India’s G20 Presidency: Tumultuous Present & Uncertain Future

Anil Trigunayat

On December 1, 2022, India assumed the presidency of the G20 for a year. Preparations and blueprint for making it somewhat different than the previous ones were already afoot as India played a critical role at the Bali Summit in bridging the differences on the Russia-Ukraine issue and helping issuance of the Bali Declaration that was being dogged by the geo politics between Russia and the West.

Earlier during the Saudi and Italian Presidencies also, it played a vital role as the world especially the developing ones were facing the wrath of the Corona Virus. Even under India’s current presidency the Russia -Ukraine war will continue to impact on global well-being since the weaponization of financial instruments, energy, food, and fertilizer have become the new tools of global subjugation as the world faces exceptional challenges. 3Fs crisis is taking its toll on the global economy and well-being of the developing countries and underdeveloped economies let alone the rich ones.

The resurgence of the covid pandemic, especially in China, may have a devastating impact yet again on the global economy which the G20 has to tackle upfront since the threat of recession among major western nations is becoming a stark reality. India remains a beacon of hope with robust economic growth and soon become the most populous country in the world. Therefore, as India aims at finding ways to reduce the conflicts through diplomacy and enhance collaboration through mutually beneficial initiatives and projects via consensus and be the voice and custodian of the interests of the ‘Global South’ it will have a unique opportunity to redefine the global order which is in a flux and uncertain transition.

One of the first objectives that Prime Minister Modi set was to define Indian Presidency as being driven by ‘Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam’  entailing ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future‘ through an inclusive, ambitious, decisive, and action-oriented approach.  India has always looked at the world as one family and has always risen to global challenges by providing her own contributions to global good and commons which was clearly evident during the fight against the pandemic. This concept has been alien to many who believed in using their advantage to enhance their geo-political footprint rather than help humanity. 

To counter the negative impacts of the conflicts and wars, India is seeking to  depoliticize the global commons. PM Modi in his Op-ed underscored that ‘ For promoting harmony within the human family, we will seek to depoliticize the global supply of food, fertilizers, and medical products so that geopolitical tensions do not lead to humanitarian crises… through healing, harmony and hope ”.

Climate Change is a clear and present danger for the survival of humanity as the wars and geopolitics have further accentuated the race to the bottom. It needs a concerted fight that is missing. Trusteeship of nature is a must that is implicit in Indian ethos and mindset for centuries. India‘s launch of the International Solar Alliance along with France and its quest for green finance, green technologies and the fight against ‘Green Apartheid’ are the key to saving the world. But the sense of ownership over natural resources is also giving rise to conflict today and has become the main cause of the plight of the environment.

For the safe future of the planet, the sense of trusteeship is the solution. LIFE i.e. ‘Lifestyle for Environment’ campaign can make a big contribution to this. Its purpose is to make sustainable lifestyles a mass movement, PM Modi added. India intends to work jointly with other G20 partners and a dozen other important invitees to the Summit. Scores of meetings are planned across India as the G20 is becoming a pedestal for showcasing India’s rich culture and heritage to the world.

In the digital domain and knowledge economy also India has acquired and acknowledged global leadership. Data is said to be the new Gold or Oil hence competition for its ownership is immense.  But for India, the principle of “Data for development” will be an integral part of the overall theme of her Presidency. PM Modi underlined that India’s experience of the past few years has shown that if we make digital architecture inclusive, it can bring about socioeconomic transformation. Digital use can bring scale and speed. Transparency can be brought in governance. India has developed digital public goods whose basic architecture has in-built democratic principles so very necessary for the AI driven Industrial revolution 4.0.

These solutions are based on open source, open APIs, and open standards, which are interoperable and public goods. India, having become a knowledge economy and IT superpower has the requisite heft to make digital public goods a reality with the G20 partners, even though it is an uphill task given the protectionist nature of the presently divisive international discourse and the unwillingness of the rich countries to go the extra mile. India‘s economic and democratic dividends and experiences in digital outreach and inclusion could help alleviate the situation and craft the way forward.

India’s principled position and strategic autonomy on the unfortunate Russia-Ukraine war and on the seething Afghanistan crisis, while it was in the UNSC as a non-permanent member and thereafter, for peace, dialogue, diplomacy and respect for UN Charter, sovereignty and territorial integrity have remained consistent and value-based while serving her own national interests.

Despite the Galwan and Tawang incidents and border tensions with hegemonistic China, New Delhi has preferred the route to diplomacy and dialogue to resolve the bilateral issues with Beijing, while urging and advocating respect for rule of law and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere. Do as you preach is the dictum India follows.

The G20, representing 85% of global GDP, 2/3rd of the world’s population, and 75% of trade, has emerged as a major instrument of global decision-making while regrettably, the UN‘s role is becoming stunted and archaic. UN and other allied multilateral institutions, without fundamental reforms, may become only a talk shop and anachronistic to meet global challenges of a newer as well as the older kind. Lamenting about issues only is no response.

Therefore, for India, which has been a part of G7+, for several years now and also part of cross-cutting important plurilateral like QUAD, BRICS, SCO, I2U2  and RIC, etc., the G20 Presidency provides an opportunity to change the global narrative and to steer the vitriolic and selfish approaches of the majority towards a benign and welfare oriented inclusive international effort. It is indeed a major challenge since the major powers are infested with the Zero-sum mindset.

Again PM Modi urged in his op-ed “Can we catalyze a fundamental mindset shift to benefit humanity as a whole “.  It will be a task cut out as India will reassemble the G20 in totality despite the ongoing Eurasian conflict and Sino-US tensions let alone India’s own challenges in her neighborhood. And India is committed to just doing that.

In order to understand, ascertain and project the concerns of the developing world in this fractious global order, Prime Minister Modi convened a ‘Voice of Global South Summit’ with several focused themes to collectively shape the global agenda. He devised a four-pronged approach with the 4Rs -he announced India’s ‘global agenda’ with the four “R’s”: Respond, Recognise, Respect, and Reform.

‘To re-energize the world, we should together call for a global agenda of ‘Respond, Recognize, Respect and Reform’: Respond to the priorities of the Global South by framing an inclusive and balanced international agenda. Recognize that the ‘Common but Differentiated Responsibilities’ principle applies to all global challenges. Respect sovereignty of all nations, the rule of law and peaceful resolution of differences and disputes; and Reform international institutions, including the United Nations, to make them more relevant,” re-emphasized PM Modi at the Summit.

One of the key achievements for India could be to include more African nations in the G20 orbit and more importantly if it is able to persuade others to include Voice of Global South Summit as a permanent member converting G20 into G21 in this 21st century. In the futuristic global order, threatening to become a Cold War 2.0 scenario, if India is able to bridge the gap between the Haves and nots’ and enables a culture of strategic autonomy, multilateralism, inclusiveness and interdependence among the competing comity of nations to fight the global challenges through cooperation, that would indeed be the defining feature of India’s G20 leadership and beyond.

This article was first published in The India Observer as Trigs on Track : Diplomacy Unwound : India & the G20- Redefining the Global Order on Feb 1, 2023.

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