958. And I think Im the only one in the room who was even born then. Now, very often, when you have these situations, you have the two claimed lands, the Indian-claimed land, and the Chinese-claimed land, they do not coincide. And both sides send out patrols to assert their claim line. And the problem can often be that these patrols collide with each other and then contest their jurisdictions. This has been the running problem. Now, when you have a very tense situation or occasionally a violent situation, the two countries have agreed on some understanding where there is self-restraint on patrolling in a certain defined area. This is not happening for the first time. If you go to 1958, it happened then as well. We had a major difference with the Chinese in the 1980s, when negotiations went on for seven or eight years. Even then we had an understanding what you will do, but more importantly, what will you not do? And this understanding works both ways. If there are places my troops cannot patrol, there are also places that his troops cannot patrol. Thats one element in how we have addressed some of the current problems. We have some other problems still to be resolved. When we are talking, how do you produce a solution which works for both sides? I wouldnt predict simply because at this time, Im still talking to them. The point I would make is every time if you look at the last three years, thereve been people whove been very ready to say, well, you know, this is impossible to solve, this is never going to happen. And if I can put it very politely theyve been proved wrong again and again. TE: Lets imagine that there is a buffer zone agreement on the last remaining flashpoints. How would that potentially change Indias relationship with China? SJ: I wouldnt get into that hypothetical. I just wont get drawn in on that. TE: There have been 18 rounds of commander-level talks. You have been making progress working through the different flash points, and the pattern has been to create some buffer zones on both sides. So if you can do the same in Demchok and the Depsang plains, which are the points theyre talking about now, could that provide a sustainable solution? SJ: I dont want to get drawn into this but every sector and every situation is not the same. Even what worked in a, b, and c, if you go down to the intricacies, which sadly I cannot share with you, theyre not identical. This is a really complex problem, which is why we need so many rounds and such great effort. Its not a question of looking at the map and deciding what youre going to do. Theres a topography out there. The topography has its own value and its own disadvantages. So each one has been a very detailed, very complex negotiation. But your comment presupposes that extrapolating previous solutions is a way out of this one. Im not prepared to be drawn into that, simply because that need not be the way the problem can be resolved. So I would caution that its not just a question of saying three places got done this way and therefore four and five will, too. Thats not the way it works. TE: So you dont want to game a hypothetical on China. I understand that. Can I at least try to ask you what such a settlement would do, potentially, to your relations with America? Would it change them in some way? SJ: No. This round of problems I have with China started in the summer of 2020. Theres no correlation between this set of problems Im having with China and the development of my relations with the United States. My relations with the United States, as I pointed out, have been steadily developing for two decades, and in the last decade, have accelerated. Theres empirical data out there to show that quite independently of anything that happened on the China border, India-US relations were ticking along, more than ticking along, just fine. So I wont encourage you to make that connection at all. I think its a false one. TE: Okay, I take your point. Can I ask what your response is to those Americans and Europeans who criticise Indias relationship with Russia in the light of the Ukraine war? SJ: It depends. The problem with criticism is you have to look at who Im speaking to. So its a question of who are you responding to? So there are people... TE: Well, the US Congress, for starters. SJ: There are people, even in the US Congress, I dont take the US Congress as an undifferentiated mass. I think there are more knowledgeable people and less knowledgeable people. Im not in any way diminishing the second category, its just that theyre not as familiar with the relationship and with us as those who are more knowledgeable. This year we had the most high-powered congressional delegation ever in our history. Chuck Schumer led four committee chairmen who were present at that. Thats really quite extraordinary, even by American [congressional delegation] standards. I think they completely understood that the Russia relationship is an outcome of 60 years of history. And after 60 years of history its not as though you say, Ive changed my mind. Thats not the way real life works. So knowledgeable Americans, and certainly I would put the administration and the congressional leadership in this category, they do get that because America chose not to sell arms to India after 1965 we really had no choice but to go to the Soviet Union. Now, it cant be that your choices have pushed me in a certain direction and now you have a problem with that. Thats a reality you have to live with. But having said that, I would not reduce the issue just to Indias military dependence on Russia. Again its a far more complex