In this rare interview with a foreign media, the Prime minister insisted on India's role as a bridge between the Global South and the western world. The rights of the Global South have been long denied , Modi told Les Echos. As a result, there is a feeling of anguish among these countries, he added. A strong advocate of a comprehensive reshuffle of the Bretton Woods international institutions, the Indian Prime minister claimed that his country, now the most populous in the world, needs to regain its rightful place . This is not just a credibility issue for the UN, Modi emphasized. How can the UN Security Council claim to speak for the world when its most populous country, and its largest democracy, is not a permanent member ? , he asked, adding that President Emmanuel Macron of France, a strategic partner in the Asia-Pacific region, shared his views on the international order.
Since 2014, Modi introduced major economic reforms with the aim of turning India into a developed economy by 2047, the 100th anniversary of our independence. India is now the world's fifth largest economy and on track to become the third largest very soon.
Modi expressed caution on the universal appeal of western values, saying that philosophies from every corner of the world have to be considered and that the world makes quick progress only when it learns to let go of anachronistic and outdated notions. There is one earth but not one philosophy , he stressed. Modi also touched upon Indian soft power, pointing out the global reach of the country's cinema and music, the renewed interest for Ayurveda medicine and, as a practitioner, the universal success of Yoga, now a household term.
Following is the full transcript of the interview from which the French version has been edited.
India has become the most populous country in the world. How does that change the status of the country on the world scene ?
India is a rich civilization that is thousands of years old. Today, India is the most youthful nation in the world. India's strongest asset is our youth. At a time when many countries in the world are ageing and their populations are shrinking, India's young and skilled workforce will be an asset for the world over the decades to come. What is unique is that this workforce is steeped in openness and democratic values, eager to embrace technology, and ready to adapt to the changing world.
Even today, Indian diaspora, wherever they are, contribute towards the prosperity of their adopted homeland. The progress of one-sixth of humanity will give the world a more prosperous and sustainable future.
As the world's largest democracy, with unparalleled social and economic diversity, our success will demonstrate that democracy delivers. That it is possible for harmony to exist amidst diversity. At the same time, there is a natural expectation of adjustments in the international system and institutions to give the rightful place to the world's largest democracy.
Could you elaborate on what you mean by saying that India is gaining its rightful position in the world ?
I would rather term it as regaining its rightful place. Since time immemorial, India has been at the forefront of contributing to global economic growth, technological advancement and human development. Today, across the world, we see a lot of problems and challenges. Recession, Food security, inflation, social tensions are just some of them. In such a global backdrop, I see a renewed confidence in our people, an optimism about the future, and an eagerness to take its rightful place in the world.
Our demographic dividend, our deep roots in democracy, and our civilizational spirit will guide the way as we move towards the future. We recognize our responsibility in contributing to addressing global challenges, building a more cohesive world, giving voice to the aspirations of the weak and advancing global peace and prosperity. India brings its own unique and distinct perspective and voice to the global discourse - and it always stands in favour of peace, a fairer economic order, the concerns of the weaker nations and global cohesion in addressing our common challenges.
India's belief in multilateral action is deep rooted. The International Solar Alliance, the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, the One Sun, One World, One Grid initiative, India's Indo Pacific Oceans Initiatives are all examples of this approach. Or, our supply of Covid vaccines with over 100 countries and sharing our open source digital platform CoWin freely with others. There is a global recognition today that India is a force of good in the world and indispensable for global unity, cohesion, peace and prosperity at a time of great turmoil and risks of fragmentation in the world. As India grows, our contribution towards global good will further increase, and our capabilities and resources will continue to be directed towards the larger good of humanity, not to raise claims against others or challenge the international order.
In your view, what are the pillars of India's soft power ?
It is our civilizational ethos and heritage that provide the basis what could be termed as India's soft power. We are blessed to have this in abundance. Our exports have never been war and subjugation, but yoga, ayurveda, spirituality, science, mathematics, and Astronomy. We have always been a contributor to global peace and progress.
