India’s Foreign Secretary, Harsh Vardhan Shringla arrived in the UK earlier this month. After Paris and Berlin, his London visit was characterized by the central theme of the growing influence and importance of the Indo-Pacific region. And, while both France and Germany have articulated their stance vis-à-vis the region, the UK is expected to reflect a strong pivot towards the Indo-Pacific once it concludes its ongoing Integrated Review.
“An Indo-Pacific guided by norms and governed by rules, with freedom of navigation, open connectivity, and respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states, is an article of faith for India,” declared Shringla.
Given his tenure as the Indian Ambassador to Washington just before his move to the MEA in New Delhi, Shringla certainly has a unique vantage point to US-India relations.
He said that “India’s relationship with the US has come a long way. Therefore, irrespective of the outcome, India’s relations will remain robust and strong.”
In specific reference to UK-India relations, the senior diplomat highlighted that the post-Brexit scenario gives India an “extraordinary opportunity” to reset ties with the UK, to see how to “recalibrate the institutional cooperation” and “seek what our Prime Ministers [Narendra Modi and Boris Johnson] see as a transformative relationship”.
During the course of his virtual interaction with the wider Indian diaspora base in the UK as part of the Global Dialogue Series, he singled out the “very vibrant living bridge” as the key to getting the bilateral relationship into fast gear.
Among the several important topics raised during the insightful discussion, Shringla was asked to decode Atmanirbhar Bharat – how this strident self-reliant Indian agenda on the one hand and the more global, liberalized India on the other, go hand in hand.
He explained: “The concept of atmanirbharta or self-reliance has to be seen in the context of the Covid crisis. “In that context, PM Modi enunciated the policy of Atmanirbhar Bharat for us to gain confidence, enable us to create the capacities, which would enable us not only to help ourselves but help other countries of the world.”
Giving some insights into the inner workings of this concept, he revealed that at the start of crisis, India faced a shortage of health-related equipment – PPEs, masks, test kits and ventilators.
“But there is a certain resilience within us which made us innovate; automobile manufacturers were asked to manufacture ventilators and production was ramped up. Under the Atmanirbhar program, we are not only producing enough of these for ourselves but also able to provide to countries all over the world. From just 16,000 ventilators in hospitals at the start of the crisis, we now propose to have 500,000 ventilators,” he reflected.
Therefore, an Atmanirbhar Bharat equates to capacity building, fully integrating India into the global supply chains and also manufacturing enough so that it can be distributed to countries most in need.
“India is the pharmacy of the world and supplies medicines all over the world. At the start of the pandemic, there was a huge demand for medicines like hydroxychloroquine, we ensured that production was increased and sent out to at least 150 countries, at least half at cost or on gratis basis,” said Shringla.