subject than that. For us, there are three big Eurasian powers, Russia, China, and India. That has its own dynamics. This is not transactional. This is geopolitical. When you say geopolitical, we are talking of the outcomes that happen when major powers get closer or move away from each other, or depending on the quality of their co-operation. So a lot in Eurasia will depend on the dynamics of these three powers. Its been a cardinal principle of our foreign policy, which still remains valid, that maintaining a strong relationship and a good relationship with Russia is essential. The geopolitical logic indicates that. So I dont want to dumb this down to military dependence. Its one important part. But there is that larger geopolitical outlook or calculation on our side. Im giving you an Indian perspective, we would like to have multiple choices. And obviously try to make the best of it. I dont think theres anything wrong with that. Every country would like to do that. Some may be constrained by other obligations, some may not. So to me this is bigger than just saying the Indians have this big military arsenal that they inherited from the past. I also look ahead, I make my calculations, I make my strategy. I look at you know, what are the costs and benefits of various relationships? And the real challenge of diplomacy is how do you reconcile that with contradictory pulls and pushes? TE: In your book you write that on this question and essentially, on multipolarity and balancing, which follows from it... SJ: First of all, thank you for reading it. TE: Well, thank you for writing it. You write that the 2005 nuclear deal, I can quote what you said, that it put pressure for growth in other ties. In other words, India moving closer to America put the onus on India to give attention to its relations with Russia also. Has the war in Ukraine, has the more explosive border problem with China, changed that balancing calculation? And if so, how? SJ: Some of it is still unfolding. So please do not take this as a definitive answer. I think you see this happening in very different ways. Let me take Russia, for example. What I suspect this whole Ukraine issue is going to mean is that Russia, a country which was actually truly Eurasian, probably today is discovering or is anticipating that a large part of its relationship with the West will no longer work. And therefore it recalculates its priorities and its relationships. So I expect Russia to turn more towards Asia. Historically, Russia has seen itself as European. Throughout history the self-perception of Russians has been very European, not Asian. The current events may well make them turn around, reposition their priorities and look much more at what Asian or non-Western partners have to offer. So if you look at the year and a half, I think theres a lot of evidence that this is happening. You see much greater Russian activity in Asia and Africa and the Middle East, that economic energies have got redirected elsewhere and political energies may be, too. So I would say that this will have longer-term and major consequences. In terms of India, China... TE: Can I just follow up? You seem to be suggesting that, and I dont mean this pejoratively, that the Ukraine war is a strategic opportunity for India to get closer to Russia or to get more out of its relationship with Russia. SJ: No, its not so much an opportunity or a challenge. Im describing to you what I think is the likely geopolitical trend. Im trying to anticipate Russias behaviour and calculations from its present predicament. Now whether some other countriesin this case, India, since you are talking to mecan make something out of it or not, thats a second-order issue. There are countries who can, there are countries who cant. TE: Well, its a first-order issue for you. And its one that you will press? SJ: Look, I certainly think its very interesting that till a year ago, our trade with Russia was probably smaller than the trade Russia had with even a not-big European country. And that was primarily because their focus was on the West. So if their focus shifts, there will be outcomes out of that. I find it hard to predict exactly what, but again, if I were to do a trend analysis, you have India today, fifth-largest economy moving towards becoming third, probably by the end of the decade, clearly an increasingly major consumer of resources, growing exporter of goods and services. So if you have a Russia which focuses more on Asia, and an India which is a bigger and bigger factor in the global economy, to me its common sense that the two trends intersect. Now this will not be happening in isolation. In the same period, I can imagine that the complementarities between India and the United States, and India and Europe, which I believe are enormous, and which I believe have been underexploited in the past, will also be realised. So I dont want to say that we are going to shift in one particular direction, because an opportunity is coming. You will have this landscape where big changes are already beginning to happen. Those changes for different countries would feed into their outlook and their planning. I just want to move this a little bit into economics, because it makes sense. You know, weve been seriously negotiating an FTA [free-trade agreement] with the UK. With the EU, we have the Eurasian Economic Union FTA, which was sort of stuttering along. The US is not in the FTA game, but we think there are other ways of skinning the cat. So, you have an India which is looking at multiple opportunities across multiple geographies, often polities which