Some of the solutions that S20 will propose include constructive action on climate change, building a robust global health architecture, and making scientific culture a vital part of everyday life in society.
BENGALURU: For centuries, India as a civilisation has sustained a positive scientific temper and has housed brilliant minds. Last December, India assumed the G20 presidency at Bali, Indonesia. This year, India is hosting multiple verticals of G20 meetings across the length and breadth of our vast country.
India’s G20 motto “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” or “One Earth One Family One Future” is drawn from the Maha Upanishad. The theme affirms the value of all life—human, animal, plant, and microorganisms—and their interconnectedness on planet earth and in the wider universe. As the world is slowly navigating towards normalcy after Covid-19, India assumes the G20 presidency at a pivotal moment.
Geopolitical tensions compounded by pandemic-induced economic slowdowns have led to rising food and energy prices. In this scenario, India has been identified as a reliable partner to resolve disputes and introduce a multipolar approach to pursuing foreign policy goals. India’s presidency of the G20 could not have arrived at a better time for the world and for India. Therefore, pursuing common goals—especially scientific ones—has become even more important now. The science vertical of G20, namely Science20 or S20 attempts just this.
The G20 presidency of India sees the formation of multiple Engagement Groups (EGs), which have representation from civil society, making G20 and its verticals truly democratic. S20 is one of these EGs.
India’s assumption of G20 presidency reflects our desire to make the G20 truly “inclusive, ambitious, decisive, and action-oriented”, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has remarked. Through S20, India hopes to suggest to G20 countries ways towards constructive, consensus-based solutions to problems of critical importance. Some of the solutions that S20 will propose include constructive action on climate change, building a robust global health architecture, and making scientific culture a vital part of everyday life in society. The motto of S20 therefore is “Disruptive Science for Innovation and Sustainable Change”.
These S20 meetings will entail discussions on the broad themes of disruptive science, which would be innovative and compatible with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). India recognises the need to take responsibility during 2023 to balance the interests and welfare of all G20 member states. India remains committed to communicate through diplomacy, connect through discussion, and collaborate through research-based, scientific exchanges among nations. Going beyond conventional lines, India hopes to offer an S20 platform for member nations to showcase their indigenous knowledge systems and innovative scientific technologies.
As far as science is concerned, in the context of India’s centrality, there are four focal points:
a. India is a unique country, not just in its diversity, but also in the way it is positioned in terms of its place in the global order. Therefore, being a political central power has been advantageous to India in achieving her national interests in multilateral forums such as the United Nations. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is acknowledged as a key player in an increasingly multipolar world. One of the reasons why India can engage well with her partners, and in a trustworthy manner, is because of the economic heft that we have achieved over the last two decades, since the liberalisation, privatisation, and globalisation (LPG) reforms. India, therefore, is the central country, politically speaking. Hence, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is the right way to describe India’s G20 outlook this year.
b. India is also economically central. We are on reasonable terms with most global players in this sphere. India trades with the richest countries in the world, but also shares with the poorest, huge problems that need massive economic input—health, education and infrastructure. As in politics, we are equipoised between the rich and the poor. We therefore understand the problems of almost all the G20 countries
c. We are culturally central too. We are both 5,000 years old and 75 years old. Our civilisational values are not seen as an anachronistic roadblock limiting individual liberties and freedoms. If anything, our civilization celebrates them. Science and religion have never been in conflict in India. On the other hand, they have been in a positive synergy. To become modern, we do not have to discard everything that is ancient.
d. Finally, we may be seen as scientifically central. We are better than many but a few are far better than us. We are still able to suggest the idea of a scientific disruption as being uniquely equipped to tackle modern and difficult scientific problems. All great science is disruptive. Today’s reality is that science must also be sustainable. The reality is that reductionist based “Western” science, basically the science as practised in the G7 countries is becoming increasingly non-sustainable in a planet that contains 8 billion people.
Can India with its uniquely central position in the political, economic, civilisational and scientific domains offer the correct solution? This is the question.
In the next part of this three-part article we will discuss the current state of Indian science, which obviously is the take-off point for future endeavours.
Gautam R. Desiraju is in the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and a member of the S20 Engagement Group of the Government of India.
Sharan Setty is an S20 project associate at the Indian Institute of Science.