Opportunities and challenges of India’s G-20 Presidency

As India has assumed the G-20 Presidency, the international political discourse and global agenda are going to see many new narratives – non-traditional issues, and of course, non-Western assertions.

India’s steady rise on the world stage is a better-late-than-never moment that many world powers, middle powers, and smaller nations expected and desired to happen, in the hope of a more balanced world order. Financially, India promises them a vast and demanding market; offers more non-prescriptive trade relations and investments to smaller nations; carries limited unilateral military and strategic ambitions, and gets along with both Western and non-Western blocs.

India presents a unique case as a post-colonial political entity that the colonial powers never expected to survive as a united, democratic, mostly liberal nation-state, thanks to its deeply diverse, noisy, competitive and argumentative domestic political landscape. Many in the colonial club of the British Empire were always skeptical about whether India could survive once the colonial rule was lifted. The prominent Turkish writer and revolutionary Halide Edip Adıvar noted in her India memoir published in 1935 during her stay among India’s anti-colonial leaders that most British writers she met in London and New Delhi were doubtful of India’s future because of its complex ethnic, religious, linguistic and class diversity.

Her book “Inside India” could be seen primarily as an experience of a Westernized Turkish revolutionary who had also fought a fierce political battle for Türkiye’s independence under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Here, India has come from a suspected collapse to one of the fastest growing economies, second most populous, successful in uplifting millions from abject poverty, and the world’s biggest hub for information technology-trained workforce that now aspires to be an unavoidable economic power, source of security and stability, and permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

India’s G-20 diplomacy is going to be a stage of India’s global ambitions as well as an assertion of its role and values in the time of West-Russia-China rivalry. The much-awaited reforms in the U.N., international cooperation on cybersecurity, non-traditional issues, developing nations’ growing dependence on Chinese debt, terrorism, social harmony, North-South Connectivity, maritime security and connectivity, climate change, regional cooperation, and other issues are going to come up more prominently than in previous G-20 summits. In the last few decades and recent years especially, India has become far more vocal about the issues of global governance, which continue to remain West-centric.

Ties with Russia

Indian Foreign Minister Jai Shankar has recently made a scathing criticism of Europe-centrism asking Europe “to grow out of the mindset that its problems are the world’s problems, but the world’s problems aren’t Europe’s problems.” The remark came in the context of growing Western pressure on India to take a more West-inclined position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. While India reiterated its support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine, it insisted that both Russia and the West need to engage in meaningful dialogue to resolve the crisis.

In another statement, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Russian President Vladimir Putin that this was not the era of war. While these statements do not necessarily convince or satisfy Western expectations, yet, India’s reluctance to join a side empowered several other nations of Asia and Africa to stay neutral or non-aligned, so much so that even Pakistani politicians publicly said why their country could not have an independent foreign policy like India’s.

That said, India’s presidency is going to be tested on many issues. Indian diplomats have proven to be tough negotiators, as they have kept forward their and developing countries’ cases in the climate change dialogues and the World Trade Organization (WTO) dialogues. One of the main successes of Indian diplomacy in the past few decades has been to bring out alternative financial institutions led by Asian, African and Latin American economies. The new financial institutions, the BRICS bank, for example, their limited financial capability notwithstanding, have offered development loans on much better terms and conditions that helped growth in developing and poor countries.

India knows very well that its rise and acceptance as a global power does not depend on Western powers’ recognition, but on its own economic performance and development-centric relations with countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America

The Bretton Woods Institutions have been offering their loans on certain conditions regarding the countries’ internal policy matters as well. At the same time, India has demonstrated success in helping multilateralism at all international forums. India knows very well that its rise and acceptance as a global power does not depend on Western powers’ recognition, but on its own economic performance and development-centric relations with countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

If India is going to use its immense diplomatic clout to get a better understanding of developing nations on issues related to food and energy security, climate change, biodiversity, post-COVID-19 health care rebuilding, transition to sustainable and green energy, and of course security and stability, the world order may be saved from another return of bipolar hegemony. After all, India’s leadership role offers opportunities and hopes that are missed by China and Russia. It was a good sign that India maintained good relations with Russia and China in order to support multilateralism and pluralism in the world system, however, it is Russia and China which have benefited more from India’s sustained non-aligned foreign policy. The Russian aggression against Ukraine has put India in a precarious situation vis-à-vis Western and smaller nations. Despite having one of the most confident relations, Russia failed to win Indian confidence in its Ukraine operation.

India-China relations

India has expanded its line of credit to several countries all over the world easing its dependency on the Western financial system.

Simultaneously, China’s revisionist approach to India-China relations is one of the sources of growing mistrust. India needs to demonstrate that it represents different values and philosophies, and a different vision for global peace and harmony, which makes it a model different from Russia and China. India’s trade relations with African and Asian nations can be seen treading a different path. India has expanded its line of credit to several countries all over the world easing its dependency on the Western financial system.

At the same time, Indian diplomats are going to put development and economic cooperation at the top of their agenda. India’s new economic push could be a new opportunity to revive North-South cooperation and connectivity as China’s Belt and Road Initiative is said to be in trouble. While India sought multilateralism with active cooperation in the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), however, both China and Russia have recently demonstrated aggressive unilateralism in multiple regional and international disputes.

As India still seeks greater multilateralism, countries outside BRICS and SCO like Türkiye, Indonesia, Iran, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia are going to be more important to India’s development diplomacy. India’s G-20 Presidency is going to be such an exceptional opportunity to reflect on India’s willingness and preparedness for an advanced role in global politics.

Dr. Omair Anas is the Director (Research) of the Centre of Studies of Plural Societies (CSPS). This article is republished from Daily Sabah.

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