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  Opinion   Columnists  10 Sep 2023  K.C. Singh | A mix of success, hype & innovation at Delhi G-20

K.C. Singh | A mix of success, hype & innovation at Delhi G-20

The writer is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry. He tweets at @ambkcsingh.
Published : Sep 11, 2023, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Sep 11, 2023, 12:05 am IST

One notable outcome is the admission of the African Union as a full member of the G-20, making it now the G-21.

 Prime Minister Narendra Modi with World Bank President Ajay Banga, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and US President Joe Biden pose for a group photo during the G20 Summit, in New Delhi, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. (PTI Photo)
  Prime Minister Narendra Modi with World Bank President Ajay Banga, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and US President Joe Biden pose for a group photo during the G20 Summit, in New Delhi, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. (PTI Photo)

The Group of 20 summit hosted by India, which concluded India’s one-year rotational presidency, has reached a happy culmination. The 83-paragraph New Delhi Declaration was adopted by consensus halfway through the two-day proceedings. While this is a matter of great pride for all Indians, it is necessary to separate the hype from the facts.

India’s G-20 sherpa, Amitabh Kant, and external affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and his team were lauded by the Indian Prime Minister publicly. Some of the elements of the Indian success are fairly obvious. First, that the consensus was achieved at a time when an antagonistic Russia and a sulking China could have been spoilers. The watering down of the Bali Declaration’s language on the Ukraine war was probably a compromise solution to get Russia on board. Frankly, the semantics do not alter the criticism of Russian aggression, even though now done indirectly. A reference to the condemnatory UN resolutions has been retained and the principles of the UN Charter and international law restated on non-use of military force to alter international borders or infringe the sovereignty of other nations. Credit perhaps goes as much to the United States and the G-7 bloc for not making an issue out of it to obtain movement on other vital issues facing the Global North and the Global South.

The next notable outcome is the admission of the African Union as a full member of the G-20, making it now the G-21. This 55-member group represents over one billion people and a yet underexploited and huge land mass. However, this must be contextualised.

First, India has had close relations with African countries since 1947. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru buried anti-colonial angst to accept membership of the Commonwealth. As the African countries obtained independence, they followed the Nehru template and joined the Commonwealth of Nations. India began offering training scholarships soon after its independence. In 1964 the Indian Technology and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) scheme was established by the ministry of external affairs to help developing countries. Thousands of scholarships were offered each year, with Africa as a major beneficiary. Thus, Africa as an important partner is not a new concept.

Moreover, South Africa already was Africa’s voice in the G-20. It is not clear what additional heft a rotational president will bring. Africa’s development problems are as much a factor of external exploitation or neglect as the deficient governance structures in most nations. In sub-Saharan Africa in the period 1960-2000 there were 40 successful or attempted coups per decade. The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the economic conditions in most African nations, resulting in the frequency of coups accelerating. Gabon had one just weeks ago, as did Niger a month earlier.

Since 2000 there have been 24 successful coups, 16 of them in Francophone Africa. One of the reasons for this slippage is that the AU has a much weaker voice today.

However, the membership sends a strong signal of global empathy for the largely development-deprived African people. Their fate in the past few decades has been mostly left to China and Russia.

In reality, a more significant outcome is the creation of a Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Development (PGII), on the sidelines of G-20. The meeting was co-chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden. They were joined by leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, UAE and the European Union. An India-Europe rail-digital-green-pipeline connectivity was announced, which will run via the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel. The maritime plus railway infrastructure would reduce by 40 per cent the time now taken to transport goods. That the Israeli leadership was absent indicated the one glitch. Despite the best efforts of the US, Saudi-Israeli relations have still not normalised.

Another project is planned to connect Angola, via Zambia, to the Indian Ocean. President Biden said the US will host an Investment Forum in two weeks. The PGII is potentially a powerful rival to the 10-year-old and controversial Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China. In fact, for years it was argued that bemoaning the Chinese infrastructure initiative was counter-productive. The US and its partners had to present attractive alternatives to the Global South. The co-option of Italy, which had recently withdrawn from the Chinese BRI, only added insult to injury. President Xi might have skipped the G-20 summit having some advance information and fearing the loss of face.

The other notable outcome was a Global Biofuels Alliance. Besides India, its members are: Bangladesh, Brazil, Italy, Mauritius, South Africa, the UAE and United States. Canada and Singapore are observers. The aim is to increase ethanol blending of fuel up to 20 per cent. While Brazil, Mauritius and India would use sugarcane molasses as feedstock, others may use whatever indigenous crop or residue is available. The US mainly uses corn. Some of these nations get adequate rainfall and are not water stressed. For others, growing water-intensive crops like corn and sugarcane is not sustainable. Thus, the biofuel solution to clean energy comes laden with hidden costs, not studied or simply ignored. The BJP’s pro-urban and pro-industry orientation often blinds it to the impending agrarian water crisis in India.

The lengthy Delhi Declaration is a testament to the sheer intensity and range of G-20 preparatory meetings hosted by India. The Indian sherpa pointed to the “huge Indian footprint” on the issues. Thus, legacy issues like climate change, health and pandemics, food and energy price escalation, global indebtedness and Multilateral Development Banks’ (MDBs) reform were thrashed out fully. Some forward movement took place on climate finance, with the developed nations committing to start disbursing the promised $100 billion per year. This unfulfilled undertaking dates from 2010.

India’s pan-India Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) for social and financial inclusion enabled it to lead on the issue. The One Future Alliance for sharing India’s core competence is a wonderful idea. But again transparency, data security and privacy issues need addressing. The BJP’s tendency to treat such objections as obstructionism or worse needs to be curbed.

To become a “Vishwa Guru”, or Global Mentor, India and its leadership requires not only technical excellence or cultural rejuvenation but commitment to basic values like democracy and freedom of faith, belief and speech. Para 78 of the New Delhi Declaration not only restates these core principles, but also raises a call against “religious hatred”. The days ahead will tell whether the BJP can maintain a balance between its compulsively majoritarian narrative at home and a universal, value-based global commitment in the G-20 consensus declaration.

Tags: g20 summit in india, delhi declaration, amitab kant