We believe that while we progress and become a modern nation, we should take pride and inspiration from our past and that we can progress only if we do it together with other nations. We are privileged that there is renewed interest in Indian culture and civilization. Yoga is a household term today. Our traditional medicine of Ayurveda is gaining acceptance. Indian cinema, cuisine, music and dance is being sought after across the world.
Our coexistence with nature drives our climate actions and drive for sustainable life-styles. Our innate belief in democratic ideals and the success of our vibrant democracy drive our desire to see a more accountable, inclusive, and representative system of international governance, and provide hope and inspiration to many. Our deeply held values of peace, openness, harmony and co-existence ; the success of our vibrant democracy ; the extraordinary richness of our culture, traditions and philosophy ; a consistent voice for the cause of a peaceful, fair and just world ; and, our commitment to international law and peace, are the reasons that India's rise is welcomed, not feared in the world. These are also the pillars of Indian soft power.
There was a phenomenal rise in the relationship between India and the US in the last few years. Why is it happening now and what is India's rationale behind this ?
It is true that the relationship has been growing positively since the turn of the century. It has accelerated and reached new levels in the past nine years. There is widespread support for deepening our ties, from all stakeholders, in both countries - be it Government, Parliament, Industry, Academia and of course the people. The US Congress has consistently extended bipartisan support for elevating our relationship.
I have personally enjoyed an excellent rapport with US leadership, across difference Administrations, over the last nine years. During my State Visit to the United States in June, President Joe Biden and I agreed that the partnership between the world's two largest democracies with exceptionally strong people-to-people ties could be the defining partnership of this century. This is because this partnership is perfectly placed in terms of interests, vision, commitments and complementarities to address the challenges of our times and contribute in a significant way to shaping the global order.
As the challenges to the international order have grown, our partnership is responding with great sense of urgency and purpose. Trust, mutual confidence and belief in the relationship have been key ingredients. Advancing a free, open, inclusive and balanced Indo Pacific region, is a shared goal. We pursue this with other partners in the region and beyond.
We are working together to advance standards and norms, build resilient global supply chains, including in critical and emerging technologies, pursue a successful green energy transition, catalyse manufacturing in key sectors, forge a robust defence industrial partnership. We are working together with other countries in the region and beyond and revitalising multilateral institutions. These are all important shared goals that are driving the partnership. There is much that binds our two nations together, and allows us to play a constructive role in addressing the challenges of our times and contributing in a significant way to shaping the global order.
Do you consider that India is the natural leader of the global south ?
I feel that the world leader is quite heavy and India should not arrogate or assume any position. What I really feel, we need is collective strength and collective leadership for the entire Global South, so that its voice can become more strong and the whole community can take leadership for itself. In order to build this sort of collective leadership, I don't think India should think in terms of its position as a leader nor do we think of it in that sense.
It is also true that the rights of the Global South have been long denied. As a result, there is a feeling of anguish among the members of Global South, that they are forced into undertaking action but when it comes to decision making they don't find a place or voice for themselves. The true spirit of democracy has not been respected vis-a-vis the Global South. I feel that if we would have worked in the true spirit of democracy and given the same respect, same rights to the Global South as well, the World could have been a more powerful, stronger community. When we can address the concerns of the vast majority that constitute the Global South, we are more likely to restore faith in the international order. We will make our global institutions resilient.
Secondly, look at how India thinks of itself in the Global South. I see India being that strong shoulder that if Global South has to make that high jump, India can be that shoulder to propel it ahead. For the Global South, India can also build its linkages with Global North. So, in that sense this shoulder can become this bridge of sorts. So, I feel that what we need is to strengthen this shoulder, this bridge so that linkages between the North and South can become stronger and the Global South can itself become stronger.
You said many times that the voice of the Global South was not heard in inter-national institutions. What is your plan to increase the South's presence in the international institutions ?
In January 2023, at the start of our Presidency of the G20, I convened a summit of the Global South. 125 countries participated. There was unanimity of view, expressed very strongly, that India must forcefully take up the causes of the Global South.
