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Dhaka Tribune

New Delhi’s G20 leadership will be key

Will India be able to uphold its promises through G20 presidency?

Update : 19 Nov 2022, 02:55 AM

Unveiling India's logo, theme, and website for its presidency of the G20 last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi underscored how the country is striding towards providing global leadership at a critical inflection point in the world order. “India's G20 presidency is coming at a time of crisis and chaos in the world. The world is going through the aftereffects of [a] disruptive once-in-a-century pandemic, conflicts, and [a] lot of economic uncertainty,” he said. “The symbol of [the] lotus in the G20 logo is a representation of hope in these times. No matter how adverse the circumstances, the lotus still blooms.”

With this message of optimism, India has embarked its G20 journey as it takes over the G20 presidency from Indonesia on December 1, 2022 till November 30, 2023. During the course of its G20 Presidency, India plans to hold about 200 meetings in 32 different sectors in multiple locations across India, highlighting India's developmental journey over the last 75 years.

The leaders of countries including Bangladesh, Singapore, Spain, Netherlands, and Egypt will also be at the summit hosted by India. With India yearning to play the role of a “leading power” in the global order, one that shapes outcomes, this presidency couldn't have come at a more important time for showcasing India's rising aspirations.  

Yet, this is also a moment of great churn with the Covid-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the US-China contestation, and the withering away of the multilateral order fracturing the world in unprecedented ways. Most of the assumptions of the last three decades have fallen by the wayside. The post-Cold War world, if ever there was one, is truly and comprehensively over. History has finally ended and the world is grappling with the fundamental transformations wrought in by shifting power balance, technological overreach, and institutional decay.

These underlying shifts have been  exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the Ukraine conflict, resulting in global inflationary pressures, food and energy crises and widespread economic downturn. Nations are busy scouring for the basic needs of their citizens, putting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and climate action on the backburner. 

At a time of this global fragmentation, the G20 perhaps is the only platform of its kind that has some legitimacy left. Though it would be too much to expect the G20 to deliver the world from its contemporary challenges -- with its members accounting for around 85% of the global GDP, over 75% of the global trade, and about 67% of the world population -- it certainly has the potential to revive faith in effective multilateralism.

And that needs a kind of leadership that India today is in a unique position to provide. 

The G20 is unique in so far as it brings together the developed and the developing nations to discuss and provide solutions to global governance challenges and India is uniquely positioned in today's global context that can effectively bridge this divide by forging consensus on key global issues. New Delhi has been vociferous in giving voice to the aspirations of the Global South at a time when few global powers have the time and resources to cater to the most vulnerable.

The pressures of global disruption are being absorbed most by this group and few powers are willing to consider their issues with the seriousness it deserves. India has historically tried to be the voice of this voiceless group and in recent years has taken up their causes at multiple global fora, be it the United Nations Security Council, World Trade Organization, or World Health Organization.

In sync with this, India's focus areas during its G20 Presidency include “women's empowerment, digital public infrastructure, health, agriculture, education, culture, tourism, climate financing, circular economy, global food security, energy security, green hydrogen, disaster risk reduction and resilience, fight against economic crime, and multilateral reforms.”  While the G20 was initially formed to manage global economic and financial challenges, its remit has grown and with today's conflation between geopolitics and geoeconomics, its centrality to the global governance discourse is only likely to grow.

New Delhi has been insisting for some time now that the world needs to “redefine” its conversations on globalization to include social and humanitarian issues like terrorism, climate change, and pandemics along with financial and economic discussions.

India, under its presidency, would be hoping to move the world away from polarization to a greater sense of solidarity. The theme of G20 India 2023 -- Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: One Earth, One Family, One Future -- is key to India's conceptualisation of the global order and its own role in it. New Delhi has been consistent in projecting its role of a responsible global stakeholder during and after the pandemic when, contrary to most developed nations that were initially focused inwards, it continued to insist on the need to work together and help the most vulnerable.

India's domestic experience of managing a multicultural democracy is well suited to the global needs of today when it is imperative a diverse set of stakeholders come together and cogitate on global problems. 

This extant crisis in the global order, therefore, gives India a once in a lifetime opportunity to leverage the opportunities inherent in the challenges. By hosting one of the highest-profile international gatherings ever at a time of great turbulence, New Delhi is signalling that it is ready to think big and deliver on its leadership commitments, something that much of the rest of the world had long expected from India. 

The road ahead is a tough one. The G20 is not a panacea for the global governance deficit and the constraints are quite significant. But with effective leadership from India, this will be an opportunity to reinvigorate the multilateral order from the stupor it has sunk into. India's push for “reformed multilateralism” will gain greater credibility with its effective stewardship of the G20.

India today is willing to shoulder its share of the global burden. How effective it will be in shaping the global agenda at the G20 will also depend on how willing others are in reflecting seriously on the present day disorder. New Delhi, for its part, is certainly willing to go all out. 

Harsh V Pant is Vice President of Studies and Foreign Policy at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi and Professor of International Relations with King's India Institute at King's College London.

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