There was jubilation all over India when India assumed the annual presidency of Group of 20 (G20). It is certainly a matter of pride for every Indian. The Government of India has huge plans with high ambitions to take advantage of this opportunity and showcase India’s achievements, demonstrate its leadership quality, contribute towards global stability and launch India as truly a major power in the current global order.
All these goals are laudable and Indian government seems confident of navigating the turbulent waters of current geopolitical mess and economic hardships in almost all parts of the world. The most significant part of this presidency lies in the fact that India, which at one time provided leadership to more than a hundred members of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77 countries, has got the responsibility to lead the G20 countries — representative of the richest and the most influential set of nations.
However, India could be an influential player in NAM and Group of 77, which belonged to the Global South—newly independent and developing countries. Both these groupings were in a way movements against imperialism, neo-imperialism and an exploitative world order. However, the number of member countries was too large and diversity of all kinds in the groupings were too challenging. Both the movements dissipated after the end of the Cold War. Some scholars still support the NAM, but its existence is rarely noticeable and India does not seem to play any crucial role any more.
In contrast, G20 is not a movement. It does not have a secretariat and it is not born out of any treaty. The number of members is limited to only 20 out of about 200 odd nation states. Interestingly, there are 19 member countries and one regional organisation—the European Union in G20. Interestingly, other regional countries, such ASEAN have not asked for their inclusion. G20, moreover, is not a democratic structure and it consists of some countries, which do not have democratic credentials.
Yet, G20 is a powerful body of nation states. It has all the permanent members of the UN Security Council in it. It has six nuclear weapon powers. It has all the members of the G7 wealthiest countries in it. It has dynamic economies like China, South Korea and India, emerging economies like Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and many others. Members are from Latin America, North America, Africa, Europe and Asia. G20 has all the credentials to play a key role in all global affairs and thus India getting an opportunity to steer such a body of influential countries for a year has tremendous responsibilities and enormous challenges.
It is unfortunate that some opposition parties have undermined the benefit India will get out of this responsibility, saying that it is only for one year and that so many other countries have assumed presidency earlier, Indonesia being the last and Brazil being the next. So what is so great about it, as the ruling party is trying to make out of it? For them, government is trying to use the G20 presidency as electoral gimmickry.
The Modi government has every right to communicate with the people about the country’s new role as the president of G20. The information revolution has made people all across the country aware of global developments, which in any case affects their lives directly or indirectly. Moreover, if Prime Minister Modi intends to showcase the country’s development and sell India’s success stories to other countries, there is nothing wrong in it. Rather, if other countries would learn from Indian successes, such as the digital revolution and its socio-economic benefits to the masses, it will not only bring economic profits but also enhance India’s soft power.
However, the government also needs to examine whether it is overdoing the G20 presidency issue in terms of engaging hundreds of universities through organising events and feeding the media with too many statements. Comments and articles have been flooding media pages with all kinds of advices to the government. Some extoling the government’s desire to promote the cause of Global South and others complimenting the desire to play the role of a Vishwaguru.
A better way would perhaps be to discuss, examine and analyse the challenges ahead. The agenda is positive and should be. But seeking ways to identify and face the challenges would be equally important. The geopolitical challenges that will continue to confront India are the current and future impact of the war in Ukraine. The war has taken a more escalatory route after Ukrainian military hit targets deep inside the Russian territory. There is no end of the war in sight yet. The divide within the G20 on this issue is sharp and may continue to be so. How to end the war and if the war ends, how to rebuild Ukraine are challenges not just because of their geopolitical importance and security needs but also their economic consequences.
Secondly, the US-China cold confrontation is not going to disappear when the G20 summit takes place in India in 2023. The ups and downs in Sino-US relations will continue to evade consensus on key issues among the G20 members through the year of India’s presidency. Taiwan crisis can erupt anytime and complicate peace efforts in the Indo-Pacific. This will in turn affect building consensus on key steps that would be required to handle energy insecurity, food insecurity and even combating global warming. Given the persistent tension in China-India relations, India will face considerable hurdle in steering the G20. China is uncomfortable with India-US strategic partnership. So are the Russians. The US is not confident of the strength of its strategic partnership with India in view of India’s position on the Ukraine War.
If the US, Russia and China have their reservations about India’s policies towards them, how can India handle all these three muscular countries is an issue worth deliberating. If a positive joint statement is issued after the G20 summit in 2023, credit may go to all the members of the body. If there is any failure, blame may come upon India. India will have no control over global recession, pricing in the international energy market, or assured food supplies to the global south during crisis. But the motto of “one world, one family and one future” can be realised if only the Russians and Americans make peace and the Chinese and the Americans compete, and not confront.
Thus the G20 presidency presents India with an opportunity to play the role of a peacemaker for global good, but the challenges are Himalayan.
The writer is editor, ‘Indian Foreign Affairs Journal’, founder and Honorary Chairperson of Kalinga Institute of Indo-Pacific Studies, and formerly professor of JNU. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.
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