August 15, 2021
Prof. Harsh Pant,
My Colleague, Additional Secretary Shri Ashok Malik,
1. At the outset, let me thank the Observer Research Foundation and Prof. Pant for inviting me to release ‘The ORF Foreign Policy Survey 2021’ entitled ‘Young India and the World’. I convey my best wishes to the speakers for the ensuing panel discussion on the survey.
2. I am pleased to note that the ORF has, for many years, provided a platform for young voices in the strategic community. The Raisina Young Fellows Programme continues to attract some of the brightest minds from across the globe. ‘The ORF Foreign Policy Survey 2021’ is another important step in the democratisation of policy understanding and shaping. I hope this survey will act as a useful academic tool to understand the public discourse on India’s foreign policy.
3. It is said that perceptions matter, and the perception of over 60% of India’s population – the youth – matters significantly. Our nation is witnessing a historic demographic shift that has the potential to yield rich dividends. India’s ability to find its rightful place in the world will depend on how we harness the strength of our young population. And it is indeed encouraging and heartening to find that more and more young thinkers are taking an interest in foreign policy.
4. At the Ministry of External Affairs, we have undertaken a series of initiatives that will allow critical young minds to contribute to the nation’s foreign policy making process. We are constantly working towards expanding the various options available to young academics and scholars.
5. Allow me to take this opportunity to highlight some of these initiatives.
6. Our Ministry accords high priority to engaging academics in universities and think tanks and utilising their expertise in the preparation of research papers and policy briefs on foreign policy issues. The Ministry also supports universities, think tanks and academic institutions for the conduct of national and international seminars and thematic conferences on a regular basis.
7. The Ministry of External Affairs started working with scholars in 2015 on certain specific areas of expertise. They have been a welcome addition to many Divisions of the Ministry. The Ministry has benefitted from their fresh approach, thematic expertise and contributions in research and strategic planning.
8. We have also recently revamped our internship program. We have devised a procedure to ensure participation from every State and Union Territory in the country, while encouraging a healthy gender balance. Selected interns will have a unique opportunity to work on a desk of their choice in the Ministry of External Affairs, along with suitable mentorship and guidance. The program is intended to provide first-hand exposure to the functioning of the Ministry, conduct of diplomacy and foreign policy.
9. Some of our recent initiatives have been aimed at demystifying foreign policy for Indian youth in different parts of our country. Through our SAMEEP initiative, we encourage young Foreign Service officers to reconnect with their educational institutions and share their experiences with students on contemporary and popular foreign policy themes.
10. We have also reached out to the strategic community at all levels. I have spoken extensively on the contours of India’s foreign policy at various events organised by think-tanks, universities, academic institutions, public forums and industry associations.
11. One of the largest beneficiary groups from our Vande Bharat Mission were Indian students and young professionals who would otherwise have been stranded on foreign soil during the COVID-19 outbreak. Now, as life gradually normalises, the MEA is working with partner countries to facilitate visas, mutual recognition of vaccine certification and the travel of Indian students to educational institutions abroad.
12. In line with the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s vision of making India a hub for international education, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) provides more than 3000 scholarships to foreign students every year. ICCR has also established various Chairs in foreign universities in different Indian disciplines and is in the process of setting up Chairs of neighbouring countries in premier Indian institutions.
13. For example, this year, ICCR and Delhi University set up the first academic Chair on Bangladesh in India, in honour of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, father of modern Bangladesh, and to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Bangladesh Liberation War and India-Bangladesh relations.
14. The Ministry is working closely with our Ministry of Education to promote the New Education Policy with our foreign interlocutors.
15. I am happy to learn that the ORF Foreign Policy Survey results indicate that urban youth are appreciative of the strides made through India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East’ policies.
16. While national interest and security are the main drivers of any foreign policy, there are other factors. International relations and diplomacy also affect our daily lives in terms of our environment, society, economic development and education. Appropriately, the ORF Foreign Policy Survey has been conducted keeping in mind the increasing osmosis between domestic factors and foreign policy.
17. The scope of the survey, done in 14 different cities and 8 regional languages, is commendable. I understand that it is the first survey to consider public opinion on multilateralism and globalization, including in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
18. It is heartening to learn that more than 7 out of 10 respondents have rated major Indian foreign policy decisions in recent years as ‘Very Good’ or ‘Good’. Well over 50% of youth taking part in this survey rightly believe that over the next decade we will strengthen our partnership with major global powers.
19. Going ahead, this survey will provide useful inputs for foreign policy planning to meet the aspirations and goals of a young India, a vibrant India and if I may add – an Atmanirbhar Bharat.
20. I would like to conclude by once again congratulating ORF and its Strategic Studies Programme for conceptualising and conducting this Foreign Policy Survey. I look forward to more such initiatives in the future.
Ministry of External affairs- Gov of India