Ambassador Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, President, Global Corporate Affairs Tata Sons and former Foreign Secretary of India struck a chord with the audience with his thought provoking, insightful and stimulating lecture on ‘What India means to the West’ in the heart of United Kingdom. He was delivering the Inaugural Distinguished Guest Lecture on October 24th at the University of Birmingham, a Russel Group University, which saw the launch of its India Institute, earlier this year on January 29, 2018. In addition to being India’s former Ambassador to USA, China, Czech Republic and Indian High Commissioner to Singapore, Dr. Jaishankar has also served in various diplomatic capacities in Russia, Sri Lanka, Hungary and Japan. Ambassador Jaishankar served as Foreign Secretary of India between 2015 and 2018, becoming India’s longest serving Foreign Secretary in the last four decades. He was accompanied by his wife, Mrs. Kyoko Jaishankar at the event. They were welcomed and felicitated by Chancellor of the University of Birmingham Lord Karan Bilimoria in presence of the Consul General of India Aman Puri, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) Professor Robin Mason and Professor Scott Lucas, Professor of Political Science and International Studies.
Prof. Mason welcomed Ambassador Jaishankar, and while introducing him to audiences Prof. Mason stated that there are few, if any, individuals who have such a vast knowledge and diplomatic experience in various parts of the world, including the US, China, Europe, Japan and South East Asia. Prof. Mason stated that Ambassador Jaishankar can mix sharp analysis with tremendous political and strategic intuition.
Ambassador Jaishankar in his inaugural lecture stated that since India’s independence, the West and India have largely put history behind them to forge a comfortable relationship. He observed that a rising India is at the heart of a changing world order, while the West is very much the entrenched one. He stated that India after independence choosing to continue its close ties with the English- speaking world was both a political and a cultural decision of some consequence. He further commented that the West lost its edge in the last decades with two strategic miscalculations. The first was when the United States neglected the threat from fundamentalist political Islam, after having successfully used it to undermine the USSR. It was magnified by an unnecessary war in Iraq, and an incompetent one in Afghanistan. While much has been written on Iraq, it is only recently that there has been a grudging recognition that on Afghanistan, the US and the West has been confusing the problem – Pakistan – for the solution. The second was an underestimation of China, having built it up as a counterweight to the Soviet Union. It is truly hard to find in history a similar example of facilitating the rapid rise of a strategic adversary, ignoring so many warning signals .The expectation that a prosperous China would adjust to the world rather than seek to shape it was a monumental act of complacency
Dr. Jaishankar felt that over the years post-independence, a very substantive relationship that covered politics, security, trade, investment, services, innovation, education and development assistance, was built up by India, with key Western nations, especially the United States and the United Kingdom,. This was characterized by extensive contacts at the people to people level as well as between civil societies and institutions. He was of the view that the growing Indian-origin diaspora in many Western countries strengthened the bonding with India. He added that a stronger partnership with the West will lead to considerable political benefits and economic gains for India, though both would have to be balanced by Indian equities in competing constituencies.
Ambassador Jaishankar stressed that it would be in Western interest that India emerges more rapidly as a source of global demand and supply, thereby reducing excessive dependence on any single geography. There are also larger political principles to prove by ensuring India’s success. It will affirm that democratic politics and high growth economics are not mutually exclusive. Dr. Jaishankar felt that India’s multi-faith society is also an enormous statement of global social stability. If one stops and thinks about it, it is India today that acts as a firewall preventing the spread of fundamentalism and radicalism from the geographies to its west to those to its east. But it also has its activist aspects that would be of growing value to a Western world
He informed that the European Union is India’s largest trade partner, and a key source of investments and technology. The relationship has the potential to grow even in the short-term, especially when linked to various Indian modernization initiatives. He stated that the UK always had a special place in India’s engagement with the West. The country has served not just as a gateway to Europe, but much of the world. Both key members of the Commonwealth, could help shape its future directions. Ambassador Jaishankar observed that right now, the major markets are still in the West, as in fact is the capital needed for growth. More importantly, the West continues be the main source of technology and innovation, even if its leads are eroding.
Dr. Jaishankar said that there are conversations to be had, and adjustments to be made if India and the West are to fashion a more contemporary relationship. The turbulence of our times may actually help us shed old baggage, and find new ground to share. In seeking that, one would do well to recall Lee Kuan Yew’s insightful observation that for very good reasons, the world need not be anxious about the rise of India.
The lecture was followed by a stimulating session with Ambassador Jaishankar, Chancellor Lord Bilimoria, Consul General Puri and Prof. Lucas, who participated in a panel discussion moderated by Prof. Mason. Participants enthusiastically took part in the discussion by posing wide-ranging questions to Ambassador Jaishankar.
Chancellor Lord Bilimoria, who is the first India born Chancellor of a Russel Group University, was ecstatic in welcoming the distinguished guest for this very special lecture, which is now going to be an annual event to be jointly hosted by the India Institute of the University of Birmingham, and the Consulate General of India, Birmingham. He acknowledged the tremendous contribution of the High Commission of India, and the Consulate General of India during the launch of India Institute earlier this year, and recalled that he had jointly inaugurated the institute along with High Commissioner of India H.E. Mr. Y K Sinha, Sir David Eastwood, the Vice Chancellor of the University. He complemented Consul General Puri for his contribution in organising the Distinguished Guest Lecture. Lord Bilimoria remarked that there was a close working relationship between the India Institute, and the Consulate General of India and hoped that this lecture will take it to another level. He expressed the hope that this guest lecture will encourage more debate on major social, cultural and policy issues that relates to both UK and India and that it will become an important annual event for the University.
Consul General Aman Puri thanked Ambassador Jaishankar for coming all the way from India to deliver the inaugural lecture. He remarked that the latter’s presence had raised the profile of the lecture series, and set a high benchmark for future. Dr. Puri thanked Chancellor Bilimoria for being the driving force behind the India Institute, and for his enormous contribution to strengthening the relationship between India and the United Kingdom. He also thanked the Vice Chancellor Professor Sir David Eastwood and Prof Scott Lucas. Dr. Puri thanked the India Institute team, including its Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) and Director Professor Robin Mason, Ms Wenwei Wu and Ms Shruti Doshi. He remarked that Prof. Mason’s visionary leadership of the Institute had resulted in an exponential growth of activities between University of Birmingham and India.
Sampad Arts enthralled the audience with their new performance ‘Converse’ featuring outstanding Kathak dance and contemporary music by Vidya Patel and Shammi Pithia.
Professor Mason concluded the evening with the remarks that the University of Birmingham and Consulate’s partnership enabled the opportunity for audiences to interact with an eminent thought leader in Ambassador Jaishankar, who brought his vast diplomatic, political and business knowledge, and experience to provide a unique perspective on how the West could better understand the world’s largest democracy which is at the heart of a changing world order.
Later in the evening, the Consul General hosted a dinner for select guests at his residence.