TAKEN TOGETHER, the speeches made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar at the Voice of the Global South summit in New Delhi on January 13 heralded a new mindset in foreign policy. India has deftly adjusted to the decline of the West and welcomed emerging multipolarity and multilateralism. In the historic transition taking place in the world order, India views the Global South as its “natural constituency”.
The Prime Minister’s and EAM’s remarks signaled that India intends to fend off Western attempts to hijack the G20 summit scheduled to be held in Delhi in September.
The thought processes reflected in the speeches of Modi and Jaishankar are bold and progressive. The main themes can be summarized as follows: India’s concern with the growing geopolitical fragmentation of the international landscape and the iniquities of the UN system, where “some powers have been solely focused on their own gain”; the urgent need for major reform of major international organizations, particularly the Bretton Woods institutions, with an emphasis on voicing the concerns of the developing world and “reflecting the realities of the 21st century”; “the weight of the colonial past even as we face the injustices of the current world order”; “more multipolarity and reformed multilateralism”; “greater diversification and localization of capabilities”; and the one-sided composition of the G-20, which is juxtaposed with the global south.
Jaishankar rejected the collective West’s destructive attempts to polarize the world order – an ‘us vs. them’ mindset – and stated: “From decolonization movements to resistance to alignment in the face of a deeply polarized world, the Global South has always shown the middle way . The path where diplomacy, dialogue and cooperation trump competition, conflict and division.”
Jaishankar said: “Whether it is the impact of the Covid pandemic, climate change, terrorism, ongoing conflicts and debt crises, the search for solutions does not give due importance to the needs and aspirations of the Global South. We therefore want to ensure that India’s G20 presidency gathers this voice, perspectives, priorities of the Global South and articulates them clearly in its debates.”
Such a vision is being put forward by New Delhi after a long time. Since the early 1990s, when Indian diplomacy gradually began to turn its back on the Global South, it preferred to work with the Western agenda to reshape the norms of global governance. In essence, the so-called “Washington Consensus” was intended to preserve the dominance of the wealthy Western bloc through an ingenious way of building a coalition with a group of developing countries that played a subordinate role. The G20 epitomizes the paradigm under the rubric of “rules-based order.”
In a memorable instance, Barack Obama lavished praise on our then Prime Minister at the G20 summit in Toronto in 2010, saying, “When the Indian Prime Minister speaks, the whole world listens.” He knew, we knew, and the whole world knew it was classic Obamaspeak, with no fixed meaning in what he said. But these were turbulent times soon after the US-India nuclear deal.
Our elites have been led to believe that India’s interests are best served by acting as a ‘bridge’. But Washington’s confrontation with Russia (and China) has made it crystal clear that there is no desire for a comprehensive just world order. The G7 is once again imposing its dictates – even on the global oil market. Meanwhile, the epochal confrontation in Ukraine has revealed that the “rules-based order” actually translates into a hegemonic position of the West in the world.
It was therefore no surprise when Jaishankar noted in his speech with bitterness and disappointment that “Those who were promised an interconnected world now actually see a world with higher walls.” He was referring to the many broken promises by rich countries whose debris lies everywhere – the burden of developing climate resilience, carbon-free industrialization, for example – “all at the same time as managing disruption and uncertainty in global supply chains.”
The Prime Minister’s and EAM’s remarks signaled that India intends to fend off Western attempts to hijack the G20 summit scheduled to be held in New Delhi in September. Undoubtedly, the ideas and proposals put forward by the duo have been taken seriously by the G20 members.
Interestingly, Brazil has asked its BRICS partners to postpone their chairmanship of the group from 2024 to 2025. Brazilian Finance Minister Fernando Haddad said last Wednesday: “We have postponed our BRICS chairmanship to not coincide with the G20 .” The minister added that the aim of the move was “to do quality work in both cases”. Brazil’s newly elected Socialist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said his foreign policy priorities include plans to restart integration processes in Latin America and emphasize the role of BRICS and the G20.
The bottom line is that most of the ideas that found expression at the Voice of the Global South summit are rooted in the BRICS discussions. India is circling the wagons to avoid a repeat of the G20 summit in Bali, where Western countries strongly demanded that the “rules-based order” be put at the forefront of the discussion. Modi’s government is sure to annoy the “collective West”. Be ready for tricks from the West’s toolbox to overlay different backgrounds for the event in September.
However, these are outbursts of desperation as the status quo of the G20 agenda is unsustainable and a new world order is emerging. The latest news from the conflict in Ukraine is a historic defeat of Western hegemony. A fundamentally different international system becomes inevitable. Modi’s optimism is well-founded. And it is historically, morally, culturally and politically appropriate that India positions itself at the vanguard of change.