Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India accused the United Nations of failing to update its work and adopt overdue reforms in his speech to the General Assembly’s 75th-anniversary session, on Sept. 26. He praised what he saw as India’s leading role in the world on many fronts and asked, in a focus of his speech, “For how long will India be kept out of the decision-making structures of the United Nations?”
“Today, every Indian, while seeing the contribution of India in the United Nations, aspires for India’s expanded role in the United Nations,” Modi went on, in a stern address that did not directly address India’s internal problems, including a sharp 24 percent drop in its economic performance during the coronavirus pandemic.
In his virtual address by video, required by Covid-era regulations, Modi spoke in Hindi, a tenet of his Hindu nationalist government, with English interpretation.
Modi also excluded the international outcries over recently imposed immigration and citizenship laws that Indian media estimate may have disenfranchised more than a million Muslims and led to a still-unknown number of people — some of them lifelong residents — deported to neighboring Muslim-majority countries. New laws also include an effective ban on all Muslim immigrants, while encouraging South Asian Christians, Sikhs and followers of other religious minorities to move to India.
“Within the halls of the United Nations, one has often heard the words, ‘the world is one family.’ We treat the whole world as one family,” Modi said. He disguised the Indian remaking of Muslim Kashmir as a step to centralizing government for the betterment of all. In a stroke of the pen on Aug. 5, 2019, Kashmir lost its constitutional rights to limited political autonomy and special economic protections for its citizens.
Modi also used his General Assembly address to promote the Indian pharmaceutical industry’s leadership in producing vaccines against the new coronavirus; the country has long been an exporter and producer of drugs outsourced by American and European countries.
“Even during these very difficult times of the raging pandemic, the pharmaceutical industry of India has sent essential medicines to more than 150 countries,” Modi said. “As the largest vaccine producing country of the world, I want to give one more assurance to the global community today. India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity will be used to help all humanity in fighting this crisis.”
Modi did not respond to a verbal assault over Kashmir on Sept. 25 at the General Assembly by Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan. In that speech, he characterized the Hindu nationalist government of India as violating international humanitarian law with plans to flood the Kashmir Valley, the cultural center of Kashmiri culture, with Hindu settlers and religious institutions.
“For over 72 years, India has illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir against the wishes of the Kashmiri people, and in blatant violation of the resolutions of the Security Council and indeed its own commitments,” Khan said.
Accusing India of well-documented abuses employing “brute force” backed by 900,000 troops, he added: “The international community must investigate these grave violations and prosecute the Indian civil and military personnel involved in state terrorism and serious crimes against humanity being perpetrated with compete impunity.”
By the time Khan was done speaking, the junior Indian diplomat occupying India’s chair in the Assembly Hall had walked out, although later in the evening, both Pakistan and India exercised their right to reply.
Boris Johnson: Hopefully, the last-ever Zoom UNGA
Britain’s colorful and sometimes renegade prime minister, Boris Johnson, looked at what was possible in the global battle to tame the coronavirus. His view was broad, addressing the current medical needs while then suggesting that this threat could be the vehicle on which nations could value cooperation as no other crisis has in recent history.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been an immense psychic shock to the human race,” he said. (Britain currently has 431,816 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 42,000 deaths.)
Following are excerpts from his pre-recorded video, above, on Sept. 26:
“Never in the history of our species — not since the almighty felled the tower of babel — has the human race been so obsessed with one single topic of conversation,” Johnson began. “We have been following the same debates, researching the potential of the same drugs, and time and again we have been typing the same word into our search engines. COVID-19, coronavirus, has united humanity as never before.
“The same tiny opponent [is] threatening everyone in much the same way, but members of the UN have still waged 193 separate campaigns, as if every country somehow contains a different species of human being. . . . And after nine months of fighting COVID-19, the very notion of the international community looks, frankly, pretty tattered.
“Now is the time — therefore, here at what I devoutly hope will be the first and last ever Zoom UNGA — for humanity to reach across borders and repair these ugly rifts. . . . And with nearly a million people dead, with colossal economic suffering already inflicted and more to come, there is a moral imperative for humanity to be honest and to reach a joint understanding of how the pandemic began, and how it was able to spread — not because I want to blame any country or government, or to score points. I simply believe — as a former COVID patient — that we all have a right to know, so that we can collectively do our best to prevent a recurrence.
“And so the UK supports the efforts of the World Health Organisation and of my friend, Tedros, to explore the aetiology of the disease, because however great the need for reform, the WHO, the World Health Organization, is still the one body that marshals humanity against the legions of disease. That is why we in the UK — global Britain — are one of the biggest global funders of that organisation, contributing £340 million over the next four years, that’s an increase of 30 percent.
“And as we now send our medical detectives to interview the witnesses and the suspects — bats, the pangolins, whoever — we should have enough humility to acknowledge that alarm bells were ringing before this calamity struck. Humanity was caught napping. We have been scrabbling to catch up, and with agonising slowness we are making progress.
“Our first aim should be to stop a new disease before it starts.
“Our second step should be to develop the manufacturing capacity for treatments and vaccines so that the whole of humanity can hold them like missiles in silos ready to zap the alien organisms before they can attack.
“So the third objective should be to design a global pandemic early warning system, based on a vast expansion of our ability to collect and analyse samples and distribute the findings, using health data-sharing agreements covering every country.
“And if all our defences are breached, and we face another crisis, we should at least be able to rely on our fourth step, and have all the protocols ready for an emergency response, covering every relevant issue, along with the ability to devise new ones swiftly.
“Never again must we wage 193 different campaigns against the same enemy. As with all crises, it is crucial not to learn the wrong lessons.”
This article was updated to include more recent numbers of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in India.
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Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.