have contradictory interests. And it is trying to advance on all fronts. The one front which is a challenge is China, for reasons which we both know. But with the major powers, you can see a broad advancement of Indian interactions, political, strategic, diplomatic, cultural, technology, for pretty much all of them. TE: I just want to press this point, if I may, and I also want you to get to China, on which I interrupted you. But what you describe in that post-2005 situation is, as a matter of strategy, of doctrine, even, India wanting to follow up with power B, because it has developed its relationship with power A. Does that strategic calculation still hold good in the circumstances? SJ: If I were to do full justice to my own book, what I actually presented was that in 2005 there was advancement in one direction, exerting pressure to do so on others. But I later go on to say that after 2014 what was a compulsion on us now actually became the conscious attempt by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government to consciously and thoughtfully advance in all directions not as a compulsion, but as part of a strategy. So I think in 2005, we were still at a stage where we were absorbing a set of events, and then trying to see what it would mean for other relationships. A decade later, under this government, theres a systematic view that this is our analysis of the global landscape. These are the key centres, these are the important partners. And we have to have a strategy today of moving with each of them in a very concerted manner so that we get the best possible outcome. TE: I interrupted you on China earlier. Did you want to add something on that? SJ: No, I was saying where China is concerned, the challenge has been that one. I mean, it already was a competitive relationship. But the competitive relationship had a bottom-line stability. Because from 1988, we had a very clear understanding that peace and tranquillity on the border was a prerequisite for the development of our ties. Now, I dont want you to confuse this with solving the border boundary question, because the Chinese often try to conflate the two. We know that solving the boundary question will take time, but at least ensuring peace and tranquillity, which means basically no acts of violence on the border, is the minimum common denominator for moving the relationship forward. From 1988 till 2020, that largely held. There were growing frictions. But what China did in 2020, when covid was under way, at least in this country, please remember, we were in the middle of a lockdown at that time, that had consequences. Or perhaps they thought it had consequences, even operationally. To move, during the lockdown, the biggest number of forces since 1962, in violation of two agreements, which had explicit clauses which prevented them from doing soI think that has raised a whole lot of question marks. That it led to fatalities has aggravated matters. So unless we find a resolution to that, no government can,at least in my opinion, pretend that everything is okay, and lets do business in every other part of our relationship. Thats just completely unrealistic. TE: Thank you. Going back to your book, you write in your conclusion, that the Indian way would be more of a shaper or decider rather than an abstainer. Is that a traditional Indian role in the world that youre describing or one that you want to define in contrast to Nehruvian non-alignment? SJ: A bit of both. Again this will lead us down a long cultural interpretation of our society. The fact is, this is an extraordinarily self-absorbed society. It needs regular reminders that there is a world out there, and that there are things happening in that world, which impacts our society and our interest very, very deeply. And therefore we should be present, we should be active, we should be a factor in whats happening in that environment. Because if you dont, the world will, whether we like it or not, have an increasing influence on our destiny. And if I were to write a book today, I would actually say the world has come to your doorstep. Look at the example of covid. Something which happened somewhere else took over every Indian household for two and a half years. And even a conflict like Ukraine has a direct impact on inflation, on energy costs. Given these deep links, this was a plea for greater activity. But the second part of it was also that over a period of time people made this theology out of what they thought Nehru believed. And then that became a kind of a dogma about how to stay out of trouble. You know, why are we getting involved? Its not my case that we should go and wade into every problem in the world. I need to look at my interests, and I need to be sensible, and I need to be aware of my capabilities as well. But it is very much an issue to me that the younger-generation Indian must start preparing to go out in the world more, to have opinions, to wade into debates, to try to shape and influence. Thats broadly where I was going. TE: So that diffidence, that over-caution that you criticise non-alignment for, do you think that Indian diplomacy still suffers from that legacy in any way? SJ: Im not criticising non-alignment for that, Im criticising a certain caution, which is actually bigger than just a diplomatic posture. Let me give you an example. We say that we would like good relations with Africa. Okay, theres nothing wrong with that. Now, if youre serious about it, then you have to go out there and put money on Africa, you have to say, okay, today, Africa has a problem, Africa needs vaccines. So