India has struck a balance between calling for immediate cessation of hostilities in Ukraine and protecting the country's own interests against the backdrop of fuel and food shortages, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Tuesday.
Addressing a discussion on the book '[email protected]: Dreams Meet Delivery' at Delhi University, Jaishankar said greater integration within South Asia can only happen if India takes the lead. Other countries in the region are looking up to India to take the lead and put up the resources for it, he added.
Comparing what is happening in Ukraine with situations in the Mahabharata that show life is very complex, and that not all choices are black and white, he said that India had adopted the "right course" since the crisis began in February. "The most urgent issue...is to prevent hostilities from escalating to a level where it only does harm," he said.
Like Lord Krishna, India has done everything to prevent war and to advocate a return to dialogue and diplomacy, he said. India also has to manage its historical and strategic interests that are at stake, as well as larger issues flowing out of the Ukraine crisis, such as fuel, food and fertiliser shortages, he added.
"When the global [citizen] is very deeply impacted by what is happening in a conflict, there the more sagacious [and] sober voices need to speak," he said, At the same time, India has to do what it has to do to protect its interests, he said.
Responding to a question on South Asia, Jaishankar said India is paying a lot of attention to the region because almost every country in the neighbourhood has a border with India, which is the biggest economy and polity, and also the most connected.
"I believe, and I know this is the prime minister's conviction very strongly, the initiative [and] the responsibility of actually creating a region in South Asia rests a lot with us. If we take the initiative, if we push it, it will happen. If we don't, it won't happen. Obviously, we need the others, that goes without saying," he said.
Other countries in South Asia are looking towards India "to make a move" and to "put up the resources", he said. India's 'Neighbourhood First' policy is aimed at treating the region differently. "Don't be reciprocal, you're the bigger guy, you should be the large-hearted guy, you should be generous," he said.
As part of efforts to overcome the damage done by Partition, India is focused on building up connectivity through roads, bridges, tunnels, waterways and energy links. Noting that India had come forward to help Sri Lanka cope with an economic crisis, he said India is now perceived as a "lifting tide which is able to lift the entire neighbourhood".
"We are among the least connected regions of the world and we are losing out because of that. The prime minister is absolutely determined to transform this and he ranks it very high in his priorities," Jaishankar said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's efforts to change India's image and to engage with the leadership of West Asian countries helped deal with the fallout of controversial remarks on Prophet Muhammed by two former BJP spokespersons, he said.
"When we asserted that what was said did not reflect the views of the party...and many of [the countries] took it up with ambassadors [and] the ambassadors pointed that out, I think they accepted that," he said. A lot of West Asia had said that "we regret what was said and we have also noted what...the BJP has clarified", he added.