During our G20 Presidency, under the theme of One Earth, One Family, One Future, we have made one of the key goals to be the voice of the Global South. We have tried bring the priorities and interests of the Global South to the centre of the deliberations and decisions of the G20. I have proposed to give the African Union permanent member-ship in the G20.
In speaking for the Global South, we are not seeking to position ourselves in any adversarial relationship with the North, so to speak. In fact, this is to advance the vision of One World, One Future. The other alternative is a world that is adrift, that becomes more fragmented, a world of the West vs the Rest, a world in which we yield space to those who do not share our worldview and who seek to establish an alternative order. I think President Macron shares this view. That was the spirit behind his hosting the New Global Financing Pact Summit.
You have been advocating for India's permanent membership in the UN security council. Is it the credibility of the UN which is at stake in this perspective ?
The issue is not just of credibility, but something much larger. I believe that the world needs to have an honest discussion about the multilateral governance structures that were built in the aftermath of second World War.
Nearly eight decades after the institutions were created, the world has transformed. The number of member countries have grown by four times. The character of the global economy has changed. We live in an era of new technology. New powers have risen causing a relative shift in global balance. We face new challenges, including climate change, cyber security, terrorism, space security, pandemics. I could go on about the changes.
In this changed world, many questions arise - are these representative of today's world ? Are they able to discharge the roles for which they were set up ? Do countries around the world feel that these organizations matter, or are relevant ?
The UN Security Council, in particular, epitomizes this dissonance. How can we talk of it as a primary organ of a global body, when entire continents of Africa and Latin America are ignored ? How can it claim to speak for the world when its most populous country, and its largest democracy, is not a permanent member ? And its skewed member-ship leads to opaque decision making processes, which adds to its helplessness in ad-dressing the challenges of today.
I think most countries are clear on what changes they would like to see in the UN Security Council, including on the role India should play. We just need to listen to their voice and heed their advice. I must appreciate the clear and consistent position that France has taken in this matter.
What is your vision for India in 2047 ? How do you see India's contribution to global balance ?
We are working with a clear vision for 2047, the 100th anniversary of our independence. We want to see India become a developed country in 2047. A developed economy that caters to the needs of all its people - education, health, infrastructure and opportunities.
India will remain a vibrant and participative federal democracy, in which all citizens are secure about their rights, confident of their place in the nation and optimistic about their future.
India will be a global leader in innovation and technology. A nation with sustainable lifestyles, clean rivers, blue skies and forests brimming with biodiversity and alive with wildlife. Our economy will be a hub of opportunities, an engine for global growth and its source of skills and talent. India will be a strong testimony to the power of democracy. We will help advance a more balanced multipolar world, anchored in international law and underpinned by the discipline of multilateralism.
Do you consider that the western values still have a universal dimension or should other countries find their own path ?
I feel that when we look at where the world is today, the thought processes from every corner of the world, the efforts from every corner of the world, the philosophies from every corner of the world have had their relevance in their time period and have together brought us where the world is today. But the world makes quick progress only when it learns to let go of anachronistic and outdated notions. The more we let go of outdated notions, the more we can adopt new things.
So, I don't look in terms of whether West or East is better, whether one thought process is better than the other. Our Vedas, written thousands of years ago, spoke of letting all noble thoughts come from all sides. We don't close ourselves off. Whatever is good in the world, we should have the ability to appreciate, accept and adopt it. Which is why if you look at our G20 theme of Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam, One earth, One family, One future, but we have not said one philosophy.
You implemented many economic reforms since 2014. How do you intend to pursue the development of the economy ?
Our economic development has always been guided by a people centric approach. We have tried to implement decisions that take along the most disadvantaged. Our focus on last mile connectivity, on reaching out to every household, has been extremely successful. Harnessing digital technology has been a key element in this.
We have promoted an unprecedented level of social and economic inclusion and empowerment. So far, we have built more than 40 million homes for the poor and 110 million toilets for proper sanitation. We have opened bank accounts for around 500 million people & provided 400 million microcredit loans. We have provided cooking gas connection to 90 million households and 500 million people get free health insurance coverage.
