India Takes World Centerstage With G20 Presidency

Int’l Relations

Prime Minister Narendra Modi

India assumed the presidency of G20 (the Group of 20 countries comprising 19 largest economies and the European Union) for 2023 from Indonesia on December 1, 2022. In accepting this responsibility, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India’s G20 presidency would be “inclusive, ambitious, decisive and action-oriented.’’

The G20 is an international forum which represents the world’s biggest economies encompassing both industrialized and developing nations. Its core mandate is to address the major challenges related to the global economy, developmental issues and financial architecture, such as international financial stability, climate change mitigation, and sustainable development.

Together, the G20 members represent 85% of global gross domestic product; 75% of international trade, and two thirds of the world population.

The Bali G20 Summit in November 2022 was held at a particularly difficult and uncertain moment in international politics and economics. The world has been subjected to huge instability and volatility over the last three years due to the COVID pandemic. The ongoing Russo-Ukrainian conflict has global implications through high inflation, shortages of food, fertilizers and energy, unsustainable debts, supply chain disruptions and more.

In addition, the challenges of climate change, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and others continue to unsettle the global economy and community.

India emerged as a “leader, solution provider and consensus builder’’ at the Bali Summit. The shadow of the war in Ukraine loomed large. It was not possible to arrive at a mutually acceptable language on the conflict in several G20 meetings that preceded the Bali summit. India was able to act as a bridge between the sides on the issue. A compromise solution was achieved which reiterated the assertion by PM Modi to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Samarkand on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit that “today is not an era of war,’’ and that the solution to the conflict should be found through “dialogue and diplomacy.’’

The 19-page official declaration addressed the major challenges confronting the global economy and financial system.

In his remarks in the first session on Energy and Food Security, PM Modi clearly stated that the UN had failed to resolve the political and economic challenges afflicting the world. The failure of multilateral organizations means the significance of the G20 has increased. The prime minister exhorted the countries to evolve a new world order, as had been done after World War II.

Speaking on the need to make digital connectivity truly inclusive, PM Modi asserted that “digital transformation is the most remarkable change of our era. The proper use of digital technologies can become a force multiplier in the decades-long global fight against poverty. Digital solutions can also be helpful in the fight against climate change.’’

He asserted that India’s experience of the past few years has shown that if digital architecture is inclusive, it can bring about socio-economic transformation. He declared that the principle of “Data for development” will be an integral part of the overall theme of India’s “One Earth, One Family, One Future” presidency. He also stated that a “Lifestyle for Environment” (LiFE) campaign can make a big contribution to sustainable growth, and encouraged the global community to make sustainable lifestyle a mass movement.

During its presidency, India will aspire to deliver outcomes in areas of critical interest such as integrating the climate and development agenda, accelerating progress towards achieving the SDG 2030 mandate, furthering development cooperation, supporting small and marginal farmers, enhancing food security and nutrition, addressing global skill gaps, female empowerment, promotion of blue economy and coastal sustainability, digital health solutions, green hydrogen and tech-enabled learning.

Even before the start of its presidency, India organized a briefing for envoys of the G20, invitee countries and international organizations in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands on November 26. India has already organized several substantive first meetings including those for the finance and central bank deputies in Bengaluru; the G20 Development Working Group in Mumbai; and the Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion in Kolkata.

India has also emerged as a strong and clear voice of the “Global South.” It organized the “Voice of the Global South for Human-Centric Development’’ virtual summit on January 12-13, 2023. The theme was “Unity of Voice, Unity of Purpose.’’

It brought together 125 countries of the Global South to share their priorities across a whole range of issues. The initiative was inspired by PM Modi’s vision of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, Sabka Prayas (“the support of everyone, development for everyone, trust of everyone with everyone’s efforts”). It was also underpinned by India’s philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (The World is One Family).

In his opening address, the prime minister declared that the voice of the Global South would be the voice of India, and the priorities of the developing countries will be India’s priorities. PM Modi gave a call for 4Rs: “Respond, Recognize, Respect and Reform.” He also announced a number of new initiatives by India. These include:

AarogyaMaitri: essential medical supplies will be provided to any developing country affected by natural disasters or humanitarian crisis;

Global South Center of Excellence: for research on development solutions to be implemented around the world;

Global South Science and Technology Initiative: to share expertise in areas such as space technology and nuclear energy.

There will also be a Global South Young Diplomats Forum and Global South Scholarships.

Several developing countries like Bangladesh, Egypt, Mauritius, Nigeria, Oman and the UAE have also been invited as “guest countries” by India to the G20 Summit in September this year.

PM Modi has declared that India will organize more than 200 G20 meetings in 55 different cities on 35 different themes around the country. Assuming charge of the G20 at this critical moment is a huge challenge. It is also a great opportunity.

The world is looking at India with hope and expectation to effectively deal with the turbulence from COVID, the Russo-Ukraine war, global economic downturn, and climate change. India is committed to reach out to all countries to ensure that “when the G20 meets in the holy land of Buddha and Gandhi, we will all agree to convey a strong message of peace to the world.’’

India will hand over the baton to Brazil at the end of November 2023. This is the first time that the troika of the current, past and future presidencies of G20 are all significant developing and emerging economies. This provides a unique opportunity to India, supported by Indonesia and Brazil, to make a significant contribution to peace, security, stability and prosperity in the world. India looks forward to its presidency of the G20 with determination and confidence.

Ashok Sajjanhar, the writer has served in the Indian Foreign Service for 30 years and is a former Indian Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of January 27, 2023.

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