African Union gets rightful place on global high table as India pounds its G20 presidential gavel.
That India will emerge as the resonant voice of the Global South during its rotational presidency of G20 was evident since January when it hosted a virtual interaction called Voice of the Global South. In the run up to the summit, which began on Saturday, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and India’s Sherpa, Amitabh Kant, had left no one in doubt that India will use its presidency to cannonade opinions culled from 120 nations during this virtual summit. As world leaders congregated at New Delhi’s newest magnificent architectural delight, Bharat Mandapam International Exhibition-Convention Centre (IECC), at Pragati Maidan, Narendra Modi changed the very paradigm of this 2008-vintage international forum by using his opening remarks to invite the 55-nation-strong African Union to be a permanent member of the world’s high table. As Modi banged the G20 presidential gravel thrice, S. Jaishankar walked up to Comorian statesman Azali Assoumani and invited him to join the dais. Amid applause President of the African Union took his seat. Ensuring African Union its rightful place in the comity of nations, G20 emerged as G21.
Narendra Modi’s “tweet” on X reflected the glory of the historic moment: “Honoured to welcome the African Union as a permanent member of the G20 Family. This will strengthen the G20 and also strengthen the voice of the Global South.”
So far, the 27-member European Union (EU) was the 20th member of the 19-nation grouping, which is holding its 18th meeting in New Delhi. EU represents the erstwhile colonial powers of the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. India’s struggle for freedom acted as a beacon and post 1947 nations in Africa one by one sought and attained self rule. African Union, which represents these hitherto oppressed nations, now sits on the high table alongside EU, with equal rights.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi initiated the fight against Apartheid in Africa. By pounding his G20 gravel Narendra Damodardas Modi took the Mahatma’s struggle for equal rights to all humanity to its logical, triumphant, culmination.
Landing in India to attend the summit, UK’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak commented that India was the “right country at the right time” to chair G20. The efficacy of this applause was evident in the opening minutes of the inaugural session itself. The names of participating nations were placed before the dignitaries. The country plate placed before Modi stated, “Bharat”. Thus not only the paradigm of G20 was undergoing a change. India’s new, vibrant foreign policy was also showcased effectively. The New Delhi summit is also a proud moment for India. As Modi received the participants one by one, among those who shook hands with him and entered the venue were two Persons of Indian Origin—Rishi Sunak, and IMF & World Bank President, Ajay Banga. Truly India’s moment had arrived.
Modi’s personal chemistry with each of the participants was in evidence as he received the guests. President Joe Biden spent an extra minute to understand the nuance of the Konarak “chakra” which formed the backdrop of the reception point. Prime Minister of China, Li Qiang exuded warmth. So did Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. Ditto for each of the arriving dignitaries. On Saturday, Modi had used “X” to extend greetings to the guests individually. Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina was welcomed in Bangla. Indonesia’s Joko Widido, from whom Modi had received the G20 gavel at Jakarta last September, was greeted in Bahasa Indonesia. As Rishi Sunak arrived, his minister in waiting, Ashwini Choube greeted, “Jai Siya Ram”—Sunak, who had voiced this greeting at a function at a function in Cambridge University recently, warmly reciprocated. Similar personal touch marked the reception of each of the dignitaries as they arrived for the summit.
Domestically, the Modi government used the run-up to the 9-10 September summit to create a buzz around G20. BJP’s political machinery augmented the governmental effort. This weekend, what we are seeing is the spectacle of the G20 being essentially made a national extravaganza. Over 200 meetings were held in many, many cities—over 56 cities in India. Not only New Delhi, each of these 56 venues were spruced up to host G20 events. Never before has an international event been used to bolster infrastructure across the country. Not only has India’s rotational presidency been used to cascade the voice of the Global South, but also made an event to remember in resurgent India. The ordinary Indian has been given the pride of being host of G20.
On the eve of the summit Modi used the Prime Minister’s residence at 7 Lok Kalyan Marg (LKM) to host bilateral meetings. He met India’s favoured neighbour Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina and India’s coveted Indian Ocean Region partner Mauritius’ Pravind Jugnauth at 7 LKM before receiving President Joe Biden for a crucial bilateral meeting and hosting an exclusive dinner for him. Hitherto, Hyderabad House used to be venue for such interaction.
Not only changing the nomenclature of India to Bharat, the use of LKM for bilateral meetings marked the serenading of India’s new foreign policy outreach. Emergence of G21 thus became a watershed in history.