guys go out there and do something about it. Africa today needs more development options, so go and develop more options. So in the last decade you have seen an India, which just in development work is present in 78 countries in the world. And we have done or are in the midst of doing almost 600 major projects. Now, these are not just neighbouring countries, this could be as far away as Latin America and Central America, Caribbean, Pacific. Our job today is to bring global awareness into the minds of Indians, prepare them for a world which is going to impact our lives, whether they are aware of it or not. Our history was, the world had changed, and India had not realised how much it had changed. The classic example was of course our history with the UK. Not now, centuries ago. So today, how do you get that sufficient awareness about the world? And how do you actually use this awareness to create a matrix, where you now start shaping how the world is going to be from our perspective, rather than being at the receiving end of other peoples actions and plans. We have been very actively shaping the neighbourhood for the last decade. The kinds of things which we are doing would be very reminiscent of what the ASEAN [Association of South-East Asian Nations] did, what Europe did, what parts of Latin America did, except this time its a country driving it, its not a regional compact. So if you look at power transmission, if you look at fuel lines, at roads, waterways, rail lines, airports, South Asia has actually undergone a transformation. We go to Nepal today or Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. Take our stepping forward where Sri Lanka was concerned. It took them ages to negotiate that deal with the IMF. They would have sunk if I hadnt had the willingness to put four and a half billion dollars on the table for them. We were victims of history in a way. What the partition did to us geostrategically was terrible, it really downsized us. So how do you now reclaim the rest of the neighbourhood, the extended neighbourhood? How do you do the Gulf better, central Asia, the oceanic spaces and Southeast Asia? Then you take it to the level beyond. So get into Africa, especially the east coast of Africa, move beyond into the Indo-Pacific up to Australia. So I present to you today, almost India at the centre. Im giving you these concentric circles, the concentric circles of my immediate neighbourhood, the extended neighbourhood and the oceanic space, then the one beyond that, which is the Indo-Pacific. So it goes up to Australia, it goes up to East Africa, and then start preparing for a global footprint. Preparations for a global footprint take two generations, we should have started earlier, but at least we are starting now. So how do you get people in Latin America and Central America and Mongolia and the Pacific used to India in their calculations? You know, how do you trade with them? How do you do projects? How do they know your products? Where is the intersection of interests? All of this is happening at the same time, so its a long answer. But I have the opportunity to practise some of what I wrote in the book as a minister, and thats what Im trying to do. Ive been helped by the fact that I have a prime minister who has that global worldview, he has been absolutely convinced from day one that his responsibility is to prepare us for that global role. For the first time in our history a prime minister is telling people, this is an era. People normally say this is a term, someone more visionary might say, this is a decade. This prime minister is telling the country to think about what will be in 25 years. And if you can get a country like India to start thinking in a 25-year timeframe, a lot of what we will do may not make sense in the short term. It may appear to be an expensive option which doesnt look that rewarding. For example our industrial policy, our embrace of technology, our desire to see technology-driven goods produced in this countrythis is a 25-year vision. TE: You anticipate one of my remaining questions. What does the Indian role in the world look like in 25 years time? SJ: Ill give you an answer which I havent touched on so far. I was in Brussels two weeks ago, for the first meeting of the Trade and Technology Council. This is a body which the European Union only has with two partners, with the US and with us. The purpose of that discussion was to address the two big challenges today. The supply-chain challenge is economic concentration, which leaves us very vulnerable to a single geography. The digital challenge is that you put a premium on trust and transparency, which is a polite way of saying youd like to know whos handling your data. In a more digital world, which is also more of a supply-chain world, how do you ensure that you are comfortable with the flows of the economy and the digital? The digital realm captures so much of each one of us in an unprecedented way that you cannot take a societal or national risk with it. You dont want your entire data to go into the wrong hands, you would take extreme precautions against it. So we are no longer running a price-driven globalisation. The old 1990s-model of globalisation asked, where can I get it on scale? Where can I get it at cost? And where can I get it on time? This globalisation were heading to asks, whos handling my data? What are the legal rules and constraints out there? Where is the supply chain passing through? Which part of it can be leveraged at the wrong moment? And how do I build redundancy and in some cases separation? This takes the form of