PM Modi in UAE: Keynote speech at global summit outlines ways to end corruption and social division

Speaking at the World Government Summit (WGS) in Dubai today, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of the ways in which governments could meet emerging and existing challenges by ensuring social and financial inclusion.

Narendra Modi in Dubai
UAE Vice-President and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the World Government Summit in Dubai on February 14, 2024. Photo courtesy: X/@narendramodi

“The question that faces every government today is: what approach should it take to move forward?” said PM Modi, somewhere in the middle of his speech. “I believe, today, the world needs governments that are inclusive, that can take everyone along.”

Speaking for just over 20 minutes in Hindi peppered with a few English words, the Indian prime minister told the WGS gathering, “Today, the world needs governments that are smart, that can use technology as the medium for big changes, that are clean, far away from corruption, and transparent.”

Modi is on a two-day trip to the United Arab Emirates, where he has already held bilateral talks with the UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler of Abu Dhabi, and attended the ‘Ahlan Modi’ expat event in Abu Dhabi yesterday.

In Dubai, he was received at the World Government Summit venue by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President, Prime Minister and Defence Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Besides delivering a special keynote address at the WGS today, the prime minister’s schedule includes attending the inauguration of BAPS Hindu Mandir Abu Dhabi. Following this, he leaves for Doha, the capital of Qatar.

Great platform for bringing together thought leaders

At the beginning of his speech, Modi said that it was a great honour for him to be delivering a keynote address at the WGS. He also said that this was the second time that he had the “good fortune” of speaking at this summit.

He thanked “His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum for the invitation [to the summit] and the warm welcome”. He also thanked his “brother, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan”, whom he described as “not only a leader of vision, but also a leader of resolve and leader of commitment”.

“Friends, the World Government Summit serves as a great platform for bringing together all the thought leaders of the world,” said Modi. For this, the “visionary leadership” of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid played a very big role, he added.

He referred to Dubai as the “epicentre” of global economy, commerce, and technology. Overcoming COVID-19 to organise Expo 2020 Dubai and the more recent COP28 were great examples of the “Dubai story”, he added.

Technology as the key disruptor in today’s world

Congratulating the UAE leaders, PM Modi moved on to the main points of his keynote address.

He said, “In this 21st century, on one hand, the world is moving towards modernity, and on the other hand, the challenges of the past centuries are also intensifying.”

Be it food security, health security, water security, energy security, education, and making society inclusive, “every government has many responsibilities towards the citizens”.

In this scenario, technology of every kind, be it negative or positive, was proving to be a “key disruptor”, said Modi.

The main challenges in today’s world were terrorism “in various forms” and climate change, said the prime minister, citing domestic concerns and hampered international systems.

Here, Modi asked the rhetorical question of government approach, adding that the answer was to be “inclusive”; then he outlined what governments today needed to be.

“Today, the world needs governments that are green, that are serious about the challenges related to the environment.”

“Today, the world needs governments that prioritise ease of living, ease of justice, ease of mobility, ease of innovation, and ease of doing business.”

Increased trust in the Government of India

Speaking of his own experience as a head of government, Modi said that he had been in this position for 23 years — of that, 13 years was as the chief minister of Gujarat, and then 10 years of serving India as the prime minister.

In his characteristic style of oration, he said, “Mai maanta hoon, ke sarkar ka abhav bhi nahi hona chahiye, sarkar ka dabao bhi nahi hona chahiye (I believe, there should not be an absence of government, and there should also not be any pressure from the government).”

Explaining what he meant, PM Modi said, “I believe that government intervention in people’s lives should be minimal, and ensuring this is also the government’s job.”

During the pandemic, however, governments around the world were under immense pressure to contain the infections, keep the economies going, and support people in many ways. Referring to this period and how the Government of India fared, Modi said, “We keep hearing that after COVID, there is an erosion of trust in governments around the world. But in India, what we have seen is completely the opposite sentiment.”

“Over the past few years, public trust in the Government of India has been strengthened. People fully trust our government’s intent and commitment,” the prime minister told the WGS audience.

“How did this happen?” he asked. “[It happened] because we prioritised the thoughts of the people in our governance…. We have focused on fulfilling the needs of the people and realising the dreams of the people.”

Social and financial inclusion at the forefront

Looking at the arc of his leadership at the state and the national level, the prime minister said, “In these 23 years [of heading governments], my biggest decision has been ‘minimum goverment, maximum governance’. I have always emphasised on creating an environment that enhances the spirit of enterprise and energy in citizens.”

In order to achieve this, “along with a ‘top down and bottom up’ approach, we have also taken a ‘whole of society’ approach”.

