Despite dire predictions and odds right till the day of the G20 Summit on 9th September, India was able to produce a 100 per cent consensus at the G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration on the first day of the Summit itself. Agreement among all participating countries was achieved not only on the substantive issues of development and growth which are the primary remit of the G20 but also on the highly divisive subject of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Coming as it did, so suddenly and unexpectedly, the Leaders’ Declaration gave a huge boost to India’s standing and prestige in the global community. This announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi came at the beginning of the second Session on ‘’One Family.’’ At the beginning of the first Session in the morning on 9th September, PM Modi had announced the induction and welcomed the African Union as the 21st member of the G20.
The flawless and impeccable manner in which these two historic decisions were reached and announced was greeted with a sense of awe, admiration and relief by the G20 member countries and the world. Events of 9th September which were arrived at after months of painstaking toil and sweat irretrievably pushed India to the global center stage. This singular achievement can be seen as the victory of ‘Team India’ led decisively and resolutely by PM Modi, comprising principally of External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Sherpa Amitabh Kant and many others.
India got the Presidency of the G20 on 1st December, 2022 at a very tumultuous time for the world.
The world has been passing through a particularly difficult time for the last few years. The world had scarcely been able to get over the ill-effects of the Covid-19 pandemic that it was jolted by the impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict that started in February, 2022. While the pandemic resulted in immense hardships around the world, particularly among the developing countries, on account of supply chain disruptions, damage to the health, economies and social structures of countries, the Russia-Ukraine war led to shortages of food, fertilizers, energy, increase in debt, rise in inflation etc. These crises devastated the world, particularly the develop-ping countries. India was able to deal effectively with the challenges thrown up by both these crises. For this reason, as also the fact that India’s economy has been growing at an impressive pace since the last several years, and because it continues to the fastest growing major economy in the world, the world had high hopes that India would be able to deal resolutely with the challenges that the Presidency of the G20 presented.
India is perhaps the only country in the world that straddles the North-South divide as well as, more importantly, the East-West divide between Russia and China on the one side and the United States and the West on the other. It was however thought that getting an agreement on the Russia-Ukraine conflict would be quite impossible given the very strong and extreme positions held by the two sides.
The G20 Summit came at a time when the global multilateral organizations were found unable and incapable of dealing with the challenges of the world. The UN Security Council was seen to be totally ineffective in dealing with the twin challenges of Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war that the world has been facing. Under these circumstances and with the highly polarized and entrenched positions of the two sides on the Ukraine conflict, it was considered unthinkable that India will be able to stitch together a compromise between the two highly extreme and divergent positions.
India was however able to achieve the impossible by crafting a formulation which all the concerned protagonists could live with. Apparently all the countries realized that this was possibly the best result that they could achieve. One of the important reasons for this was because all countries wanted India’s G20 Presidency to be a success. This is definitely true of the US and other members of the G7. They would not have wanted to embarrass or besmirch India’s image with a failed G20 Presidency. This is on account of India’s growing profile in world affairs and because India has carved out very friendly and positive relations with the West. The emerging economies of Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, Mexico, Turkiye and some others who helped India to craft the final text were also keen to take the ownership of the G20 and ensure that it achieved a successful conclusion. Russia was quite satisfied with the Text as it did not mention ‘’Russia’’ by name and many of the Bali formulations which referred to ‘’deploring in strongest terms Russia’s aggression against Ukraine’’ or demand for ‘’Russia’s complete and unconditional withdrawal from the Ukrainian territory’’ did not find a mention in the Declaration.
The developed countries also wanted a ‘’successful G20.’’ This is the only global forum which brings together the G7 countries and the emerging economies of India, Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa and several others, along with Russia and China. If the G20 had not been able to arrive at a consensus final document it would, according to the German Ambassador in India, signaled the ‘’death of the G20.’’ The G7 was hence willing to make compromises to ensure an agreed text. Although they had to give up on references to Russia’s aggression of Ukraine that had appeared in the Bali text, they took solace in the fact that reference to the Bali Declaration and also to the UN Resolutions was made in the New Delhi text. The issue of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is categorically and fully mentioned in all these documents. They also got satisfaction that there was no reference to the sanctions imposed by the Western nations on Russia. In the final analysis, the G7 acted in a statesmanlike manner by accepting the best that was possible under the circumstances and ensuring the success of India’s G20 Presidency. If there had been no agreed text at the end of the day, it would have been the first time in 18 Summits that G20 would not have been able to arrive at a Final Declaration. And this could have spelt the death knell for the Organization.
