Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Apr 16, 2024
Raisina Chronicles: India’s Global Public Square

The Raisina Dialogue has become a feature today in the calendars of leaders around the world. It is a must-attend for all who seek to move the needle, disrupt the status quo, defend their beliefs, and create what shall be. India’s flagship conference on geopolitics and geo-economics enters its 10th year. In that time, it has emerged as a global, inclusive, and wide-band forum of international importance, transcending borders and ideologies, ages and agendas, hashtags and echo chambers. It is India’s ‘global public square’—located in New Delhi, incubated by the world. Its purpose is to preserve and promote the often-challenged art of dialogue and of working through differences. In keeping with Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s vision of delivering public goods for the benefit of all humanity, it is indeed a platform that serves this planet.

Raisina has been crucial in propelling discourse, nurturing collaboration, and fostering a sense of shared responsibility. It is a venue for celebrating diversity in all its shapes and forms: of thought, of approaches, of beliefs, of politics. It has captured the age-old Indian premise that within us all lies a desire and power to do good. Each view must be heard, and each suggestion must be considered. Pluralism, confabulation and heterogeneity is what makes us resilient and anti-fragile; and what drives the evolution of individuals and of societies. This is India’s own story as well; an enormous diversity that rests on a powerful timeless unity. or this reason, Raisina provides a rare opportunity for leaders and diplomats, scholars and policymakers, journalists and academics, teenagers and seasoned thinkers, business folks and civil society—to all come together to debate, deliberate, disagree, and discover shared futures and common pathways.

Pluralism, confabulation and heterogeneity is what makes us resilient and anti-fragile; and what drives the evolution of individuals and of societies.

On this occasion, we celebrate the Raisina Decade: a period during which the Dialogue has helped build regional partnerships and transcontinental collaborations, while responding to global challenges. For three days every year, it has brought a fractured and polarised world together. This volume chronicles this journey, and reflects on its unique strengths and attributes. And this is best done by bringing together how it is perceived by eminent participants from different parts of the world. These are the thoughts of those who have themselves experienced Raisina and have contributed ideas, who have listened and spoken there and who appreciate the difference it has made.

The Making of Raisina

The imperative of dialogue in polarised times is self-evident. And it has gained salience precisely because the promise of globalisation has been visibly broken. Most have lost faith in the once-inviting prospect of a world where different customs and cultures are welcomed, where different perspectives are appreciated, and where different interests are accepted. This came about because a few were able to ultimately control the process of globalisation at the expense of the many. Global realities were recast in the image of these narrow circles, to suit their interests and needs. What was meant to usher in a brave new world—more diverse and inclusive than the one before—became instead an instrument for manufacturing consent. This has prompted multiple pushbacks. Some intellectual and others political. Its cumulative result is apparent to all today when we see how the global landscape has fragmented.

The flipside of the predicament is the extraordinary concentrations of manufacturing technology and capabilities that emerged to partner these interests. With the passage of time, every aspect of this new dominance is being leveraged. So, it should not come as a surprise that global conversations have also felt its impact. Hierarchies and architectures that had receded with history have resurfaced. And along with them, a different form of discourse and messaging.

The guardians of the international order and the established multilateral frameworks repeat outdated mantras that lack credibility.

The influence on mindsets has also been profound. Anxieties about quality of life and reliability of supply chains have made many societies looking inward. Domestic priorities understandably prevail over international cooperation; individual interests supersede collective endeavours. Meanwhile, the guardians of the international order and the established multilateral frameworks repeat outdated mantras that lack credibility. The truth is that the self-appointed custodians of the world of today are divorced from its continuance. These original architects have also lost the wherewithal to convene all stakeholders and shapers. It was therefore important for new protagonists to step in, contribute and gather. This is why India, under the leadership of its Prime Minister, felt it necessary to invest in a global arena for ideation and deliberation. At the Raisina Dialogue, panels are hosted by leaders in politics, business, media, and civil society. Heads of state and foreign ministers sit next to aspiring engineers and business studies graduates. It is a space where the East and the West, the North and the South, and countless regional competitors can—and do—share a stage. Patience is prioritised over polemic, understanding over assertion, and balance over subjectivity. It is a truly global public square with an Indian postal code.

Offering an India Way

This year, while the world gathers in India for the Raisina Dialogue 2024, the relevance of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family) is increasingly evident. In today’s fractured world, this mantra is a sorely-needed acknowledgement of the inherent unity of humankind and the impact we have on each other. In this context, the India Story resonates in many corners of the globe because of the similarity of problems and the viability of solutions. The deep and persistent development challenges India is addressing offer a template of action for others to adopt and adapt. It is incumbent on India to be generous with sharing its journey, its experiences and learning, its struggles and solutions.

