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G-20 summit … India’s Modi moment

by tbhdesk

The summit was a symbol of the rise of India as a global powerhouse

The summit of G-20 nations has come to a satisfactory end in Delhi. Without question it has been a sign of the leadership Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi demonstrated in his, and his government’s, efforts to ensure the success of the summit. Modi clearly did not wish to see a repeat of Bali in 2022, when division and disagreement came in the way of a happy conclusion to the G-20 meeting. As External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar put it in succinct manner, “Bali is Bali. Delhi is Delhi.”

In our times, summitry is, all too often, given the ever new complexities insinuating their way into global politics, a tough calling. In what many would like to consider as signs of a new Cold War, summitry is often impeded by existing and emerging problems and, of course, the egos of leaders who feel the need to be in focus at such conferences. It is refreshing that none of these issues marred the Delhi summit, that things went better than anticipated.

The anticipation was of course centred around the decision by Chinese President Xi Jinping to stay away from the summit and have Beijing represented by Prime Minister Li Qiang. At the other end, Russian leader Vladimir Putin sent Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a sign yet once again that the sanctions slapped on him by the International Criminal Court did not permit him to travel outside his country. It ought to be for the West, in the interest of productive diplomacy and a quick end to the war in Ukraine, to take measures aimed at lifting the sanctions. It is bad policy to have the leader of a leading global power fenced in by sanctions put arbitrarily and unwisely in place.

And, yes, Ukraine is unhappy that the Delhi Declaration did not condemn Russia for its military action against it. That again is demonstrative of a lack of maturity on the part of the Ukrainian leadership, which has clearly failed to acknowledge its own role in the making of the crisis. Ukraine’s move toward acquiring Nato membership and in effect taking an organization forged in the early phase of the Cold War closer to Russia’s borders was a provocation President Putin responded to. It is an issue the West is yet to acknowledge, assuming it wants a speedy end to the conflict.

On the Ukraine question, the Delhi Declaration was therefore evidence of the strenuous efforts put in by India in working out the details of a deal acceptable to all participants at the G-20 summit. A remarkable aspect of the deliberations in Delhi was the declaration being accepted and publicly announced on the first day of the summit, which is rather unusual in such complicated, high stakes negotiations. It is to the credit of Indian officials who, in pre-summit dealings with their counterparts in the 19 other member-states of the group, were able to work out the points which would go into the Delhi Declaration.

Prime Minister Modi’s stature has certainly been enhanced by the successful conclusion of the summit. As he moves toward rounding off a decade in power, India’s leader can justifiably point to the heights he has taken the country in the global perspective.

The achievement follows the pattern set in motion by earlier generations of Indian leaders in projecting India abroad. Jawaharlal Nehru’s statesmanship steered India toward non-alignment, where Delhi’s influence was paramount. In the Commonwealth, Nehru’s India played a pivotal role in stressing the importance of the body as an influential group of nations once ruled by Britain.

In Indira Gandhi’s time, the decisive role played by the country in world affairs is part of the historical record. Mrs Gandhi’s green revolution in the 1960s was to change India’s image before the world, in that economic sense of the meaning.

In geopolitical terms, the Indian role in the Bangladesh conflict in 1971, the prime minister’s defiance of Washington in relation to the crisis are part of history. Her leadership in forging a treaty of friendship and cooperation in 1971 with the Soviet Union, followed by her government’s role in successfully concluding the Simla Agreement with Pakistan in July 1972 and then influencing the drafting and acceptance of the Tripartite Agreement between India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan in April 1974 enhanced India’s global stature.

Narendra Modi has been building on that record. His state visit to Washington last June was a hearkening back to similar visits made earlier, in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s by Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and Morarji Desai. India’s rise to global prominence, therefore, has followed a gradual but sure pattern over the decades.

Modi’s success has been to hold on to that tradition and indeed to build on it. His success in the diplomatic arena has been remarkable. The G-20 is proof. The acceptance of the African Union as a full member of the group is an achievement accomplished under India’s leadership of the group. Besides, the invitations to the leaders of nine non-G-20 players to the summit was a sign that the group was reaching out to wider sections of the world community.

The success of the G-20 summit will now have the added pressure on India to do more in areas where conflict and crises undermine global and also regional stability. Of course, Delhi as part of the Quad will need to tread a careful path given that the alliance is aimed at containing China. Modi will need to ensure that his country’s West-friendly diplomacy does not get in the way of a careful, positive development of relations with Beijing, especially when Chinese incursions into and claims to Indian territory in the north-east continue to be a major irritant for Delhi.

It is perhaps also time for the Indian leadership to play a more active role where a sharing of the Teesta waters with Bangladesh is concerned. Additionally, Delhi, fresh from its diplomatic triumph at the G-20, can expand its reach to encompass the need to mediate between Dhaka and Naypyitaw on the question of a return to Myanmar of the million-plus Rohingya refugees now in camps in Bangladesh.

In the perspective of South Asia, of the principles of peace and cooperation linking the peoples of all countries in the region, the Modi government is well-placed to initiate fresh new moves to bring all the nations of the region together in organizational form. With SAARC being comatose for years, it may not be possible to revive the body.

In any case, SAARC was a non-starter from the beginning, with its charter blocking any discussion of bilateral issues among member-states of the organization. The Indian leadership, in cooperation with Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, should be in a position to sound them out on the possibilities of a new and more purposeful regional body, on the pattern of ASEAN, the AU and EU, able to come to terms with the issues of these present times.

The G-20 summit, in an important way, was symbolic of the rise of India as a global powerhouse. That is an achievement, both for the country and for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Indians have come a long way.

Syed Badrul Ahsan is Consultant Editor, Dhaka Tribune.

Source: Dhaka Tribune.

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