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PM Modi's powerful speech at the UN blends tough realism and hope

United Nations: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s big speech at the UN on Saturday not only blended tough-minded realism on terrorism and Pakistan, but also soared with hope when he paid a tribute to India’s ancient civilizational traditions. He told UN delegates India has always been guided since Vedic times by the all-embracing Sanskrit philosophy Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam or “the world is one family.”

 PM Modis powerful speech at the UN blends tough realism and hope

PM Narendra Modi at the UN General Assembly spoke on global unity and battling terrorism. Reuters

The key passage of the speech about terrorism was powerful. Modi reminded the world of India’s long battle against extremist groups and, without naming Pakistan, took a swipe at countries that give them shelter.

Modi signaled his support for President Obama’s renewed focus on fighting terrorism. He backed Obama’s efforts to combat terrorism in West Asia where a US-led coalition has widened its air strikes against Islamic State group targets in Syria.

Modi underscored the value of political symbolism by visiting the September 11 Memorial in lower Manhattan on Saturday morning before arriving at the bustling UN headquarters. In Modi’s meetings with President Obama at the White House on Monday and Tuesday, the two will discuss ways to increase counter-terrorism and intelligence cooperation. The two countries are likely to commit to a robust set of joint military exercises.

Modi dealt deftly with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who had used his own General Assembly address on Friday to blame India for the collapse of the talks last month over Kashmir.

“By raising this issue in this forum," Modi said, "I don't know how serious our efforts will be, and some people are doubtful about it."

"I want to hold bilateral talks to improve friendship and cooperation in all seriousness and in an atmosphere of peace without a shadow of terrorism," Modi, speaking in Hindi, told the UN General Assembly. "But this is also the duty of Pakistan to come forward and create the appropriate atmosphere and with all seriousness come forward for a bilateral dialogue."

Modi has no meetings planned with Sharif or other Pakistani officials. Instead he held private meetings with the prime ministers of Nepal and Bangladesh and the president of Sri Lanka on Saturday. This is in contrast to his predecessor Manmohan Singh who typically talked long with Pakistani leaders Pervez Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly and came up short.

“Talking to Pakistan is a fool’s errand. Outside of the obvious attempt to assuage the US, the riddle is why Manmohan Singh ever agreed to meet with Pakistan to discuss issues of trust, when India had proof that Pakistan’s ISI plotted the Mumbai attacks. Modi gets it — making concessions towards Pakistan and having talks will only lead to a failed engagement which will sour ties,” said South Asia expert and author Vishnu Prasad.

Last month, India announced it was withdrawing from planned talks between the two neighbors because of plans by Pakistan to consult Kashmiri separatists beforehand.

Still, the prime ministers of India and Pakistan have offered to help each other in efforts to alleviate flood havoc in Kashmir that have killed at least 239 people. It is unlikely either side will accept the other's offer of help, given the military sensitivities in the region, but Modi was statesmanlike in offering assistance on the floor of the UN General Assembly.

"Today, we should be thinking about the victims of floods in Jammu and Kashmir. In India, we have organised massive flood relief operations and have also offered assistance for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir," said Modi.

"India is part of the developing world, but we are prepared to share our modest resources with those countries that need this assistance as much as we do," he added.

Domestically-inclined Modi has risen to international challenges without hesitation. He called for a greater role for the G-4 coalition including India, Brazil, Germany and Japan, one that would help all countries move beyond thinking of policy as a “zero-sum game.” In broader remarks before the UN General Assembly, Modi also rejected unilateralism and said no one country could handle the world's problems.

On climate change, India is under scrutiny for how it will commit to cutting its future emissions. Modi offered an out-of-the-box solution which took climate change advocates by complete surprise. He said yoga is not just exercise but can provide answers to climate change.

“By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change,” he said. “Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day.”

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Updated Date: Sep 28, 2014 15:21:36 IST