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‘India – A land of Billion Ideas, Billion Opportunities’ Speech by Ambassador Sibi George at Geneva School of Diplomacy, October 30, 2019

Posted on: October 30, 2019 | Back | Print

‘India – A land of Billion Ideas, Billion Opportunities’
Speech by Ambassador Sibi George at Geneva School of Diplomacy, October 30, 2019

Honourable President of Geneva School of Diplomacy Dr. Colum de Sales Murphy, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Evening.

Thank you for inviting me to address you this evening.

As Ambassador of India to Switzerland, I stand here representing one of the oldest, largest and perhaps among the very few continuous major civilizations in the world.

I bring to you greetings from 1.3 billion people of India. Almost 1/6th of the total population of the world. Add to this the vibrant Indian diaspora of over 30 million spread all over the world.

I have been in this beautiful country for nearly two years now. Those familiar with diplomacy would agree that, for a diplomat, it is no small achievement to get up every day morning thinking about a President, a Prince and a Pope as Ambassador to Switzerland, Lichtenstein and the Holy See.

My endeavour today is to present to you a glimpse of ‘India – A land of Billion Ideas, Billion Opportunities’. I thought of doing a colourful PowerPoint presentation, I decided against it. I believe that if your points are powerful you don’t need a PowerPoint presentation. All I have is a few distorted world maps. Let me start by showing you some of these maps. A few maps to show where India stands in the world, in terms of population, in terms of wealth and a few other factors in terms of the billion ideas it generate and billion opportunities it offer.

Before I do that, I have a few questions to know how much you know about? How many of you have been to India? How many of you have read about India, its history, geography, politics, foreign policy etc. I want to know who could answer the questions on behalf of me after my presentation.

Its geography gives India a unique position in the geo-politics of the Asian continent and beyond. It footprint reaching well beyond South Asia to West Asia, East Asia, South-east Asia, Central Asia and even to Africa. India has a coastline of more than 7,600 km and 1,250 islands, with its Exclusive Economic Zone covering over 2 million sq. km and continental shelf extending up to 350 nautical miles.

It is the only country with an ocean attached to its name- Indian Ocean. I have a map in my office where I kept India upside down. I look at India from the top of Himalayas. What do I see? I see the Indian Ocean from the Indian peninsula all the way to Antarctica and on one side are Africa and the East Asia on the other. Our Andaman and Nicobar islands are just over a few hundred kilometers from Indonesia. They are a group of 570 islands in Andaman Sea, which narrows to form the Malacca Straits. I am told that over 80% of fuel, which goes from the Arabian Gulf goes through the Malacca straits. This is a very important region in the world and developments in this region have its impact in the entire world.

Now let me tell you story that I heard and said many times. The story of Alexander, some call him Alexander the Macedonian, others call him Alexander the Great. After having crossed Persia, he came to India, met a sage on the banks of the river Indus, who he referred to as a ‘wise man’. This sage sat on a rock and spent all day and night staring at the sky. Alexander asked him what he was doing. The sage replied, "Experiencing nothingness.” The sage asked Alexander what he was doing. Alexander replied, "I am conquering the world.” Both laughed. For Alexander, the sage was wasting his one and only life experiencing nothingness! For the sage, Alexander was wasting his time trying to conquer a world that has no limits, with a sense of urgency that made no sense when one lives infinite lives. It was a moment in ancient history when West and East met. The fact is that, the empire that Alexander built collapsed within a few years of his death. But Indian spirituality continues to attract the world towards her. In fact, the Indian concept of non-violence, through which India won freedom after a long freedom struggle, can be traced to the ethos of this civilisation.

Why I said this story is to introduce you to an important element that constitutes the national character of India, a basic character which determines how India even today, sees the world and formulates its foreign policy and conduct its diplomacy. India is a relatively new country with a continuous civilization of around 5000 years. We Indians call it the Bharatvarsha, a landscape that spread across from the mighty Himalayas with mighty rivers and surrounded by seas, a template ingrained in the collective Indian consciousness, irrespective of the rise and fall of many empires over a few millennia.

Also the importance of two of our epics Mahabharata and Ramayana and Arthashastra, the science of Governance by Kautilya in the psyche of every Indian including that of high policy makers need to be emphasised. Mahabharata has the story of Lord Krishna who as a diplomat tried to avoid a major war and Ramayana, the story of Lord Hanuman who played the role of a messenger from Lord Rama to Lanka. An understanding of these epics would help one understand Indian psyche and its national character.

