The 18th G-20 Summit concluded successfully in Delhi on September 10 with Prime Minister Narendra Modi handing the gavel over to the next president Louis Ignacio Lula Da Silva of Brazil.
The sword of failure loomed large over the organisation, whose presidency we took over from Indonesia in November last year. With the Russia-Ukraine conflict getting more intense by the day and both warring sides determined to secure the still elusive victory, the geo-strategic pundits speculated that the Summit would, if at all it happens, end without any final declaration, thus putting a blot on India’s presidency.
The indications towards this doubt began with the failure of the G-20 Foreign Ministers’ Conference to issue any joint declaration because of serious disagreement between the NATO countries and the Russia-China axis over the conflict. This was further strengthened by the absence of China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and UAE from the G-20 Tourism meeting held in Srinagar early this year. Moreover, despite the fact that the mandate and the aim of the grouping as mentioned in its founding documents was purely economic, the conflict found its express mention in the outcome document of every working group meeting held under the three verticals- be it on women empowerment, start-ups or even anti-corruption. It was really a Herculean task for any president of G-20 to navigate through the troubled political waters infested with deep mutual distrust, the return of the Cold War, indiscreet exploitation of natural resources of African countries resulting in their economic disparity and the deepening North-South divide.
But India started its presidential tenure wisely by convening a virtual meeting of 125 developing and least developed countries under the title “Voice of the South”. This was the first-ever meeting of this kind where the concerns of these countries could find a platform. Articulating these concerns, India organised more than 230 meetings under the three verticals-Sherpa, Finance and NGOs- in more than 60 cities involving more than one lakh foreign delegates besides the Indian participants which included academicians, technocrats, business tycoons, officials from various fields, social activists, economists, think- tanks, NGOs etc.
However, till a week before the summit, the two warring blocs were still sticking to their respective stances which were fraught with the possibility of derailment of the whole summit. While the Western block was bent upon including a para condemning Russia for its ‘aggression’ on Ukraine in blatant violation of the UN charter and the provisions of international law as well and wanted a mention of nuclear threat by Russia, the latter was not prepared to be branded as a culprit and, in turn, reportedly demanded inclusion of American nuclear action on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. However, the intense and prolonged meeting held by the Indian negotiators with all parties for till 4.30 am on September 9 bore fruit and finally the consensus Delhi Declaration arose along with the Sun of September 9. The credit for achieving this remarkable feat goes solely to Amitabh Kant, the Indian Sherpa and his team of four fabulous officers from the Indian Foreign Service as well as the relentless work done by the Ministry of External Affairs under the able guidance of the Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar. That things were going to be smoother was indicated by the fact that Joe Biden, throwing all the state protocol out of the window, rushed from the airport directly to the PM’s residence. In the final document unanimously adopted by the Summit, neither the words 'Russia' nor 'aggression' were mentioned.
While this can be seen as a climbdown by NATO, the document also gave some solace to the West also by calling it a war (as against the “conflict” used by India) and calling upon the nations to respect the sovereignty and integrity of other nations in in accordance with the UN Charter thus making a veiled reference to Russia. The document was, contrary to expectations, conspicuous by the absence of any mention of the Indo-Pacific problem which was perhaps a bargaining concession for China in place of its insistence on its bilateral issues with the West. The document was to the satisfaction of both side which they saw from their own perspectives. Terming the event a 'breakthrough Summit,' Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov thanked India for “creating a foundation for the democratisation of global institutions” and hailed the Final Document as a victory for Russia. On the other hand, viewing the document from their own lenses, the French president hailed India’s role and said that the G-20 had “again confirmed the isolation of Russia”. Biden as well as many others lauded the success of the event and the Indian presidency which made it possible. The only loser in the Summit was Ukraine!
Now, one may ask what did India spend on the event and what was the take away for us. According to the government sources, the expenditure on the construction of the venue, Bharat Mandapam and the creation of facilities there, amount of Rs 2,700 crores was spent which incidentally is less than that spent on some of the previous summits organised by other member countries. In any case, this permanent structure can very well be used for events in future. Apart from the admiration of the organisational skills and logistics of the summit, a big takeaway for us was the inclusion of the African Union in the G-20. We have traditionally good relations with Africa, which is a major part of the Global South. An emotionally overwhelmed President of the Union of Comoros and the Chairperson of AU, Azali Assoumani hailed India’s initiative to welcome AU into the grouping. Joe Biden also praised Modi for his “decisive leadership and for championing the voice of the Global South”. The French, German and Brazilian leaders were equally appreciative of the event and its outcome document. So, the Summit saw India emerge as an unofficial leader of the Global South and a negotiator par excellence.
Three other important gains for India were on the sidelines of the Summit. First, it was decided to establish an Indo-American Joint Fund to support India in its faster transition to environmental protection through green technologies. Secondly, an initiative called “Global Bio-fuel Alliance’ was formed with its founding members Brazil, India and USA who account for more than 80%. According to the Ministry of External Affairs, the Alliance intends to expedite the global uptake of biofuels by facilitating technology advancements, intensifying the utilisation of sustainable biofuels, and shaping robust standard setting and certification through the participation of a wide spectrum of stakeholders. Many more countries within and outside of the G-20 have expressed their willingness to join this initiative.
The third, and perhaps the most important, gain for India came in the form of the decision to create a “Sea Route-Rail- transport corridor” from India to the USA via UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Italy and Greece. This will not only minimise the time for transporting the cargo but also be cost-effective for members.
In conclusion, the Summit was another feather in the Indian cap and is a testimony of India’s growing acceptance in the world enabling us to effectively influence the process of carving the new world order. However, the next virtual summit announced by the PM for November to take stock of the progress on the issues mentioned in the final document will truly assess our performance during our tenure.