Through its G20 Presidency, India shared with the world a credible synthesis of nationalism and internationalism. This was based on the conviction that a major nation which effectively addresses the needs of its people can only serve humankind better. Certainly, that has been the case with India, whether we think of it as a First Responder, a Pharmacy of the World, an example of Digital Delivery, a source of trusted talent as well as an innovator, manufacturer and a supply chain link. In each case, progress at home was reflected in greater contributions abroad. By ascending the global economic hierarchy with a view to emerge as third by 2028, India is not only transforming the most populous society but also becoming an additional engine of global growth. This is much needed in an era of fairer re-globalisation that is more focused on strategic autonomy. And the challenge of harmonising the local with the global is one that is addressed by drawing on India’s own heritage and outlook.

Every success and failure, every experience and innovation—have relevance for someone somewhere in the world. Raisina is a platform for such discourse, mirroring the innate pluralism of India.

The Raisina Dialogue reflects the conviction that our journeys must be open to all. It advocates an open architecture for governance, for policy, for story-telling. Every success and failure, every experience and innovation—have relevance for someone somewhere in the world. Raisina is a platform for such discourse, mirroring the innate pluralism of India. Consequently, its annual gathering is a meeting ground for a great variety of people, perspectives, and topics.

Why Bharat Matters

The change that we have witnessed in the last decade has not just been a quantitative expansion. This transformation has been one equally of thought processes, self-confidence and self-reliance. It draws on generations of heritage and culture, thereby creating greater self awareness about our identity. There is a greater seriousness too in realising visions and achieving goals. Not least, a clear sense of what we were and are is essential to decide where we want to go. Mediating effectively between tradition and technology has always been key to the quest for modernity. Today, the ability to delineate our own path and expanding our decisional space are characteristics of our progress. The combination of all of these has helped to make India much more Bharat.

Confronted with an uncertain world, this means drawing on our own experiences and arriving at our judgements in the search for solutions. Conflicting pulls and pressures will press us to take positions that may not always be in our best interest. They could be presented as global norms or natural choices. It is here that independent thinking arrived at through detailed discourse can make a difference. When it came to the Indo-Pacific, we embraced a strategic concept that is clearly to our benefit. And joined a mechanism that promoted both global good and national interest. That such steps were a departure from the past was not a discouragement. Similarly, when it came to the Ukraine conflict, we articulated the concerns of a large part of the world on its economic consequences. By contesting a narrative that served a particular region, we were also able to soften the impact on our own people. Bharat means having the courage to be contrary when needed, contributive when required, and confident at all times.

Confronted with an uncertain world, this means drawing on our own experiences and arriving at our judgements in the search for solutions.

Raisina is the venue where such conversations happen. It is the living, dynamic bridge where the world comes to understand us, and where we communicate with the world. Raisina is the vehicle for this dialogue, where the world absorbs Bharat and Bharat in turn shapes the world.

The Raisina Dialectic

The Raisina Dialogue stands out currently as a broad-based forum that engages freely in debate, discussion, and disputation. The coming together of diverse perspectives in a productive collision often results in new insights and solutions. There are particular reasons for the energy and effervescence that characterises its activities. They emanate from its interdisciplinary nature, inclusive participation, equitable agenda and democratic ethos.

Raisina is designed to reap the dividends that flow from the interactions of different disciplines and methods of thinking. Such cross-sectoral discourse is of utmost importance for breaking down silos and enhancing understanding. Diplomats must speak to scholars and academics, while international relations thinkers should engage business leaders. It is common to see leaders in politics, business, media, and civil society share a stage for discussion. Rigid policy conversations are shaken up with the introduction of freer scholarly interventions. This holistic approach makes discussions more complete, more comprehensive, and ultimately more effective.

Inclusiveness is at the heart of the Raisina spirit. The Dialogue welcomes views from across the globe that have not found space in traditional and established arenas. It allows conversations of a different kind because the voices themselves are different: These are younger; they are more diverse; they are from geographies that are often ignored or from institutions which cannot break into the international pecking order. They are more representative of the way the world actually looks. As a result, Raisina becomes a place for discovering new talent, new ideas, new perspectives, new people. It acts a springboard, a gateway, an all-access pass for these new protagonists and narratives to be allowed entry into the traditional forums.

Diplomats must speak to scholars and academics, while international relations thinkers should engage business leaders.

Concerns of equity and fairness pervade the choice of topics for the panel discussions. Most international forums concern themselves with the first billion people of the world. Raisina is that exception where discussions focus on the interests of the next seven billion. Matters of food security are given as much prominence as the battles between tech platforms. Questions of regional development, energy access, public goods, and employment are as important as concerns of war and peace, anti-trust regulation, and the quest for the ideal liberal society. Past empires are now talking back and demanding their place at the table. The Global South has been noticeable in that regard, be it in its self-perception or its self-confidence. Raisina reflects this reality because it has consciously moved beyond privilege. It is not merely an active gathering but also a very contemporary one.

