The Indian Era: The mammoth Challenge of setting a trend in a polarized world.

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By: Dr. Rahul Bharatbhushan Kamble

We have been taught that there exist only two Superpowers on the planet- one in the West and another up in the east. But as things have unfolded over past two decades, the whole of world’s attention has come to a stall around Delhi, which has adopted and committed to demonstrate the existence of a multipolar world.

As the annual G-20 summit concluded last week in Bali, India officially took over the group’s presidency from Indonesia from Thursday, December 1. The leadership opportunity could not have come at a better time for New Delhi. In September, India became the world’s fifth-largest economy, displacing the United Kingdom, its former colonizer. From being a colony, to surpassing the colonizer, Delhi has come a long way.

After the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997-1998, it was acknowledged that the participation of major emerging market countries is needed on discussions on the international financial system, and G7 finance ministers agreed to establish the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting in 1999. The G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meetings were centered on major economic and monetary policy issues amongst major countries in the global financial system and aimed at promoting cooperation toward achieving stable and sustainable global economic growth for the benefit of all countries.

The participating members in the meetings were the same as the current G20 members. In November 2008, the inaugural G20 Summit was held in Washington, D.C. in response to the global financial crisis that occurred in the wake of the collapse of the Lehman Brothers. The G20 Meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors was upgraded to the head of state level, as a forum for leaders from major developed and emerging market countries. From there on, G20 is looked upon as a Premium forum for international economic cooperation.

Since its independence, India has been a strong advocate of multilateralism, actively participating in forums on issues including nuclear nonproliferation, global trade rules, climate change, and humanitarian intervention. As part of its presidency, India plans to hold 200 meetings of different G-20 tracks in cities across the country—making Indian states stakeholders in New Delhi’s global engagement.

These meetings will mark some of the most significant diplomatic outreach that India has ever undertaken; they also follow a recent trend of India holding high-level meetings outside the capital. India is keen to address what it sees as the world’s pressing issues through its leadership, including climate change, food security, health care, and technology. New Delhi has historically raised concerns on behalf of the global south within multilateral forums, and it will undoubtedly leverage its presidency to do the same at the G-20 high table.

During its year of leadership, India is expected to highlight issues that matter for emerging economies: digital public infrastructure, entrepreneurship and innovation, climate justice, and affordable access to health care. India’s task of pursuing global consensus will be a tough one in the current geopolitical context, with the world seemingly at an inflection point. Russia has grown ever more isolated in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine, which has drawn loud condemnation from the United States and the West. The extent of the polarization within the G-20 was evident when Russian President Vladimir Putin opted to skip the summit in Bali altogether, leaving Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to fill in.

Tense competition between the United States and China also persists, and hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping in New Delhi next year presents a separate challenge for India’s leadership. Relations between China and India have been on ice since a deadly military clash in June 2020 over their shared border in the Himalayas, and tensions show little sign of easing.

Modi and Xi have largely avoided direct communication since then, notwithstanding pleasantries exchanged at the Bali summit, and Indian officials have repeatedly linked the normalization of ties to the resolution of the standoff. India emphasizes a doctrine of strategic autonomy in its diplomatic outreach, pursuing an interest-based foreign policy rather than aligning with any major power.

It will therefore have its hands full in convening the G-20 leaders in one room for the summit in New Delhi next year and encouraging outcomes for the global good. Modi’s “today’s era is not an era of war” comment in a meeting with Putin in September resonated with the rest of the G-20 leaders, making its way into the final communique of the Bali summit. This sets the stage for India to act as a bridge between antagonists through diplomacy and dialogue.

India is currently a part of the G20 Troika (current, previous and incoming G20 Presidencies) which includes Italy, India, and Indonesia. During India’s presidency tenure, Brazil and Indonesia would make up the troika. For the first time, the troika would be having three developing nations and emerging economies, providing a strong narrative to the concerns of these economies. Earlier this year, as Moscow’s troops invaded Ukraine, things seem to come apart. India has meticulously kept a somewhat neutral stance on the Russian invasion by critically abstaining from some crucial votes in the United Nations, and Modi offering help to Ukraine in peace efforts.

But at the same time, India’s opportunistic purchase of war-hit Russian oil to lower its energy bill has not gone unnoticed. I would certainly link that to Washington’s September move to provide Pakistan with a $450 million military aid package that Pentagon called a “F-16 case for sustainment and related equipment”. Though the US may not say it in so many words, Pakistan may be as important to it in containing China’s growing global influence as India. It doesn’t help India that we are in an age of a virtual new Cold War, with China and Russia standing up to or up against the US in so many ways. India, in my humble opinion, cannot distance itself too much from the US because both are democracies with a liberal, pluralistic social order.

They also have strong economic and technological relations that flourished in a glorious couple of decades until Putin messed things up. I don’t see the European Union, the UK or Japan being so influential as to give India something extra in a manner that breaks ranks with the United States. China and the US are blowing hot and cold at the G-20 summit, with Taiwan and North Korea mentioned as potential flashpoints between the two.

However, we need to note that their two presidents, Xi and Biden, signed off their bilateral summit on what might be called a cordial note. The message for India is clear. US is so restrained on China and so warm to Pakistan, that the so called “strategic” tie-up with India rests mostly on paper. Foreign Minster Subrahmanyam Jaishankar has been so articulate on India’s sovereignty this year that nationalists are celebrating his spine in WhatsApp video forwards. But the flip side is that sovereignty is like being an Introvert: a kind of loneliness can creep in.

Concluding the whole, 2023 will surely be an eventful year to watch out for which will be occupied with critical international functions, as also the nation will prepare for eight state assembly elections. It will be a rich and action-packed prelude to India’s 2024 general Lok Sabha elections. Delhi has a lot to do on the table, as the next two years are supposed to be acting like an anchor for the dynamic paradigm shift coming our way.

The writer is an Internee Dentist from Mumbai


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