There can be no doubt that the direction of the Ukraine conflict may cast a long shadow on India’s presidency.
Created in the aftermath of the devastating World War II, the United Nations and its Security Council as well as the Breton woods institutions and the G 7 reflect the world order which prevailed immediately after World War II and the new power balance created by its victors.
The G 20 is a reflection of an emerging order, which brings the G7 together with other major economies as equal partners. It also brings includes the P5 with other major emerging economies.
Conceived as an international mechanism for governance of the global economy, the G20, which includes all the major economies, has evolved over time into one of the most powerful economic and financial groupings. At present, it comprises 85% of the global GDP, 75% of international trade and two/thirds of the global population. It represents the world’s key body for handling global economic and developmental issues.
Held under a rotational presidency on an annual basis since 2011, the G20’s initial focus was on broad macro-economic policy. More recently, the G 20 focus shifted to include a wide range of global issues including climate change and energy, health, counter-terrorism and migration.
What is the composition of the G 20? It comprises 20 countries (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, UK and USA) and the European Union (EU).
India has been a member of the G20 since its inception in 1999. India’s presidency comes at a watershed moment coinciding with a period of flux internationally. The global community is facing multiple challenges, politically and economically. The Russia-Ukraine conflict has vitiated relations between Russia and the industrialised Western countries, most of which are members of the G 20.
India would, in the true spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, or the world is one family, seeking to find pragmatic global solutions for the well-being of all. India’s vision for the global development agenda is shaped by the rapid transformation of its economy and society launched by the Prime Minister, particularly green and digital transformations. The after-effects of the pandemic are also of importance, as it underlined the importance of resilient healthcare and global cooperation.
From December 22, during India’s presidency, Indonesia and Brazil along with India would form the Troika (current, previous and incoming G20 presidencies). This would be the first time when the Troika would consist of three emerging economies. It is time for emerging economies to have a greater share in decision-making at this grouping.
India will host the G 20 Leaders' Summit at the level of Heads of State / Government on 9-10 September 2023 in New Delhi. Under its presidency, India is expected to host over 200 G 20 meetings across India, commencing in December 2022.
India is preparing to hold up to 190 G20 meetings on a pan-India basis. In our effort to organize an Impeccable and Uniquely ‘Indian’ G20, we strive to take this mega event closer to the lives of the people of India making it ‘People’s G20’.
Establishment of G 20 Secretariat
A G 20 Secretariat has been established with cabinet approval. Former Foreign Secretary Harsh V Shringla has been appointed as India's chief G 20 Coordinator at Secretary Level. The G 20 Secretariat will be responsible for the implementation of overall policy decisions and arrangements needed for steering India’s Presidency. 1
The Secretariat will handle work relating to knowledge, technical, media, security and logistical aspects of the presidency. The Cabinet Secretariat said in a statement: “It will be manned by officers and staff from the Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Finance, and other relevant line Ministries/Departments and domain knowledge experts. The Secretariat will be functional till February 2024”.
The India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) has almost completed re-development of Pragati Maidan for setting up of a world-class Integrated Exhibition-cum-Convention Centre (IECC) at a cost of Rs 2254 crore. It is the venue of the Summit. 2
The Government has commenced the process of recruitment to the Secretariat. In a tweet citing a tweet by Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi confirming that recruitment had started, Prime Minister tweeted: “This is an exciting opportunity…” 3
In accordance with past tradition, the presidency usually invites some ‘Guest’ countries and International Organizations (IOs) to its G20 meetings and Summit. MEA has announced that as President India will invite Bangladesh, Egypt, Mauritius, Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Singapore, Spain and UAE as ‘Guests’. Bangladesh is the only South Asian neighbour invited as ‘Guest’ to the Summit.
Further, in addition to regular International Organizations, India, as G20 presidency, will be invited as ‘Guest IO’s’ the ISA (International Solar Alliance), the CDRI (Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure) and the ADB (Asian Development Bank).
Priorities of the Presidency
What would be the priorities of the Indian presidency? According to MEA: “Ongoing conversations…revolve around inclusive, equitable and sustainable growth; LiFE (Lifestyle For Environment); women’s empowerment; digital public infrastructure and tech-enabled development in areas ranging from health, agriculture and education to commerce, skill-mapping, culture and tourism; climate financing; circular economy; global food security; energy security; green hydrogen; disaster risk reduction and resilience; developmental cooperation; fight against economic crime; and multilateral reforms.” 4
Among its key priorities are climate, digital and health. The Presidency provides an opportunity to showcase India’s leadership inter-alia in climate action and climate commitments.