many debates, including the de-risking debate. I think thats a more sensible way of capturing it than decoupling, which is too strong a word and too impractical an option. If this is the kind of world we are heading for, where does India get into all of this? We have one major card, which is human resources, that I can churn out people at a scale and rate which no other democratic society can. In that same period, I have to make it easier to do business. And part of making it easier to do business is to make radical improvements in my infrastructure, which is what we are trying to do. So imagine an India with much stronger human resources, with a much better infrastructure, with a much easier, friendlier business club, which has arrangements with a lot of major economies which make possible easier flows and greater confluence. It would be a very different India. And it would be a very different India in terms of the magnitude of its contribution to the global order. So I would say... TE: A digital superpower? How would you characterise the power that India is going to have? SJ: I am very cautious with.... TE: I believe youve spoken to journalists before... SJ: I do believe we should be more ambitious. I dont see anything wrong with that, but we should be ambitious backed up by a determination to do that, you know, ambition should not be an articulation. Ambition should be a kind of a signalling of an intent. And that intent must be carried out. So I would hope that this is the kind of direction were going. If I can bring this back to where we started our conversation, that is why the American visit is so important. The indispensable partners for each other in this regard are India and the United States. That collaboration today can produce a magnitude of solutions for the kind of world Im talking of, the new globalisation or re-globalisation which I think holds immense possibilities for us. TE: And India is indispensable to Americas prospects of realising that view worldwide? SJ: Lets say American companies are now looking a decade ahead. A decade ahead from now, in an even more digital world, in an even more supply-chain world, where would the US find partners where it can be sure that the fundamental models are compatible, that the fundamentals of our beliefs and values are the same? When you speak of a world of trusted collaboration, because thats the world we are heading towards, which countries will be able to work with which other countries? I think India has a lot to offer in that world. TE: Because you need trust in that relationship when the commodity is data, rather than goods? SJ: You need trust, you need people, you need trust, you need talent, you need skill, you need demographics. TE: Because of the nature of digital? SJ: I mean look at the chip industry. As the semiconductor industry goes through this current phase of repositioning, of churning anyway, I think it will be very interesting to see what relationships emerge from it. These are possibilities, Im not describing to you a landscape which exists. In this area, Im willing to make a prediction that this is where the world is going. TE: Let me ask you to switch tack. You recently said of a BBC documentary on the prime minister: This is politics by other means. I dont know if election season has started in India, but for sure it started in London and in New York. What did you mean by that? SJ: Look the film was seen... to describe it as partisan would be an understatement. It did not take into account a very central set of developments pertaining to the matter. So, frankly, it was seen in this country as a political hit job. TE: I mean, the suggestion of this quote is that the governments of the UK, the US... SJ: No, no, sorry, thats in your mouth. TE: I dont know if election season has started in India, but for sure it started in London and in New York. The inference is this was a political initiative. SJ: No, it was political. TE: By the BBC? SJ: Among others, yes. TE: Among others...who were the others? SJ: Look, I think we are having this problem with a lot of media houses, with some think-tanks, a lot of activist organisations, with a lot of political forces. But I think for you to suggest that I imputed anything to the governments, I dont think would be a fair inference. I was very careful in my first... TE: I only want to understand your words, whats the implication of election season in that case? SJ: Meaning that they, as our elections come closer, they start doing these things. Thats what I meant. TE: I have two questions, if I may. SJ: We are seriously running out of time. TE: Youve been very generous. And we can deal with them both cursorily. One is about an unrelated political question. This is about the role of foreign policy in domestic politics, a big issue in America. And a big issue in some of your speeches, the idea of relating foreign policy to the Indian voter. I wonder if I could just ask you about that. What is the proper role of foreign policy in domestic discourse? SJ: As I travel around the country, I see a level of interest in foreign policy Ive never seen before. In many ways, the prime minister has been able to connect the world and what we are doing with the world to the interests of people and to their everyday lives. When you are an aspirational society, that has its attractions. At the end of the day the role of foreign policy is to communicate to the world outside a unified and considered view of what our national interests are. And see how we obtain that. Now, Im not impervious to the political debates at home. You can have