This holistic approach, said Modi, brought to the fore people’s participation. “Our effort has always been that any project started by the government would, over time, have its reins take over by the people.”

Sanitation, education for girls, and digital literacy were some of the national drives whose success had been ensured by people’s participation. “Social and financial inclusion has been at the forefront of our governance,” he said.

Increasing the banking base in India has been a key component of this inclusive approach.

“More than 50 crore (500 million) unbanked people have been brought into banking. We undertook a great campaign to make them aware. This is why, today, India is so advanced in fintech and digital payments,” said the prime minister.

Also, “support for women-led development has enabled the financial, social, and political empowerment of Indian women”.

For the Indian youth, he said, there were skill development programmes that would soon make India the third-largest startup ecosystem in the world.

Government itself will reach all the beneficiaries

Citing the current Government of India slogan “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas (With the participation of everyone, development for everyone)”, Modi said that his administration reinforced “last-mile delivery” and “saturation”.

This meant, he said, “no eligible beneficiary should miss out on the benefits of government schemes and the government itself will reach the beneficiary”.

Emphasising on how this ensured equitable distribution of government aid, the prime minister said, “This model of governance ends the possibility of [social] division and corruption.”

He added that according to a study, in the past 10 years, India had lifted 250 million people out of poverty, and this governance model had a major role in this development. “When a government prioritises efficiency, that delivers results, and India is an example of that,” he said.

To highlight how digitalisation was the medium of development, Modi said, “Today, more than 130 crore (1.3 billion) people in India have a digital identity. This digital identity interconnects their bank accounts and mobile phones.

“This digitalisation has enabled the system of direct benefit transfer (DBT) to people. And through DBT, the Government of India has, in the past 10 years, transferred more than USD 400 billion directly to people’s bank accounts.

“This has rooted out the huge risk of corruption. By doing this, we have also saved USD 33 billion of the country’s money from falling into the wrong hands.”

India shows the world the way to ‘Mission Life’

Modi then moved to the subject of climate change, and said that India had its own approach of mitigation: “Today, along with solar, wind, and hydro[-electric power], India is also working on biofuels and green hydrogen.”

“Our culture teaches us that whatever we have taken from nature, we must also try to return,” said Modi.

“This is why India has shown a new path to the world, and walking on this path can greatly aid the environment. This is the road of ‘Mission Life’, meaning ‘Lifestyle for the Environment’. This mission shows the way to [becoming] ‘pro-planet people.’”

The prime minister said that he had been observing the workings of the carbon credit system, but that now it was time to move forward and think about “green credit”. He said that he had discussed the green credit system in detail while attending COP28 in Dubai. The event was held in December 2023.

Questions for governments and their answers

In a world that holds so many possibilities and yet presents so many hurdles, how can governments get it all right? Modi said, “When we look at the future, every government faces many questions.” He spelt them out:

“How do we create a balance between our national sovereignty and international interdependence?”

“How do we remain committed to the international rule of law while working in our national interest?”

“How do we maximise our contribution to the global good while expanding our national progress?”

“How do we enrich universal values while taking the wisdom of our culture and tradition?”

“How do we protect society from the harmful impact of digital technology while utilising its benefits?”

“How do we counter terrorism in a united manner while working for world peace?”

“When we are transforming our own nation(s), then should we not have reforms in global governance institutions?”

Modi then said, “Many such questions confront us. Keeping these questions in mind, we must set the directions for our governments and have future planning.”

As with inclusivity at the national level, this future planning should enable inclusivity at the global level, too. The prime minister said, “We must together promote the values of a cohesive, co-operative, and collaborative world.”

G20 signage in India
G20 signage in Madhya Pradesh, central India, during the year when India had the presidency of the global forum. Photo courtesy: X/@G20Updates

Stressing upon the need to acknowledge the views and concerns of the global South, he said, “We must take into account the concerns of the developing world and promote the participation of the global South in global decision-making. We must listen to the voice of the global South and bring its priorities to the forefront.

“We must share our resources and our capabilities with the countries that need them.

“We must make global protocols to deal with the emerging challenges of Artificial Intelligence, cryptocurrency, and cyber-crimes.

“We must respect international law while prioritising national sovereignty.”

Guided by these thoughts, governments could not only meet the challenges they faced, but could also strengthen their global relationships, said Modi.

“This is how India is moving forward, in its role as a vishwabandhu (friend to the world),” said the prime minister. “During our G20 presidency, this is the thought we advanced. ‘One earth, one family, one future’ is the thought that guided us.”

In conclusion, Modi said, “Friends, we all have governance experience — we not only must work together, but we also must learn from each other. This is the goal of this summit. The solutions coming out of this will shape the future. With this confidence, I offer you my best wishes.”