As a Dialogue that is greater than the sum of its parts, its conversations take place, not merely during the three days of the conference but also in the periods before and after. It is a zone where ideas are incubated; where solutions are assessed and reassessed; where visions clash, compete, contest, cooperate. New sentiments are articulated, and outdated perspectives discarded. Discussion is frank and usually honest; they could be provocative but are always constructive. Through its reputation and  impact, this approach is now becoming the new normal.

A Decade of Dialogue

As the Raisina Dialogue enters its tenth year, it is fair to say that we have come a great distance. What started as a hundred people in a room has become India’s premier conference and a forum of international note. This dialogue has captured global imagination precisely because it happens to be in a New India.

The success of Raisina has also been driven by the support, leadership, and commitment of the Indian Government. The Prime Minister himself has made it a point to be present at each inaugural session of the Dialogue since its second edition in 2017 and has delivered an address once in-person and once virtually. By attending the Dialogue but foregoing the microphone, the Prime Minister has reminded the world that many times, to listen is more important than to speak. He has elevated the act of being in a Raisina audience as learning from other experiences, grappling with other perspectives, absorbing the vantage points that others have brought. He has personally demolished the hierarchy between the speaking class on the one hand and the audience members on the other. Raisina is as much about being a listener as it is about being a speaker. It is a reminder that every idea demands careful consideration, that debate is the food for life itself. Where difference is never shunned because it is the basis of working harder to come together.

The Prime Minister himself has made it a point to be present at each inaugural session of the Dialogue since its second edition in 2017 and has delivered an address once in-person and once virtually.

To commemorate a decade of dialogue, this volume brings together essays written by eminent voices from across the world as well as speeches delivered at Raisina by world leaders and heads of states.

Raisina Chronicles opens with a Foreword by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Prime Minister of Greece. Greece and India, both ancient cradles of democracy, are discovering each other again in the 21st century. Mr. Mitsotakis advocates for open discussion as a means to bridge global divisions, proposing the integration of the Indo-Pacific and the Mediterranean as a path towards greater global unity and cooperation.

In her essay, Mette Frederiksen, Prime Minister of Denmark, discusses the interconnected crises facing the planet, encompassing climate, environment, health, and military conflicts. In such a world, the India-Denmark Green Strategic Partnership exemplifies successful collaboration, addressing climate goals and creating a model for global impact. She stresses the importance of global cooperation and of reinvigorating our commitment to tackle shared challenges. In the next piece, Tanja Fajon, Deputy Prime Minister of Slovenia, reflects on the 2023 Raisina Dialogue, praising its diverse discussions on global challenges. She discusses the urgent need for international cooperation, advocating effective multilateralism and UN reform. Lauding the inclusion of youth and women in Raisina discussions, she expresses optimism about India-Slovenia cooperation.

Penny Wong, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, stresses the importance of forums like Raisina for strategic thinking amidst escalating security challenges. She underscores Australia’s partnership with India, citing shared history and the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, praising collaborative efforts in economic, climate, and educational initiatives.

In his essay, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Minister of Foreign Affairs in Saudi Arabia, writes about the deep-rooted cultural ties between India and the Arab world, which have now evolved into a robust strategic partnership. Trade relations have flourished, with India being the Kingdom’s second-largest trading partner. He is confident that the Saudi-Indian partnership promises a prosperous future for both nations. Kwame Owino, CEO of the Institute of Economic Affairs, and Jackline Kagume, Constitution, Law and Economy Programme head at IEA, emphasize the African Union’s (AU) admission to the G20 as a significant step for global economic governance. They highlight the AU’s potential for pushing for global institution reforms in an effort to counteract the trend of de-globalization.

Chairman of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, Tadashi Maeda touches upon India’s economic growth, its partnership with Japan, and the significance of the Indo-Pacific region. He stresses enhanced India-Japan cooperation amidst global challenges. Admiral Sir Antony Radakin, the Chief of the Defence Staff of the United Kingdom (U.K.), explores the changing dynamics between the U.K. and India in the 2020s and highlights the U.K.’s interest in the Indo-Pacific; to expanding partnerships in maritime, air, and land security; and to promoting defence collaboration with India.

Advocates for targeted strategies to increase the representation of women in leadership, highlighting the systematic barriers and biases women face in entering senior finance roles.