political debates at home. I dont have an issue if there are people who want to tell the world how well theyre doing. I think thats completely reasonable. But in any country, when the politicians of the country seek the intervention or the support of politics outside, I think thats a very slippery slope. So I am a consistent advocate of trying to keep foreign policy as unified and nonpartisan as possible. Obviously, I dont always succeed. The opposition sometimes has different views. Thats life. TE: Final question, if I may, then. This sort of brings us back to one of our starting points, which was your remarks in Delhi the other day, which emphasise the development projects, including in Africa, which you mentioned earlier. Thats evidence, if you like, for India as the leader of the Global South, which is another way that you might draw some of those concentric rings of influence. What does that leadership look like going forward beyond? I understand the record so far, and the ambition on exporting digital utilities. What beyond that can you tell us about this? SJ: We have just come out of the G20 development ministers meeting where, after all the wrangling on the geopolitical issues, I still got unanimous approval for two outcomes. One outcome pertains to the sustainable development goals. The other pertains to the environment where the prime minister has tabled an initiative about how we can change our individual lifestyles. I mention those today, because if you look at the key issues of the Global South, they are the sustainable development goals, but really were talking health, education, development, employment, were talking progress in climate action. Were talking food, were talking fuel, were talking basic amenities of life. A large part of the developing world is under stress. They had a triple whammy, because first they got hit by a set of economic forces, including higher interest rates, then they had this very scarring experience of covid. And then you have the knock-on effects from the Ukraine war. Now, the developing world by and large feels that we are, say 130, 40 countries in the world, but we are actually marginal to the big debates going on in the world, were not on the board of management. For them to have somebody champion the cause and put it across is very, very important. And the difference which Prime Minister Modi has made is when we got the G20 presidency, one of the first things he did was to say, I want to consult 125 others and ask: if we speak for you, please tell us what we should be saying? So we did that exercise, meaning we are not a self-assigned spokesperson of the South. The fact that we did that exercise and were able to put these things on the table had some impact on the outcomes yesterday, because a very large part of the G20 acknowledged that what we said was something which was not only speaking for India, but for the world. Now you are asking me, where does this go from here? I feel the big challenges today are economic growth, the climate, the digital realm, and health. I will actually prolong this because I need you to understand this. If you look at our own experience in the last three and a half years, or four years, its been remarkable. A veritable revolution has happened in this country in terms of creating a social safety net. The expectation in 2020 was that we would take such a hit from covid that this society would fall apart. Instead we were able to create food security. You know the US food stamp system. Here were not giving you the stamp, were giving you the food, and were giving it to 800 million people. You have payments, you can say unemployment benefits, youre actually able to put payments into the bank account of more than 400 million people because there is a digital backbone, and a sense of purpose, and an inclusive approach. I would say, if you look at our programmes, every one of our programmes today goes into hundreds of millions. Were doing a housing programme where you build houses for those most vulnerable. Weve done 31 million houses. And if you take an Indian family at 4.8 people per family, thats 150 million people who are house owners because of this scheme. The same thing with health. You know what an issue health coverage is across the board. So if youre able to scale up health, bring down pricing, create a digital system where your health benefits can be assured to you wherever you are, so that youre not trading it in, but youre using it, it gives you the opportunity to really do it on a very big scale. A decade ago, the conventional wisdom would be that a social security system is only possible in a developed country, you have to be at least a middle income country in order to create a social security system. We have shown by the power of technology, and by the impact it has had on governance, that actually it is possible to create what is essentially a foundation of a social welfare state. So when people look for analogies for Modi, he might actually be more analogous to FDR [Franklin D. Roosevelt] in terms of a new deal. A large part of the population in India may actually perceive him as someone who has taken social benefits to them on an unprecedented scale. TE: And that example and the technology itself is... .SJ: You know, when I go out to talk to the presidents and prime ministers and finance ministers, even the foreign ministers, I spend more time talking about these things abroad than I do the vanilla foreign policy. This is really what the Global South is interested in. TE: Vanilla stuff like China, America, Russia...Minister, thank you very much.