Pushing the PM’s Mandate; Modi has the Status to lead the Global South

As the Indian Sherpa, he had the mandate of the Prime Minister to achieve consensus, represent the concerns of the Global South, and to bring inclusiveness and gender equality to the G20 agenda.

As I got into the job, I realised that most countries actually do their G20 in one city or they do it in two cities. Indonesia did it in two cities, and they thought they were being very ambitious. But then the Prime Minister said that I want G20 meetings to be held in every state of India. And he said, then we figured out that he wanted it to be done in over 60 districts of India. So we ended up doing 220 meetings in all states and 60 districts of India.

And then he called a meeting of the chief ministers and governors. And then he said that use opportunity to transform these districts, improve drainage, sewage, solid waste roads, everything. So from the first meeting, which we did in Udaipur, the Sherpa first meeting till all the 220 meetings, and we did this in Lakshadweep, we did this in Ladakh, we did it in Kashmir, everywhere. We used this as an opportunity to transform the districts and the cities where we were doing it. And then the prime minister said that use this opportunity to promote Indian artisans and push the one district one product. So all local crafts were used as gifts. We also used this opportunity to promote millets. That was prime minister’s vision, that this is an opportunity. This was also the year of the UN: the millets.

The Prime Minister’s second directive was that this has to be very inclusive, this has to be very decisive, this has to be very ambitious and also action oriented. And then he said that, I don’t want a divided G20, I want a consensus based G20. And therefore, the first thing that he did was to have a meeting of the Global South. So, 125 leaders from the Global South participated in a virtual meeting.

And from that meeting, the priorities emerged. One thing was very clear that we will speak the voice of the Global South. We will speak the voice of the developing and the emerging countries. And this was very important because this year, if you look at the IMF and World Bank, both say 80% of the global growth is coming from emerging markets. And in the next two decades, 80%, two third to about 75 to 80% of the growth will actually come from emerging markets. And therefore, it was very important to position ourselves as far as the requirements of the developing world was concerned.

When India took over the presidency, there were several challenges. 200 million people had gone below poverty line because of Covid. A hundred million people had lost their jobs. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda, instead of progressing had regressed, only 12 of the 169 SDG goals were on track. And it was very important to push on that. And there was a huge challenge of climate action and climate finance.

There was a challenge of multilateral institutions because they were all designed for the post World War II period. They were designed in the post Britain period when the crisis of climate action did not exist, when the issue of sustainable development goals did not exist. And therefore, redesigning and reformulating the multilateral institutions was very important. And then we looked at technological developments. How do you use technology to leapfrog? So, technological development and what India has done in DPI in the digital public infrastructure became very important.

If you look around the world, we in India all have identity, we all have bank accounts, which are linked to our Aadhar number and our mobile number. We do about 11x more digital fast payments in the world than America and Europe do. We do 4x more than China, but 4 billion people in the world do not have digital identity. 3 billion people do not even have a bank account. 133 countries do not have a fast payment. So, it became a very big priority to evangelize this and then tell the world that this is the model to follow. It’s not the big tech model of what USA has done, where transformation has taken place because of Amazon, Microsoft or Google or Apple or in China because of Tencent and Alibaba. But a completely new model, which is open source, open API, which is interoperable, is the model to be followed for the world.

And then we had this big challenge of what the Prime Minister had said is to push for women-led development. And that became a very key priority.

All this we managed to do. We’ve also managed to create a more inclusive world with what the Prime Minister’s vision was to get Africa as one of the members. And this was important because if you look at Africa today, six of the fastest 12 growing countries in the world today are from Africa. And it was 55 countries come on board of G20 if you make African Union a member. And that’s what India has been able to do. So it’s been a pathbreaking initiative.

So what India’s ended up doing is that actually we’ve had this particular G20, if you look at Indonesia presidency, they had 50 outcomes. If you look at Italy, there are 33 outcomes. But India has pushed the envelope and has 112 outcomes. But the most important thing is that what has never happened before is that we’ve come out with all outcomes and on all our paragraphs there is a hundred percent consensus.

There is not a single para which has a bracket or a reservation. And that has really demonstrated India’s great ability to take developing countries, emerging markets that developed G7 countries, Russia, China, all on board, everyone on board, and bring consensus to the table. India has demonstrated its great ability to drive multilateralism. India has demonstrated its great ability to even bring consensus to an issue like Russia, Ukraine paras where United Nations and United Nations Security Council had failed. But we’ve been able to bring consensus on that in our document. I mean, this couple of paras on the Russia, Ukraine crisis actually took us about close to 16 drafts. It took us about 250 hours of negotiation. It took us 9 days of nonstop negotiation, nonstop. We locked up all these different negotiators 60 km away so that media could not get a whiff of what we were doing.

We ensured that in the room there was no telephone, but we managed it. At the end of it all, we managed it because India has achieved, we just pushed the limits and took it to a level of brinkmanship where India could achieve success. We could do this for two reasons. One is that India has acquired a very elevated status as far as its growth is concerned. It’s the fifth largest economy. And secondly, I think as a Sherpa, I can say that the Prime Minister’s own stature and standing as a leader was very significant in this. And his status in standing really helped us to negotiate.

As negotiators, we could be bold. A Sherpa can only be as good as his leader, and therefore, I could be bold. I could be gutsy. I could be courageous. And I took it to brinkmanship only because I had the full backing of my leader and I had a bold, gutsy leader who could lead, and therefore we achieved success. So, I think it’s been a real honour for me to be the Prime Minister’s G20 Sherpa. It’s a unique experience, which I have had in driving this consensus. And I really think it’s been a great pleasure working for the country in achieving consensus and bringing glory to our country.


Amitabh Kant is presently India’s Sherpa to G20 group, during a year when India holds its presidency. Kant is formerly a secretary in the Government of India, former CEO of Niti Ayog, and creator of globally acclaimed campaigns like ‘Incredible India’ for the Ministry of Tourism.

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