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India's geopolitical moment, the G20

by Priti Prakash | PUBLISHED: Mar 13, 2023, 1:04 am IST

Priti Prakash
Priti Prakash
The G20 Presidency has come to India at a time when the world is seen to be getting bi polar with serious faultlines drawn. Russia Ukraine war has become defining to a such an extent that shadows of a world war are being increasingly felt across the globe.  Echoing the sentiment of PM Modi, External Affairs S Jaishankar, stating the agenda for G20 Foreign Ministers’ discussions, said, ‘It includes the challenges of food, fertilizers and fuel security.’ He emphasised that ‘these are truly make-or-break issues for developing countries and such issues should not be relegated to the periphery of the international discourse.’

But what we saw was exactly the opposite. The entire Foreign Ministers Meet was hijacked on the issue of Russia Ukraine war with clearly a deep chasm between the factional world divided by US & Europe (NATO) vs Russia, China on the other.

It will be worth examining the changing geopolitical scenario and if India will be able to seize the opportune moment.

So, as much as the world is losing on multilateralism, the fact is that this is a period of transformational change, from what was a fairly stable international order after the end of the cold war into a period which is undergoing big changes brought about by technology, change in the balance of powers, a shift of global centre of gravity from Trans Atlantic to Trans Pacific & India is very much part of that shift. Analysts say it is in periods of such big change historically that opportunities open up for emerging powers to expand their influence to take advantage of them & these are those times when geopolitics is in constant change & spaces are opening up for countries like India to play a greater role. As per Shyam Saran, former Foreign Secretary, the world cannot see effective solutions to these challenges unless India is on board with respect to its contributions when the key challenges before the world are climate change, global health issues like the pandemic, issues of biodiversity.
The steady rise in India’s own capabilities & power is a moment of opportunity for us. Today we are the 5th largest economy in the world. Even though our per capita income is quite low our micro impact on the global economy is quite visible. We are set to overtake china as the largest population in the world and are also relatively speaking younger population compared to others.

However we have our share of challenges too. We have a major threat in the east from China, from across the border in the north and west from Pakistan, which means that our security environment has not greatly improved in the last few years on our neighborhood.

What is the role that India can play

India is today perhaps in one of the more favorable moments in history which if handled deftly can catapult us to influence both in the region and globally. The G20 Presidency is a unique opportunity to play a leadership role to deal with some of the major geopolitical issues particularly Ukraine which has impacted food security, energy security and global economy through disruptions in supply chains other than being a military issue.
That the Global South and its concerns have not been represented at G20 was flagged by India adequately. Prime Minister Modi in his opening address at G20 Foreign Ministers meet categorically spoke about issues that concerned developing nations. The fact is that many countries in the world are looking at India to provide certain degree of a leadership role on dealing with some of the major issues.  

Climate Change being the next big challenge for the world is believed to have already crossed the tipping point, experts say. As Chair we must try to get the G20 to focus attention on it as this is an issue of direct relevance to India & to the rest of the developing world.

Highlighting the country’s role in contributing to global solutions, S Jaishankar stated, ‘India has undertaken development projects in 78 countries and has actively encouraged exchanges and capability building. Even during Covid pandemic, India made a conscious effort at contributing to global solutions.’

Intertwined Economic & Foreign Policy

No Foreign policy can succeed in isolation from economic development. In the absence of economic growth the potential of an active foreign policy are bound to be sub optimal. Ambassador Shyam Saran says, 'This is the geopolitical moment for us because the American, Japanese, QUAD, are all seeing up to India…that if India is powerful and strong there will be balance in Asia. There is no other country that can do that. All friendly nations are looking up to India as a very important partner. There are major countries that are invested in making us strong.' Giving the example of China, Saran said, China is a historical example. China utilized the geopolitical advantage when from 1971 they presented themselves as ally of the US who considered the Soviet Union as their main geopolitical threat. They got high technology from US, got capital from US, so from the western countries too. Even Japan.’

But the way the Finance Ministers & Foreign Ministers meet rolled out with practically no consensus and neither any joint outcome statement all the chances of the final result of the G20 being derailed seem bright. We saw Bali summit stalled by the G7 on Russia Ukraine issue, the discussions in New Delhi too was an acrimonious exchange of political darts between Blinkin & his European allies with Lavrov. Having politicised the forum, the West has used every global platform to denounce Russia although the reality is also that any anti war sentiment from the global south did not ever dissuade the West from furthering their geopolitical interests anywhere be it Asia or Africa or the Middle East. India’s insistence on the agenda of developmental interests of the South found little response from the powerful G7. In this scenario it seems doubtful that this G20 may bring India centre stage for any change in the geoeconomic environment that we seek. Not only there seems a declining relevance of the forum to global economic governance but India may also find itself in a condition to choose sides. The success of India’s Presidency will depend on how India navigates its leadership role with some out of the box or creative diplomacy. In this time of history when India is at an advantageous frame of being friends across both camps, the challenge of forging a consensus being dim we hope that the culmination does not just go down merely as photo ops, glitzy venues and red carpets.         

On an optimistic note Ambassador Dyaneshwar Muley says, ‘India has truly seized the moment and is likely to give new shape and meaning to G20 Presidency. Those who never understood its import are now part of G20. It’s a ‘Jan Bhagidari’ venture. For the first time citizens have interest in the final outcome of G20 presidency. For India this may herald a new chapter in its diplomacy.’

The summit G20 will be in September when all nation Heads will be congregating in New Delhi. Though an opportunity for India to do the balancing act it will be test of sorts for India's Diplomatic heft. What shape will Russia Ukraine war take by then in this fast developing scenario will be a matter of concern to the entire world and will shape the geopolitics.
Priti Prakash
Priti Prakash

Political Commentator, Interviewer, moderator and Foreign Correspondent. With more than 20 years in journalism and experience of both print and electronic medium, she is Editor FacenFacts, news website.