In addition to getting an agreement amongst all the countries on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the final Declaration treads some ambitious new ground by getting far-reaching formulations on some of the most vexatious, current issues like food scarcity, growing debt burden of developing countries, reform of the Multilateral Development Banks, putting the Sustainable Development Goals on track, accelerating global economic growth and also on some of the long standing challenges confronting the global community like climate change, terrorism, women led development and others.
One of the most significant outcomes of the Summit was the launch of the Biofuels Alliance by PM Modi and Presidents Joe Biden and Lula. A total of 19 countries and 12 international organizations joined the alliance, including both G20 members and non-member countries. India, Brazil and the US are the founding members of the alliance. PM Modi said that the launch of the Global Biofuels Alliance marks a watershed moment in the global quest towards sustainability and clean energy. The alliance is being positioned as a global forum to help boost demand and technology transfer for the production of biofuels and enhance trade. The three founding members of the alliance contribute about 85% to the global production and 81% to consumption of ethanol.
A game-changing initiative launched on the sidelines of the Summit was the India-Middle East-Europe Corridor (IMEC) which would connect India with Europe through UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan and other intervening countries through a string of sea and rail links. The IMEC is designed to increase efficiencies, reduce costs, enhance economic unity, generate jobs, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. The cross-border shipping and railways corridor will reduce logistics costs as well as boost trade in goods and services between the UAE, Saudi Arabia, India and Europe. The project offers India the opportunity to create green hydrogen and green ammonia hubs near the coasts and supply the commodities via shipping and rail network to the Middle East and eventually to Europe. Analysts project that the corridor will make India’s export deliverables more efficient and cost-effective thereby adding to their competitiveness. The Project has been dubbed as the Spice Route as spices and ivory from India to the Arab world and Europe were transported along this route for thousands of years till the route was replaced by the maritime connection around the Cape of Good Hope in the 16th century. In addition to the economic and connectivity benefits of the project, it also has far-reaching geo-strategic implications. China has been rapidly expanding its foot print in the Middle East through its initiative in resolving the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as by its recent deep economic inroads in its ties with Iran, Saudi Arabia and other regional states. This project will send out a clear and unambiguous signal that US continues to be economically and strategically engaged with this region and in collaboration with the participating states of India, Saudi Arabia, UAE, EU, Germany, France, Italy, Israel and others will ensure that China is not able to dominate the region.
The G20 Summit represented the coming out party for India. It was the culmination of the steady but sure progress that India has been registering over the last decade in developing and expanding its economy as also in strengthening its outreach and its relations with countries across the board including the G7, emerging market economies, developing nations and others. By organizing the Voice of the Global South Summit in January, 2023 at the beginning of its G20 Presidency and ensuring that the concerns of these countries are fully reflected in the final G20 document, India has emerged as a powerful and vigorous advocate of the concerns o f the Global South. India’s spirited espousal of the cause of the developing countries and the exemplary manner in which PM Modi piloted the proposal for induction of the African Union as the 21st member of the G20 grouping added enormously to India’s diplomatic heft and stature in the world.
While assuming the Presidency of the G20 in Bali, Indonesia in November, 2022, PM Modi had declared that India’s Presidency will be ‘’inclusive, ambitious, action-oriented, and decisive.’’’ The final results of the Summit testify that this ambition has been fully realized.
India under the bold and decisive leadership of PM Modi is undoubtedly the foremost winner of the successful G20 Summit. Some of the others who came out with flying colors from the deliberations would include the G20 as an organization, the G20 process, multilateralism, the Global South and the African Union. Both Russia and the G7 have claimed victory from the G20 Summit for entirely different reasons.
The success of the G20 Summit has sent out a strong message that it is not only imperative but also possible for the world to come together to resolve the most pressing challenges that afflict it. It is essential to build on this success to ensure peace, stability, security and economic prosperity in the world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar is Executive Council Member, Mahohar Parrikar Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses; President, Institute of Global Studies; Distinguished Fellow, Ananta Aspen Centre, and former Ambassdor of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia.