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Summarising India’s G20 Presidency: Diplomatic Triumphs and Global Leadership

Summarising India’s G20 Presidency: Diplomatic Triumphs and Global Leadership

Advitya Bahl

In the midst of a complex and dynamic global landscape, India assumed the mantle of the G20 Presidency, a role that required deft navigation through the multifaceted challenges that defined the times. Termed the "polycrisis," this period witnessed a convergence of intricate problems, including the aftermath of the pandemic, disruptions in supply chains due to the Ukraine crisis, the dual challenge of economic slump and inflation, and the pressing issue of climate change. India's role during its G20 Presidency went beyond being symbolic; it sought to provide direction and solutions to address these challenges.

At the core of India's approach was the recognition that the global community was at a critical juncture. The ambitious goals set by the United Nations through the Sustainable Development Goals were facing setbacks due to the prevailing global circumstances. The developmental aspirations of nations worldwide were hampered, and a sense of urgency prevailed as the mid-term review of these goals approached in September 2023.

India's leadership was characterised by its commitment to being a guiding light amid these stormy waters. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi outlined the priorities, emphasising India's role as not only a participant but a shaper of the global agenda. India aimed to be a voice of change, promoting sustainability, equitable development, and growth. The concept of "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam," encapsulating the idea of the world as one family, reflected India's commitment to inclusivity and a shared responsibility for global well-being.

The 4Ds Framework

The pillars of India's leadership were the 4Ds framework: (i) decarbonisation (ii) digitalisation (iii) equitable development and (iv) conflict de-escalation. These pillars were not just abstract concepts but guiding principles that framed India's actions and decisions.

Decarbonisation was rooted in India's determination to address the urgent climate crisis. As the leader of climate performance within the G20, India showcased its low per capita emissions and efforts to expand its climate-regulating land cover. These actions were not only about mitigating climate change but also about setting an example for others to follow.

Digitalisation was the second pillar, reflecting India's commitment to utilising technology for growth. The successful COVID vaccination campaign, driven by technology, illustrated India's innovative approach to solving complex problems. Initiatives such as the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana and Pradhan Mantri MUDRA Yojana highlighted how technology can drive financial inclusion and empower marginalised sections of society. India’s UPI also garnered wide acceptance as a exemplary virtual payments system.

Equitable development formed the third pillar. India's responses to the multiple pandemic-induced crises demonstrated its commitment to leaving no one behind. Despite challenges, efforts were made to ensure that vulnerable populations, especially those in the informal sector, were not left without support. The approach emphasised social justice and bridging disparities.

Conflict de-escalation was the fourth pillar, reflecting India's commitment to peaceful resolutions. In a world marked by conflicts and tensions, India advocated for dialogue and cooperation to mitigate conflicts and promote global stability. Overall, India's role in its G20 Presidency transcended ceremonial duties. It exemplified the nation's commitment to not only its own development but also to the welfare of the global community. By embracing the 4Ds framework and aligning its actions with its values, India showcased its capacity to lead with empathy, innovation, and diplomacy.

India's Unique Development Contributions: Despite facing its own developmental challenges, India showcased its commitment to fostering inclusive growth, economic resilience, and collaboration. Some of India's distinctive developmental achievements and policies that attracted praise from G20 counterparts were:

Economic Resilience and Leadership

Even as the world economy was grappling with the aftermath of the pandemic, supply chain disruptions, and the Ukraine crisis, India's economy stood out with a commendable growth rate of around 7 percent in the fiscal year 2022-23, surpassing major economies. This achievement underscored India's economic potential and positioned it as a model for sustainable growth.

Replicable Development Models

India's economic achievements were not mere statistics; they exemplified replicable models for other nations to follow. India's development trajectory resonated with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), emphasising the integration of economic, social, and environmental objectives. A notable example of India's commitment to social security was evident during the pandemic-induced lockdown, when efforts were made to provide support to vulnerable populations. However, challenges remained in reaching all underserved sections, exposing institutional gaps that need attention.

Technology-Driven Initiatives

Technology played a pivotal role in India's unique developmental contributions. The largest vaccination campaign in the world, powered by technology, showcased India's ability to leverage innovation for public welfare. Initiatives such as the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana and Pradhan Mantri MUDRA Yojana demonstrated India's emphasis on women's financial inclusion and entrepreneurship through technology-enabled platforms. This approach not only empowered individuals but also set an example for other nations to harness technology for equitable development.

Global Solidarity

India's commitment to global welfare was evident through initiatives like "Vaccine Maitri." Despite facing its own challenges, India extended humanitarian support by providing COVID-19 vaccines to countries around the world. This act of solidarity highlighted India's role as a responsible global player, contributing to the global fight against the pandemic. The unique aspect of India's development cooperation, characterised by unconditionality of assistance to partners, showcased a distinct approach in comparison to other nations.

Environmental Stewardship

India's global contributions extended to environmental stewardship. A recent Climate Performance Index ranked India first among G20 members in overall climate performance. This accolade was attributed to India's low per capita carbon emissions, limited share in legacy emissions, efforts to minimise energy consumption, and endeavors to expand climate-regulating land cover. These efforts not only aligned with the global commitment to combat climate change but also provided valuable lessons for sustainable development.

Advocacy for the Global South: India's G20 Presidency was distinguished by its unwavering commitment to advocating for the interests and concerns of the Global South. This advocacy went beyond mere rhetoric; it aimed to amplify the voices of developing nations, address their unique challenges, and promote a more inclusive and equitable global order.

Inclusive Representation

India's leadership recognised the historical inequities within the international system, where the voices of the Global South were often marginalised. India's emphasis on making the African Union an integral part of the G20 exemplified its commitment to rectifying this imbalance. By advocating for the inclusion of the African Union in global decision-making forums, India aimed to provide a platform for the concerns and perspectives of the continent with the world's youngest population and immense growth potential.

Batting for WTO Reforms

India actively pushed for the revival of the WTO’s dormant dispute resolution mechanism, highlighting the emphasis on modernising the WTO to meet present-day needs and uphold a rules-based multilateral trading system. India aimed to amplify the voices of developing nations, addressing issues such as differing development levels and differentiated responsibilities. This effort included a “Jaipur call for action” to bolster the Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector’s growth and integration into global trade. India also advocates integrating MSMEs into the global trade landscape and advancing livelihood opportunities for farmers and workers.

Amplifying Gender Equality

One of the standout features of India's advocacy was its focus on mainstreaming gender equality. The Indian G20 Presidency went beyond conventional approaches, treating gender as a cross-cutting theme across various policy areas. This approach was a significant departure from the norm and sent a strong signal about India's commitment to gender equality. By prioritising gender issues, India demonstrated its resolve to address systemic disparities that disproportionately affect women and marginalised communities, not only in India but across the Global South.

Championing the Cause of Developing Nations

As a major emerging economy, India used its position to amplify the concerns of developing nations. It advocated for policies that took into account the challenges faced by economies with varying levels of development. This was particularly relevant in the context of global economic recovery post-pandemic. India's advocacy highlighted the need for tailored strategies that catered to the developmental aspirations of countries in the Global South, ensuring that their interests were not overshadowed by the priorities of more advanced economies.

Addressing Colonial Legacies

India's advocacy also took into account the historical legacies of colonialism that continue to impact the Global South. By emphasising the urgency of addressing issues such as poverty, development, and debt crises in these regions, India sought to rectify the systemic injustices that were often exacerbated by historical power imbalances. This advocacy aimed to create a more level playing field in the international arena, where developing nations could contribute to and benefit from global governance.

Building Multilateral Partnerships India's G20 Presidency sought to build meaningful partnerships between countries in the Global South and the rest of the world. By actively engaging with representatives from 125 countries in the Voice of Global South Summit and ensuring Africa's participation at various international forums, India aimed to strengthen the collective voice of developing nations. This advocacy recognised that solidarity among developing nations could lead to more effective negotiations and collaborations on global issues.

India-US Relations and Global Leadership India's G20 Presidency was marked by its evolving and pivotal relationship with the United States (US), which played a significant role in shaping India's global leadership aspirations.

Strategic Partnership and Bilateral Engagement

India-US relations have deepened over the years, evolving into a strategic partnership that encompasses various domains such as defense, trade, technology, and diplomacy. During India's G20 Presidency, this partnership gained further momentum. High-level visits, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi's trip to the US in June, underscored the importance both countries attach to their ties. These engagements not only showcased the bilateral friendship but also positioned India as a key player on the global stage.

Collaborative Leadership on Global Challenges

India and the US collaborated closely on addressing pressing global challenges, such as the economic aftermath of the pandemic, climate change, and regional security. Their alignment on crucial issues was evident in their coordinated approach to the G20's agenda. By working together to find solutions, India and the US demonstrated the potential of their partnership to positively impact the world and effectively tackle complex global issues.

Synergy in Indo-Pacific Strategy

The Indo-Pacific region emerged as a focal point of India-US cooperation. Both countries emphasised the importance of a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific, characterized by respect for international law and sovereignty. India's strategic role in this region, aligned with the US' vision, bolstered the argument for a multipolar world order and helped counterbalance potential destabilising forces.

Advocacy for Democratic Values

The India-US partnership has also been grounded in shared democratic values and a commitment to upholding human rights, rule of law, and individual freedoms. By promoting democratic principles at the global level, India and the US conveyed a united stance against authoritarianism and advocated for a world where democratic norms prevail.

Influence on Global Governance

India's G20 Presidency provided a platform for the US and India to demonstrate their collaborative influence on global governance. Their alignment in advocating for a reformed multilateralism, where the Global South has greater representation, indicated their joint endeavor to reshape international institutions to better reflect the contemporary world order. This partnership lent credence to India's global leadership aspirations and the US' support thereof.

The Russia, China Conundrum: A Test of Diplomacy

As the curtains rose on India's G20 presidency in December 2022, it was like stepping onto a stage where the spotlight was shared between its blossoming relationship with the United States (US) and the world's watchful gaze on its stance regarding the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, had promised unwavering support for India's G20 presidency, setting an encouraging tone. However, this journey was not without its tests, with India's geopolitical balancing act becoming a litmus test for its burgeoning partnership with the US.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict loomed large, casting its shadow on India's global engagements. The challenge for India was twofold: Firstly, convincing its Western allies, spearheaded by the US, of its multifaceted compulsions and independent decision-making in the face of the Russia-Ukraine turmoil.

Secondly, the intricacy of India's equation with its northern neighbour China challenge loomed as the most formidable roadblock to India's aspirations of global leadership.

China's dissenting voice in international forums, notably the United Nations (UN), has been an ongoing chorus. From opposing India's stand on issues such as UN terror listings to resisting India's inclusion in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), China's stance has often stood at odds with India's interests. The friction between India and China was no secret, and it cast a long shadow over India's global ambitions.

Amidst this intricate geopolitical tapestry, the growing bond between India and the US, stretching beyond the realm of defense into the broader spectrum of their strategic partnership, played a pivotal role. This burgeoning relationship wasn't lost on China, which recalibrated its own calculations based on this evolving partnership. China's alignment with forces opposed to the US' geopolitical stance became increasingly pronounced as the US stood firmly in support of Ukraine against Russia.

Yet, as the China challenge grew, India's consistent diplomatic endeavors paid off. The India-US relationship not only withstood the challenge but also thrived. India's steadfast position on issues of contention, particularly the Russia-Ukraine conflict, paved the way for a gradual reconciliation of differing viewpoints by the Western powers. This was a testament to India's diplomatic finesse and its ability to navigate complex global dynamics without compromising its own interests.

In the grand arena of international politics, India's stand on the Russia-Ukraine conflict was not just a solitary note; it was a symphony that resonated across continents. As the drama unfolded, India's partnership with the US was tested but remained unshaken. Instead of weakening, this partnership gained strength as the two countries shared a platform where their shared values and common interests rang true.

In the realm of diplomacy, where allegiances and adversities entwine, India's journey through its G20 presidency served as a reminder that navigating the labyrinth of global politics requires strategic foresight, unwavering resolve, and a knack for turning challenges into opportunities. As India continued to tread this intricate path, it became increasingly clear that in the theatre of international relations, the script is written not only by the powerful but also by those who adeptly sail through the choppy waters of global alliances.

(The author is a senior Delhi-based journalist currently associated with a leading Daily. You can send us your feedback on this article @feedback. employmentnews@gmail.com).

Views expressed are personal.