The rise and fall of several of many empires in India have contributed in India’s evolution as one of the most diverse countries in the world. Four of the major religions in the world today have its origins in India – Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. In fact, India is home to other many religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Sikhism. In fact, Christianity reached India and flourished there since 52 CE, in the first century immediately after the crucifixion of Christ, much before it reached most parts of Europe. The fact is the Christianity flourished in India for nearly two thousand years. Today India has more Christian population than the total population of Australia. India also has the second largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia.

Over past millennia, many a conqueror coveted the riches of India but none could conquer Indian culture, traditions or philosophy. Even those that came with a sword were soon assimilated into India’s composite and inclusive culture. History is also replete with examples of India giving refuge to those fleeing persecution in their own lands. The Jewish population came to India in large numbers from Israel in the year 70 CE, after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The Jewish community found home in India for nearly two thousand years till the creation of modern Israel. Today, Parsees, who came from Iran, are one of the most vibrant communities in India while some of the oldest Jewish synagogues are still active in India.

In India, we speak several hundred languages, we worship different Gods, we eat different foods, we wear different clothes, but there is a feeling of oneness and common consciousness, a civilizational bond, that keeps us together, make us proud as India. Every diverse culture in India flourishes, every region in India flourishes. Today, we have a constitution which guarantees liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; equality of status and of opportunity. Since its independence in 1947 India has a continuous democracy where peaceful transition of political power happens. I am sure that you had heard about the largest festival of democracy in the history of the world which took place in India in May this year when 900 million eligible voters elected over 500 members to the lower house of Indian Parliament. An opportunity for a billion people, 600 million below the age of 25 years, to select their choice in a free and fair manner. At present, there are about 3 million elected representatives at all levels of the panchayat, of which one half are women. These members represent more than 240,000 Gram Panchayats, about 6,000 intermediate level tiers and more than 500 district panchayats. This is the largest experiment in decentralisation of governance in the history of humanity.

We have over 200 TV channels with talk shows and debates and competing for breaking news. The free press of India, now coupled with free social media, makes sure that a billion voices are heard, a billion ideas are aired. There are over 500 million smart phone users in India. There was a time not too far, when by ‘tweet’ we meant a happy song of a bird. Not anymore. Today, millions share their ideas and anger on Tweets, making Indian democracy a bit noisy than that of Switzerland. It is a matter of pride for an Ambassador to stand before an august audience in a model democracy and say with confidence that the economic and scientific transformation India achieved was not under oppressive dictatorial regimes but under a constitution which guarantees liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; equality of status and of opportunity. Very few countries can say this with confidence.

A few centuries ago, India was one of the richest countries in the world. It was not for fun that maritime explorers like Christopher Columbus and Vasco-de Gama went around oceans and seas dreaming to reach India. It was for its wealth and richness. Since its independence from two hundred years of colonial rule in 1947, India has made notable achievements in diverse fields, including atomic energy, space science, agriculture, bio-technology and, of course, information technology, for which India is well-known the world over. We are one of the few countries in the world have a successful space mission and a mission to the moon.

Today, India has emerged as the fastest-growing large economy in the world, with a growth rate of nearly 7.5%. It is also a global hub for manufacturing and innovation. It is moving towards a knowledge-based society, which aims to build a five trillion dollar economy by 2022. According to the World Bank and IMF, our growth rate is going to be steady and high. In terms of Purchasing Power Parity it is today the third largest economy in the world. In terms of GDP it is the sixth largest economy. India today is a land of billion opportunities. India will soon overtake China as the most populous country in the world.  When a billion population grows in standard of living, it offers a billion opportunity for its citizens and also for technologically advanced countries.

Based on these factors, India today has a vibrant foreign policy and a proactive diplomatic outreach at bilateral, trilateral, quadrilateral, regional and multilateral levels. In recent years there has been an unprecedented expansion of India’s diplomatic canvas, including at the highest levels, both in terms of regularity and quality of exchanges. We have engaged with our traditional partners with greater warmth and frequency and extended our diplomatic outreach to new countries and regions.

I stop here and will be happy to take your questions.

Thank you.