Use of digital technology and India's revolution in digital public infrastructure has brought universal banking to India. It has helped to disburse over Euro 300 billion in direct benefits to people, provide a measure of free food to 800 million people since the onset of Covid. Today, 46 % of real time digital payments globally happen in India.
Since 2014, we have implemented economic reforms that aim to unlock the potential of each individual. We have focussed on ease of doing business, and to encourage the entrepreneurial streak in every Indian. We have promoted innovation and Start Ups. In-dia is now the world's third largest start up ecosystem.
We are ensuring a predictable, transparent and stable policy regime to help investors. We have focussed on technology and education, which are the cornerstones of long-term growth and development. We aim to become a world leader in technology, to make India a leading player in AI, Quantum Computing, Semiconductors, Space, De-fence.
We are also paying enormous attention to infrastructure development. The speed and scale of change, be it roads, railways, airports, ports, pipelines or power stations is un-precedented. The Gati-Shakti programme is bringing down the cost of logistics and facilitating planned development. Initiatives like Production Linked Incentive Scheme and the National Infrastructure Pipeline project have given a massive boost to manufacturing in India. Our economy is now the world's fifth largest and on track to become the third largest very soon.
Engagement with the world is an important part of our economic strategy. Our vision of Make in India does not aim to close India away from the world. We are also the only G20 country that reached Paris commitments on climate nine years ahead of 2030. We are committed to build India into a Developed economy by 2047.
China is pouring massive sums of money to boost its defense capabilities. Is it threatening the security in the region ?
Our interests in the Indo-Pacific region are vast, and our engagement is deep. I have described our vision for this region in one word - SAGAR, which stands for Security and Growth for All in the Region. While peace is necessary for the future we seek to build, it is far from assured.
India has always stood for peaceful resolution of differences through dialogue and diplomacy, and for respecting sovereignty of all nations, international law and the rules-based international order. This is more important than ever for maintaining mutual trust and confidence. We believe that it is through this that a positive contribution can be made towards lasting regional and global peace and stability.
Tensions are escalating in the area. Many countries, including India, are facing the problem of an aggressive China. What do you expect from France in terms of strategic support in this stand-off with China ?
India and France have a broad-based and comprehensive strategic partnership that encompasses political, defence, security, economic, human-centric development and sustainability cooperation. When countries with similar vision and values work together, bilaterally, in plurilateral arrangements or in regional institutions, they can deal with any challenge. Our partnership, including in the Indo Pacific region, is not directed against, or at the expense of any country. Our aim is to safeguard our economic and security interests, ensure freedom of navigation and commerce, advance the rule of international law in the region. We work with other countries to develop their capabilities and support their efforts to make free sovereign choices. More broadly, we aim to advance peace and stability in the region.
In September, you told Vladimir Putin that today was not an era of war. The war is now dragging out and has consequences on the « Global South » are huge. Is India going to firm up its stance on the Ukraine war ?
I have spoken a number of times to President Putin and President Zelensky. I met President Zelensky in Hiroshima. Recently, I spoke to President Putin again. India's stand has been clear, transparent and consistent. I have said that it is not an era of war. We have urged both sides to resolve issues through dialogue and diplomacy. I told them that India is ready to support all genuine efforts that can help bring this conflict to an end.
We believe that all countries have an obligation to respect the respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries, to abide by international law and adhere to the UN Charter.
We are also deeply concerned about the impact of the conflict on the wider world, especially the Global South. Countries already suffering from the impact of the Covid pandemic now face energy, food and health crisis, economic slowdown, inflation and rising debt burden. The conflict must end. We must also address the challenges that countries of the South are facing.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the strategic partnership between France and India. How would you describe the relationship between the two countries ?
First of all, on behalf of 1.4 billion Indians, I wish to convey my heartfelt gratitude to France, to its government and personally to President Macron for inviting India to 14th July National day celebrations as Guest of honour. I feel grateful to visit France on this occasion. This is a special year as it marks the 25th anniversary of our strategic partnership. It is an honour for India and a tribute to India-France friendship.
