Instead of seeking to dominate a hierarchical order of nations, as has been the practice by several past and present Great Powers, Prime Minister Modi puts emphasis on the equality of nations.
BENGALURU: Until 1 December 2022, the day India assumed the Presidency of the G-20, that role had not figured among the consequential pieces in the global diplomatic chessboard. In part, the reason was that the G-7 had visualized the G-20 as a vehicle for the proselytisation of its own views amongst countries that had begun to matter in global discourse and decision-making. Faster economic growth within many of the 12 other countries within the G-20 was steadily giving parity to the Global South. These days, the “South” as commonly defined has begun surpassing the “North” where overall economic indicators are concerned, so much so that it is no longer accurate to classify the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as part of the Global South. Now that it has joined the United States in the ranks of the superpowers, the tag of “developing country” that China holds on to has become incongruous, almost as though Microsoft’s Bill Gates or Infosys’ Narayana Murthy were to pass themselves off as middle class. Within Asia, there has been a significant expansion in the imprint of India consequent to the formation of a majority government in 2014 under Narendra Modi. So much so that the often-used term “South Asia”, which denotes India and its immediate neighbours, needs to be replaced with the term “Southern Asia”. Such an arc would comprise the Middle East, Iran, India and its “South Asian” neighbours, as well as ASEAN. Within the arc of Southern Asia, India has emerged as the most consequential power, followed by Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, in that order.
Across this grouping, the policy of the PRC has been to position itself as still being in the Global South, and hence as the leader of this collective of nations. Principal attention is being paid by the PRC to the whole of Southern Asia, from the Middle East to ASEAN, where CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping has sought to assume a position of effective dominance camouflaged by honeyed expressions. The irony of the world’s second superpower seeking to promote itself as just another developing country has been deliberately ignored by the CCP leadership. Another trait is to regard international and bilateral covenants as binding only on the other side and not on the PRC itself. An example is the manner in which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) spokesperson claimed in Beijing that the latest (18th) iteration of the Yudh Abhyas military exercises between the US and India “violated the 1993 and 1996 border management agreements between Delhi and Beijing”. It was not simply the fact that the military exercises did not violate either the 1993 or the 1996 agreements, something that was ignored by the MoFA spokesperson. Even more egregious (albeit typical) was that the Communist Chinese side has been a serial violator of both the pacts it mentioned, most recently witnessed in the refusal of the PLA to return to the line between the two sides that prevailed prior to the incursions during 2020-21 that were made by Chinese forces across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) separating Chinese from Indian forces. There has even been an effort by the Chinese side to give themselves a veto over India-US relations, an unacceptable demand thus far not noticed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken but pushed back hard against by Indian External Affairs Minister Subramanyam Jaishankar in his trademark manner.
What is clearly intended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, now presiding over the G-20, is for the year-long platform of the Indian Presidency of the G-20 to be utilised to:
(a) showcase among other G-20 members the core elements in the 21st century foreign policy construct designed by Prime Minister Modi and ably put into operation by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. The shock waves created across the world by the Ukraine conflict illustrates the wisdom of the course that had been suggested by the Prime Minister of India in March 2022 itself. Although there was substantial initial hostility to Delhi’s stand of principled objectivity, events have shown that the advice given to Ukraine to have a ceasefire with the Russian Federation before further damage was done to the country would have been a wiser course to follow by both Kiev as well as NATO rather than ramping up a conflict in which Ukraine and its people are paying a terrible price. This cost is apart from the economic and other consequences, especially to the poorest countries of the globe, of the fallout of the proxy war being waged by NATO against the Russian Federation.
(b) Modi understands that a people must have confidence in themselves and a belief in their destiny, if they are to attempt to excel. Over the next year, his intention is to use the G-20 platform to showcase the reality that India has finally emerged as one of the four Great Powers of the globe, alongside China, Russia and the US. The corollary of such self-knowledge would be for the 1.4 billion citizens of the world’s most populous democracy to each try and do the best they can to enhance their own roster of achievements. Although the Union Jack was replaced on 15 August 1947 from the cupola of Rashtrapati Bhavan, vestiges of the colonial complex still linger within elements of the population. During the course of the several hundred events that are being planned within India in connection with its leadership of the G-20, the effort is to reduce if not eliminate altogether such a colonial complex. At the same time, a parallel effort is to display not just to other G-20 members (which include the European Union and 19 countries) the benefits of teaming up with India in economics, culture and diplomacy.
(c) In line with the teachings of ancient India, a country with a recorded history of more than 5,000 years, the international effort of the Union Government will be to put stress on the foundational tenet of Indian civilisation, which may be summed up in the phrase “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the world is one family). Emphasis will be given to the essentiality of internal and external harmony, and to ensuring a developmental path by the adoption of measures that would sustain and not degrade the planet. Instead of seeking to dominate a hierarchical order of nations, as has been the practice by several past and present Great Powers, Prime Minister Modi puts emphasis on the equality of nations, on the need for countries big and small to have their interests and territory safeguarded. At the same time, the danger posed to humanity by terrorism in its many dimensions will be a central focus.
(d) India being a country that is numerically dominated by youth, those in schools and universities will be made aware of the interlocking world that we live in, together with the inculcation of best practices of how to become a good citizen in a world where close collaboration among like-minded countries needs to be pursued. In the case of countries that seek to promote their aims through kinetic and asymmetric means, efforts will be made to nudge them onto a path that promotes peace and harmony, while “keeping the powder dry” in case of misadventure by them. The importance of such an attitude, of such a lifestyle, will be communicated not just within India by PM Modi but externally as well. In the latter task, EAM Jaishankar will play a keystone role. The intention of Prime Minister Modi is to refashion what has thus far been little more than a mere talking shop and convert it into an effective mechanism that could further global prosperity and stability. In doing so, those powers that continue to oppose India with its 1.4 billion population getting its due at the UNSC high table and in other fora would be shown up. They would either change their approach from hostility to support, or be shown up as countries that seek to advance their selfish
Zero Sum interests at the cost of others, exactly as took place during the era of overt colonialism. In a situation where the G-7 has become increasingly irrelevant to the emergent world order, the expectation is that the G-20 will by the close of 2023 emerge as the international institution that can make the most difference in matters of commerce and security throughout the world.