New Delhi's focus of pursuing "development diplomacy" is ingrained in the national habit and civilisational heritage, with the highest priority being accorded to its immediate neighbourhood and countries in Africa, according to senior Indian bureaucrat T.S. Tirumurti.
Stating India's freedom struggle against colonialism also inspired other countries, with whom we share bonding, Tirumurti said: "We can call it freedom diplomacy. And, now we have moved from freedom diplomacy to development diplomacy."
Speaking during a panel discussion on the theme "Modi 2.0: Diplomacy for a New India", where he was the keynote speaker as Secretary (Economic Relations) at India's Foreign Ministry, Tirumurti said: "Development of other countries, including neighbours is our aim. Developing kinship, brotherhood and friendship in a meaningful manner and re-energising relations is our objective."
He described Indian neighbours as the country's closest development partners tied by factors like civilisation, history and capacity building, among others.
Stating that "Neighbourhood First" is India's priority, he said: "With the focus on our immediate neighbourhood and our African partners, ITEC (Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme) offers around 12,000 scholarships annually to professionals across a wide range of expertise, including information technology, healthcare, agriculture, governance, entrepreneurship, energy, parliamentary studies etc."
Significantly, Tirumurti also drew participants' attention to India's partnership with Africa; as a key ally, Russia is hosting a Russia-Africa Summit for the first time, in the Black Sea coastal city of Sochi on 23 and 24 October.
The senior diplomat said the India-Africa relationship is based on a model of cooperation which is responsive to the needs of African countries.
"It is demand-driven and free of conditionalities. It is based on our history of friendship, historical ties, and a sense of deep solidarity. Over the years, our relations have acquired greater depth and breadth across a range of areas," he added.
In terms of political engagement with Africa, 29 visits to African countries have been made at the level of President, Vice President and Prime Minister apart from several ministerial visits. The visits have been in both directions.
"We have hosted over 35 leaders from Africa for various events in the last nearly five years. India has already opened six of 18 additional missions in Africa... Today, India and Africa have comprehensive diplomatic mechanisms at all three levels - continental, regional and bilateral and through multilateral fora," Tirumurti said.
Emphasising the growing necessity to acquire hi-tech as the 4th Industrial Revolution takes root in the form of disruptive technologies and trends that are changing the way we live and work, the senior diplomat mentioned India's impactful lead in creating an International Solar Alliance (ISA), to promote online tele-education and telemedicine.
"Capacity building and human resources development are at the core of India's engagement with Africa. India is proud of its educational and technical ties with Africa. We want to build genuine partnerships that create jobs and opportunities," Tirumurti said.
India is currently the fifth largest investor in Africa, with cumulative investments at over $54 billion. Sizeable investments have been made in oil and gas, mining, banking, pharmaceuticals, textiles and other sectors.
"Development partnership and trade must go hand-in-hand. The youth also need to be encouraged," he concluded.
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