Opening Remarks by External Affairs Minister at the Second Atal Bihari Vajpayee Memorial Lecture

Posted on: December 24, 2021 | Back | Print

To all those who have tuned in, welcome to the Second Atal Bihari Vajpayee Memorial Lecture organized by the Ministry of External Affairs on his birth anniversary.

2. Where Indians and indeed the rest of the world are concerned, the leadership that Prime Minister Vajpayee provided needs little reminder. The objective of this Memorial Lecture, however, is to focus on his particular contributions to foreign policy. And that he made over many decades – as a parliamentarian, as a Foreign Minister and of course, as Prime Minister.

3. There is much that can be related in terms of specific policies and particular events in that regard. But if we are to look at the essence of his approach to international relations, it is evident that this focuses on responding effectively to global changes. Not surprisingly, that is exactly what he sought to do in respect of key relationships and issues. And this is important to recognize and appreciate because foreign policy debates often tend to become dogmatic and cliché ridden.

4. Where the United States was concerned, Prime Minister Vajpayee introduced policy corrections that reflected the end of the Cold War and the new global balance. At the same time, he kept India’s course steady vis-à-vis Russia despite the turbulence of that era. With China, whether as Foreign Minister or as Prime Minister, he sought a modus vivendi that was based as much on mutual respect as on mutual interest. With Pakistan, he strenuously tried to dissuade them from their path of sponsoring cross-border terrorism. All this, of course, was underpinned by his belief that India must develop deeper strengths at home. This found expression in the exercise of the nuclear option as it did in the economic modernization that he presided over.

5. Today, the winds of change are most apparent in the Indo-Pacific. It is there that the diplomatic creativity which Prime Minister Vajpayee inspires should be most strongly applied. We are looking at a complex set of transformations that are simultaneously underway. The Indo-Pacific is witnessing both multipolarity and rebalancing. It is seeing great power competition as well as ‘middle power plus’ activities. Orthodox politics including territorial differences are in sharper play, side-by-side with currencies of power like connectivity and technology. In fact, no other landscape illustrates better the widening of our definition of national security.

6. Given these trends, it is understandable that we have chosen Dr. Michael Fullilove, the Executive Director of the Lowy Institute, to deliver the Memorial Lecture this year. A very distinguished scholar of international relations, he has held that responsibility of Executive Director for the last decade. In many ways, he has been the voice of Australia on the key strategic debates underway, especially relating to the Indo-Pacific. He writes prolifically and I would particularly recommend his ‘Rendezvous with Destiny’.

7. Indeed, given the times that we live in, there are few better equipped to address the trends and challenges unfolding than Dr. Fullilove. Issues like the need for strategic imagination or the tension between economics and politics of the day are right up his street. That makes him just the appropriate choice to also address the debate on the emergence and consolidation of the Quad. For Indians, I should add that hearing and appreciating an Australian viewpoint is more necessary than ever before. The intellectual world cannot lag behind the policy one. With these words, let me welcome Dr. Michael Fullilove. I speak for all of you in looking forward to hearing him.