As far as 25 years of the strategic partnership is concerned, I feel we are now at a turn-ing point. If we look at the post pandemic global order and the shape that it is taking, I think the positive experience of our strategic partnership is an important step ahead. So, we look forward to working on a roadmap for the next 25 years of the strategic partnership, which I think is very important for the relationship.
The relationship is in excellent shape. It is strong, trusted, consistent. It has been steady and resilient in the darkest storms. It has been bold and ambitious in looking for opportunities.
The level of mutual trust and confidence we share is unmatched. It stems from shared values and vision. We share a strong sense of strategic autonomy. Both have deep commitment to international law. We both seek a multipolar world. Both of us carry an unwavering faith in multilateralism.
Our partnership in sensitive areas like space and defence go back to five decades and more. It was a phase when the West did not have a friendly disposition towards India. So, it is not a surprise that France was the first Western country with which we declared a Strategic Partnership. That was a difficult time for the world, including for In-dia. Since then our relationship has transformed into a partnership that is important not just for our two countries, but is of great geopolitical consequence.
Since coming to office in 2014, I have placed special emphasis on our Strategic Partner-ship with France. I made my first visit to France in April 2015, within a year of entering office. I greatly respect the manner in which the people of France honour the service of the 140,000 Indian soldiers who fought in the First World War in defence of liberty and peace in France. It is moving to see the manner in which the memories of 9000 Indian are kept alive in 163 cemeteries in France. I had the chance to visit the cemetery in Neuve-Chapelle in 2015. I have worked closely with French leadership, especially since President Macron was elected, to develop this partnership, not just in the bilateral framework, but for the global good.
In which fields are looking at strengthening the cooperation with France ?
Our partnership is deepening in economic, social, cultural and people to people con-tacts between the two countries. Our trade has nearly doubled since 2014. Just this year, two Indian air carriers have placed order for more than 750 aircraft on Airbus. Both countries are working more closely to realize the vision of using digital public infrastructure for public good. There is strong collaboration in clean energy, including solar, wind and clean hydrogen.
President Macron has taken many initiatives to deepen our co-operation. Last year, India was the country of the year in Paris Book Fair, Cannes Film Festival, VivaTech, Paris Infra Week and International Seatech Week in France in 2022. Defence cooperation has progressed rapidly. We have started a genuine industrial partnership, including on co-design and co-development, not just for ourselves but also for other countries.
We cooperate and coordinate much more closely in international forums. We together launched the International Solar Alliance. We are now working together on initiatives on biodiversity, elimination of single use plastic, disaster resilient infrastructure and conserving ocean resources.
Our cooperation has become especially strong in the United Nations, whether it is in reforming the UN institutions, fighting climate change or combating terrorism. Most recently, we worked closely on President Macron's New Global Financing Pact Summit. We are both leaders in the initiative on No Money for Terror Financing.
I feel that President Macron's thinking really matches ours. And so we are naturally compatible to work together. And for this, I have the greatest gratitude towards him. Our partnership is vital for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. We see France as one of our foremost global partners.
France is also India's neighbour in the Indo-Pacific area. What kind of cooperation India and France are looking forward to in the region ?
As I have said, India-France strategic partnership is one of the key partnerships in influencing the course of the Indo Pacific region. We are the two major resident powers in the Indian Ocean region.
Our partnership aims to advance a free, open, inclusive, secure and stable Indo Pacific region, working together and with others in the region who share our vision. There is a strong defence and security component that extends from seabed to space. It also seeks to help other countries in the region and strengthen the regional institutions for security cooperation and norm setting.
We are working together not just to strengthen India's defence industrial base and our joint operational capabilities. We will also collaborate to support the security needs of other countries, including on defence equipment. But, it goes beyond that. It involves the full range of economic, connectivity, human development and sustainability initiatives. These will draw other countries into shared endeavours of prosperity and peace. This partnership opens great possibilities for regional cooperation. Further, beyond the Indian Ocean Region, we will increasingly coordinate and cooperate in the Pacific Region, as well. Our partnership will also include the EU, which has its own Indo Pacific strategy. With EU, we already have an EU-India Connectivity Partnership.