Nitya Mohan Khemka, director of PATH and lecturer at the University of Cambridge, advocates for targeted strategies to increase the representation of women in leadership, highlighting the systematic barriers and biases women face in entering senior finance roles. She concludes: women leading development banks is not just about gender equality but also crucial for efficient and effective development financing. Camila dos Santos, International Relations Advisor at Rio de Janeiro City Hall, discusses the crucial role of addressing gender inequality at the G20 summit, paying particular focus to the disproportionate burden of unpaid domestic and caregiving work borne by women, especially those from marginalized groups. The imperative for comprehensive public policies in support of caregiving is foregrounded.

Admiral John Aquilino, the Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, reflects on the significant impact of the Raisina Dialogue in shaping multilateral engagements, particularly in advancing the U.S.-India relationship. According to him, Raisina has played a crucial role in fostering collaboration, leading to milestones such as the Quad’s revival and defense agreements between the two nations. A Raisina regular, General Angus Campbell, Chief of the Defence Force of Australia, and Greg Moriarty, Secretary of the Department of Defence of Australia, emphasise the deepening defense and security partnership between India and Australia and highlight India’s pivotal role in Australia’s strategic vision for the Indo-Pacific. General Yamazaki Koji, former Chief of the Joint Staff of the Japan Self-Defense Force, praises the Raisina Dialogue for its role as an ‘ideas arena’ and emphasises the deepening Japan-India defense cooperation with the end of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.

In their piece, Rosa Balfour and Zakaria Al Shmaly, director of and research analyst at Carnegie Europe respectively, argue that the European Union’s foreign policy reflects double standards, that the Global South’s perception of the EU stands in contrast to the EU’s self-perception, and the EU needs to reform policies to improve its engagement with the Global South. Anirban Sarma, Deputy Director at the Observer Research Foundation, makes the case that India has, over its G20 Presidency, raised a significant level of awareness about digital public infrastructure (DPI) and its transformative potential for financial inclusion and tech-enabled development. He argues that India’s DPI model, the India Stack, has revolutionised public service elivery and serves as a framework whose appeal transcends the Global South.

Amrita Narlikar, President and Professor at German Institute for Global and Area Studies, argues for preserving globalisation by fundamentally rethinking its direction and scale, highlighting its benefits and inherent problems. She critiques the current model’s security, sustainability, and ownership deficits, and proposes “The Bharat Way” as a path towards a more secure, inclusive, and sustainable globalisation.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister of Sweden, addresses geopolitical tensions, emphasises the need for global trade agreements, and explores the impact of new technologies, climate change, and global health challenges. He highlights India’s influential role in global discourse, with the Raisina Dialogue serving as a vital platform for fostering diverse perspectives on pressing issues. Scott Morrison, former Prime Minister of Australia, refers to the enduring friendship between Australia and India. Reflecting on the Raisina Dialogue, he underscores the importance of appreciating India’s perspective and aligning Western strategic outlooks with India’s role as a leader in the Global South. Marcelo Ebrard, former Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, shares thoughts on the growing importance of the Asia-Pacific region, particularly India, with whom Mexico has strengthened diplomatic relations over 70 years. He praises the Raisina Dialogue for addressing global challenges and promoting dialogue, inclusion, and lasting solutions.

Mohammed Soliman, director of the Strategic Technologies and Cyber Security Program at the Middle East Institute, analyses the Middle East’s complex dynamics, juxtaposing the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict with the stability offered by the Abraham Accords and other minilateral formats.

David Petraeus, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, looks at Raisina as a metaphor for India. He argues that the dialogue encapsulates India’s complex stance, embracing both Quad and BRICS affiliations, reflecting its unique role and evolving identity. As India grows in influence, the Raisina Dialogue becomes an increasingly important global gathering.

And finally, concluding the Raisina Chronicles, is former Prime Minister of Canada Stephen J. Harper, with an essay titled, “India Takes Its Rightful Place in an Evolving Global Order”. Mr. Harper highlights India’s significant global role, emphasising its influence on Indo-Pacific stability, SDG progress, global democracy, and climate change. He commends the Raisina Dialogue as a vital platform showcasing India’s confidence and significance in an evolving world order.

The Raisina Chronicles is not just a compilation of contributions from eminent leaders to mark a decade of dialoguing at Raisina Hill; it is also a report card of a decade of world affairs. The original Essays and selected Addresses delivered at the Dialogue in this publication collectively offer some crucial insights. First, that a dialogue out of India matters, because it brings a unique capability and commitment to the imperative of discussions and deliberations. Second, Raisina’s journey is a reflection of Bharat’s emergence. And as its engagement with the world evolves, we at the Dialogue will have to continue to innovate and upgrade. Finally, now that the Dialogue is a global good in the assessment of many, it will have to enter the second decade of its existence more aware of its wider responsibility.

Read the full volume here.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


S. Jaishankar

S. Jaishankar

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Samir Saran

Samir Saran

Samir Saran is the President of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), India’s premier think tank, headquartered in New Delhi with affiliates in North America and ...

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