By Sunjoy Joshi
In a few hours from now, the inaugural session of Raisina Dialogue will commence.
The next three days in New Delhi will witness the arrival of over 120 thinkers, speakers and leaders from over 35 countries to participate at the Raisina Dialogue - India’s first Global Conclave on Geo-Economics and Geo-Politics. We at ORF are delighted that we have had the opportunity to co-create this platform with eminent partners such as Firstpost. The purpose of this endeavour is to catalyse new debates and discussions, throw up creative ideas and discover pathways that will hopefully shape the progress of not just India and Asia but of all who are invested in and engaged with Asia and with India.
For some time now, as the Indian growth story gained momentum, the absence of a truly global platform located in India had beena bit galling. Indians, the inveterate travellers that we are, traversed the world and attended various iconic conclaves. The number of conclaves as well as the number of Indians attending also steadily increased. But that also spurred, in some of us, the need for bringing into these conversations a uniquely Indian dimension that could help locate these within an Indian paradigm and with an Asian ethos.
Then in 2014, with the coming of a new political leadership, came an altered mood and new determination. This leadership was keen to engage with the world. It was more confident of what it wanted, and felt enthused by both the opportunity and the possibilities that such engagement afforded. At the core was a desire to ensure that we as a nation and as a people take initiative and become contributors participating in and shaping global conversations, paving new trajectories with all others who shared a vision of jointly responding to the needs of a dynamic world. A world that required more actors taking more responsibility.
In the run up to this conference, my colleagues and I have often been quizzed about the rationale, the motivation and, the purpose of creating this platform. So let me try and respond.
Fifty years ago Marshall McLuhan, declared that- the medium was the message for the medium shaped and controlled "the scale and form of human association and action." The hosting of this conclave therefore is the message itself.
The very fact that Indian thinkers, the Indian political leadership, and the executive, have come together to create this platform is the most compelling message by itself.
At one level, it is the manifestation of a pro-active India committed to being the cradle of new conversations, new ideas, and new outcomes, each of which will shape politics, policy and global governance. It is also an invitation to the global community, civil society, academia and global thought leaders to engage with India on issues and challenges faced across different geographies. It is a realization that India’s future, its development, and its growth, will be influenced and catalysed by various actors, various nations, and by various developments across the world.
It is the recognition that the Indian story, the Asian story and the global narrative in turn will be co-authored by those within and outside the region, and this medium will enable us to collectively settle the contours and define the boundaries of that common narrative.
The world has for some time been talking of the dawning of the Asian century. However, for us the Asian century does not connote an exclusive region. Ratherit epitomises the engagement of global actors with Asia and of Asia with the world. It symbolises Asia’s renewed partnership with Europe, it typifies Asian engagement with the US, and takes forward Asia’s long standing relationship with Africa. The Asian century is actually about once again integrating Asia with itself and the world. Hence for this inaugural edition, the conference theme of “Connecting Asia” captures the multiple facets of our ambitions as the organisers of this multi-stakeholder platform.
Secondly, this platform is important because it comes at a time when past assumptions - the rules and norms, the givens that proved adequate for a different world in the last century - have shown themselves inadequate in serving people and communities, countries and regions, who may today have the largest stake in its future.
On the one hand, the 20th century impulses of globalisation, free trade, easy liquidity, large manufacturing, may no longer be readily available to many who are now beginning to climb the ladder of political and economic relevance.
On the other hand, protectionism, restrictive borders and a return to predatory economics can and are undermining many of the institutions and much of the architecture that served us in the past. Coalitions of convenience must not and should not seek to write new rules around trade, digital economy, intellectual property rights, sustainable development and a host of other areas that each of us engage with.
Then we are in an age where technology has become the new hyper-reality - technology promises opportunity, it is the tool that liberates us from the constraints imposed by geography. Technology is creating a new world. It is creating new social order, helping with the birth of new communities, shaping new forms of communication and engagement and inventing novel forms of economic and political transactions. But it can also be used to restrict and perpetuate distortions of the past, create divisions that can be far more lethal. A new world outside of the real, for which the rules are unable to keep up with the pace of the electron.
These reasons are why the phrase about inhabiting an “uncommon world” seems to have gained increasing traction; for while known solutions lead us to known outcomes, new outcomes will constantly require new solutions.
So the quest for discovering these, joining together to script these, must not only continue but must now include voices that have the greatest stake and hope from the future.The participation of diverse voices from Africa and Asia, India and South Asia,and the world, is the best way of ensuring that any new consensus on geo-economics and geo-politics that emerges in the days ahead responds to the needs and aspirations of all people.
For the pathways to peace, the road to prosperity, the idea of inclusive development,are all predicated on the wholesome participation of new voices, more of which are now emanating once again from the world’s oldest civilisations.
The Raisina Dialogue aspires to be one of the arenas, where the old and the new can work together, not always necessarily in agreement,but always in harmony, many times contesting,but contesting as partners and not as adversaries. This dialogue aspires to be such an amphitheatre of ideas located in India but owned by the world.
The author is Director, Observer Research Foundation. Views are personal.