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External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that the perception of people living abroad had changed after seeing how India handled the COVID-19 pandemic and that the country’s lunar mission ‘Chandrayaan-3’ had a huge impact on Indians living abroad.

Addressing an event at Kirori Mal College today in Delhi, Mr Jaishankar noted that decisions made at home are keenly followed by the world. “We are the largest country in the world. We are the fifth largest economy, soon we’ll be the third. How we do at home is watched by everybody abroad. What decisions we make at home, is also very keenly followed by the world. So, if we are now in the coming weeks going to decide our future in whatever way we wish, it’s not just a conversation amongst ourselves. It’s a conversation or a discussion in which the other six billion people are also tuned in. These are all aspects of why Bharat matters,” he said.

The External Affairs Minister said that people around the world are fascinated by India’s technological feats. He called the Chandrayaan-3 mission and COVID management among the most impactful things done by India in the past 10 years.

He said, “Probably much more fascinating to the world are those technological feats that we do. I would say in the last 10 years, probably the most impactful thing we have done, other than COVID management, was going to the moon. The Chandrayaan-3 mission has had a huge impact on the perception of Indians abroad. And finally, as I said, a lot of it is about actually a country which can stand up for itself, for its interests, for its citizens, stand up to pressure, and in a sense, you know, radiate its persona and its culture.”

Speaking about India’s global image at present, Mr Jaishankar said that the perception of India changed after how India handled the COVID challenge. He noted that India started as a country of “great concern” and ended up as the “source of the greatest support.”

He said, “I do want to share with you as someone who travels a fair amount, what is our global image today. When we say why Bharat matters, at the end of the day, countries matter because there is a perception, there is a branding which has been created. I, from my own travel experiences, thought of six or seven key points today. When any of you go abroad or you meet someone from abroad, these are their perceptions of India.”

“One, I would say the dominant one is that this was a country which handled the COVID challenge exceptionally well. It started as the country of the greatest concern. It ended up as the source of the greatest support. And not only handled COVID, but they made the right decisions which enabled us today to become the fastest-growing economy, the largest economy in the world. Because do remember, a lot of countries today have still not recovered from the COVID. That their economic performance even today is still shaped very much by the shock and damage that they suffered during COVID,” Jaishankar said.

He also spoke about how India has been bringing its people back home when there is a war or any other emergency in another country. He talked about how Indian students were brought back to India under Operation Ganga. Jaishankar noted that many nations asked their citizens if they had to return to their country on their own.

Jaishankar said, “The second is how we secure our citizens of India. Believe me, that has got everybody’s attention in the world. You know, a lot of us rightly are very proud of how – I’ll give you an example of how we got our students out of Ukraine in Operation Ganga. As I said, rightly so. But I also want you to know that many countries told their students and their citizens, saying, sorry guys, there’s nothing I can do. You now have to figure out your way out.”

“And these were not developing countries. They were even developed countries, who told their people, you are on your own. So, this change which has come about, that any Indian travelling anywhere has that sense, that look, you know, sometimes people talk about, you know, there’s something called a passport index. And the passport index is based on how many places you don’t need a visa for,” he added.

Jaishankar emphasised that the Indian passport is looked at with greater respect and it shows that the government stands with the person carrying that passport. He said that the passport index should include who will come for a person when he or she is in trouble and the system which is willing to back you up when you go out and termed it the “real value of the passport.”

He noted, “To me, something is missing in that index. I would have put which passport are you carrying and who will come for you when you are in trouble. And believe me, if you put that factor in, you will get a very different passport index out there. Not getting a visa and having the ability to travel easily is just one part of it.”

“What happens when something goes wrong? Who will look after you? Who has a system which is ready to back you up when you go out? To me, that’s the real value of the passport. And if the Indian passport today is looked at with greater respect, as I said, one part of it is what you do at home. But the other is also that people know that this passport means that their government stands behind the person who’s carrying the passport,” he added.

Stressing that people abroad are fascinated by how things like the ration card system and election system work in India, Mr Jaishankar said, “The third is our performance at home. And I often share with my colleagues in the cabinet and the parliament that they think that when the foreign minister goes out of India, all the time we discuss foreign policy makes sense.”

“But in reality, actually people abroad are enormously fascinated by what we are doing at home for the rest of our lives. They want to know how your ration system works. How does your election system work? You know, how are you getting your gas cylinder? How are you getting your electricity connection? Why is it that it has changed because they have read all these stories,” he added.

Highlighting the infrastructure progress in India, he said that the Indian government has built 40 million houses and given them to people who have low incomes.

“We are speaking about Japan. Let me give you a number related to Japan. In the last 10 years, We have built 40 million houses and given them to people who are eligible given their low income. At 4.8 families, which is the average number in India, that means about 190 million people have got houses in the last 10 years. That’s one and a half times the population of Japan. Now when you tell somebody in Japan, you know, guess what, I’ve been housing one and a half times your size in the last ten years. They then actually get the scale of what is happening in this country. Then there is of course the infrastructure progress. I think we all live in this country, we can see it every day in different ways,” Mr Jaishankar said.

He stated that there is enormous interest in the world in investing in India, knowing in India and travelling in India and stressed that there are a lot of possibilities in India as the nation is globalising and creating a pathway by its talent and skill at home has access to a global workplace.