UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) – India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his UN debut Saturday presented a worldview shaped by ancient tradition, promoting multilateralism as well as yoga.
Modi, a Hindu nationalist who swept to power earlier this year, addressed the United Nations at the start of a visit to the United States, which is eager to court him after shunning the right-wing leader for a decade.
Unlike most Indian officials at international meetings, Modi addressed the UN General Assembly in Hindi instead of English and delivered a speech rich in spiritual overtones.
“Every nation’s worldview is shaped by its civilisation and philosophical tradition. India’s ancient wisdom sees the world as one family,” said Modi, dressed in a crisp black Jodhpuri jacket.
“It is this timeless current of thought that gives India an unwavering belief in multilateralism.”
The prime minister has in the past called for strong relations with the United States, a fellow democracy with similar concerns over extremism and the rise of China.
But India has historically resisted alliances, and Modi renewed calls for a permanent Security Council seat in a reformed United Nations.
The Indian leader did not come in time for a UN summit Monday on climate change and in his speech did not announce any new commitments on reducing carbon emissions.
But he touched on climate change, saying that yoga – “an invaluable gift of our ancient tradition” – would help address the problem. He called for the United Nations to consider an international day of yoga.
Yoga “is not about exercise but discovering the sense of oneness within yourself, the world and nature,” said Modi, who as a young man wandered the Himalayas on a spiritual quest.
On the other hand, Indian officials said that Modi would not meet in New York with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who in his own UN speech on Friday urged negotiations on Kashmir and said that the Himalayan territory divided between the rival nuclear powers was “the responsibility of the international community”.
Modi said he supported dialogue with Pakistan but questioned Sharif’s manner in bringing up the issue at the United Nations, “By raising this, I don’t know how serious our effort will be, and some people are doubtful.”
Before taking office, Modi had been hawkish on Pakistan, and he surprised many observers by inviting Sharif to his inauguration in May to promote peace. But India in August cancelled high-level talks to protest Pakistan’s outreach to Kashmiri separatists.