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The PM's speech at WEF in Davos: A few highlights

  After two decades, an Indian Prime Minister attended the WEF summit and delivered the opening address. In his speech, PM Narendra Modi addressed several issues affecting the world today, including protectionism, climate change and terrorism.  

Dr Suresh Srinivasan

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently attended the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland to woo the international investor community and signal the progression of India’s economy as a global power centre. He is the first Indian prime minister to attend the WEF summit in over two decades, and address the gathering in its opening plenary address. Last year, this slot was taken by the Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Strengths

Modi reiterated the strengths of India, its strong value systems and its economy, and highlighted the strong foundation that sits on the strength of India’s democratic ideologies. He also emphasised how such principles encourage the party in power to secure the views of diverse groups and still maintain harmony. However, he also pointed out that such strength by itself sometimes becoming a hurdle for faster decision making; these remarks were made in the context of the pace at which reforms are being carried out and eventually opening up the Indian economy.

Reforms

Given the democratic backdrop and the ability of his government to push through many key reforms, albeit slowly and steadily, the PM reasoned that the country’s resources had to be spread across quite a few challenges, in order to place the future generations on a better pedestal.
One might have surmised that the PM’s tone was somewhat apologetic, and that he was possibly justifying why the Indian economy had not showed signed of the very aggressive growth that was expected out of it three to four years ago. He did not aggressively market India as an investment destination, nor did he harp on some of the regular slogans that he has used in the past to market India, including the “Make in India” pitch.
However, Modi did not fail to highlight the depth and rigour his government went through in implementing a massive reform like the Goods and Services Tax (GST). He also highlighted the various reforms that had been pushed through during the last four years, wherein the government managed to abolish more than a thousand unnecessary regulations.

India vs China: A subtle message

Somewhere in his address, the PM also brought out the point that on the global platform, India can bring very different and unique capabilities to the table, capabilities that are very different from, say, China’s iron-hand or be it the protectionism now strongly practised by the United States. Parts of his speech clearly signalled that India and its economy, due to its democratic underpinning, is definitely sitting on a stronger foundation and a more stable platform, as compared to the economy of China.
It was also possibly a strategy for the Prime Minter to address the gathering in Hindi, the language choice significant in itself, given that Xi Jinping’s address last year was in Chinese. In the light of the fact that Modi is capable of making lengthy extempore speeches in English to very large gatherings, the choice of Hindi for this important forum seems to have been a deliberate subtle message.
There was an element of spiritualism as well in his speech. As he reiterated on Indian values, the PM demanded that world should unite not only for economic growth, but also for social growth. In this context, he made references to the country’s priority towards unifying people, rather than dividing them. He also quoted from scriptures that if we could work together, then the world would be free of unnecessary walls and cracks.
Some of the points the PM raised in his speech at Davos focused on areas like protectionism, climate change and terrorism.

Protectionism

The PM was very categorical in highlighting the fact that the national economies and the so-called big countries like the United States, are moving away from “free market” economic principles and showing clear signs of protectionism  and an anti-globalisation spirit, which is not an encouraging trend for the global economy. The PM expressed concern over the self-centredness of many nations, and in fact equated it as being similar in menace as compared to terrorism and climate change! He was categorical in saying that globalisation is fading. This was a strong message to the Trump administration, and it will be interesting to see the American response.

Climate change

This is another area which the United States and the Trump regime may not like to hear talk about. However, Modi was candid enough to highlight the challenges the world would face in the midst of changing climate. He called it a serious problem and requested nations to unite in order to address it.

Terrorism

While touching on the subject of terrorism, the PM showed strong aggression, and went on to say that it is the next biggest problem in the world. Although he did not mention or name Pakistan, he reiterated the challenges India faced and the threats posed to mankind as a whole. He expressed his concern regarding the trend of radical extremism that is deepening among the educated youth, and cautioned the distinctions nations use in the discrimination of “good” and “bad” terrorism.
In explaining India’s stance on the matter, the PM was emphatic that India has always stood for peace and humanity, and has not only supported its neighbouring countries during times of in crises, but has also contributed toward global peace. In this context, Modi made it clear that India does not have political or geographical ambitions, and will never exploit the natural resources of any other country.
The PM’s address reiterated his point that protectionism, diverse views on climate change and terrorism could polarize and divide the world and nations would start seeing themselves through the narrow lens of “domestic walls”. He highlighted the concept of the globe being a single family, and insisted that world leaders work together and remain united during times of crisis. Indian leaders have perceived his
talk to be very positive, uplifting and moving his stature beyond national leadership levels.
The PM also touched upon issues like technology, digitalisation, data security and knowledge, stating that data and knowledge are the biggest assets. From these references, he highlighted the importance of cyber security and nuclear security, both of which he claimed to be the biggest challenges the world is facing today. 


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