At the COP26 Summit last year, Prime Minister Modi announced the ‘Panchamrit’ or five major areas of climate action commitments by India, including creating a net zero economy by 2070. Access to climate finance and technology would be critical in facilitating these ambitious goals particularly for developing countries.
Prime Minister emphasized the importance of behavioral change for catalyzing climate action and highlighted the need for collective action by the global community as part of a movement called LIFE - Lifestyle for Environment. These are most relevant for the G 20 today.
On digital, India hopes that our start-up sector and our proven capabilities to create tech models that balance the need for global integration and priorities at a national level can be internationalized. Digital India would go global.
On health, India has demonstrated new and innovative approaches to tackle complex challenges including Covid 19. India’s efforts to track the COVID pandemic’s spread relied on the success of the Aarogya Setu digital platform. India’s successful vaccination campaign which saw 2 billion vaccines administered across our populace, was underpinned by the Co-WIN digital platform.
The Indian Sherpa
The Sherpa plays a crucial role in ensuring that the priorities of the Indian presidency under PM Modi are supported by G 20 Member States. India’s G 20 Sherpa, Amitabh Kant, is an officer of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). He is supported by the G 20 Secretariat.
Kant led an Indian official delegation to the third G 20 Sherpa meeting of Indonesia’s G 20 presidency, held in Yogyakarta from 26th to 29th September 2022. At the meeting “Amitabh Kant reaffirmed India’s commitment and active support to Indonesian Presidency’s efforts…… He emphasized the need for G 20 to bring enhanced global focus on and strengthen international cooperation and efforts in key priority areas such as sustainable growth, accelerated progress on SDGs, addressing climate change including through Lifestyle for Environment (LiFE), tech-enabled development and digital public infrastructure, multilateral reforms and women’s empowerment”. 5
Significantly, Kant also highlighted Prime Minister Modi’s recent statement on 16 September: "Today’s era is not of war….diplomacy and dialogues are things that touch the world”.
Challenges Identified by the Sherpa
On 5th September 22, on Twitter, Kant provided a unique insight into PM Modi’s vision for the Indian presidency. He gave a broad brush perspective on the core issues of importance noting: “India believes that the G 20 countries must close ranks and work together. While the agenda and priorities for the Presidency are still evolving, India is committed to focussing on issues of critical importance to the world.
India believes that the G 20 countries must come together to deliver on matters of crucial importance to the world and not let the Russia-Ukraine crisis dominate the broader agenda. The G 20 should show the necessary leadership and flexibility to accommodate differences among its members to effectively deliver outcomes”.
While concluding, Kant stated: “The G 20, in India, will comprise around 200 events to be held across all the States and Union Territories. The intention is to execute them to perfection and send back every guest as a brand ambassador of India. Our aim is to create a uniquely Indian experience, which is spiritually invigorating and mentally rejuvenating. India’s achievements-both nationally and internationally-have earned us goodwill. India’s stature is extremely tall in the hearts of people. The G 20 will elevate it to even greater heights”. 6
Ukraine-Russia Conflict as a possible Spoiler
India has thus so far meticulously prepared for the Presidency. While the focus will be on sustainable economic growth, there are many challenges ahead with the Ukraine-Russia conflict being a possible spoiler. This is despite PM Modi’s determination not to let it become the spoiler.
The G 20 presidency coincides with the domination of a neo conservative US approach with regard to Russia. Of concern is also a negative narrative on India emanating from some sections of the Western media. This could be due to resentment at India’s rise and India’s independent stand on Ukraine-Russia.
Calls for a negotiated end to the conflict have gone unheeded by the West who seems determined to bring down President Putin. More unfortunate, Russia’s recent reverses seem to have whetted the appetite of NATO to reduce Russia to a subordinate status.
The West seems to be in no mood to listen to Kissinger who at 99, in a recent article, had invaluable advice to offer to the West: “The question will now be how to end that war. At its end a place has to be found for Ukraine and a place has to be found for Russia — if we don’t want Russia to become an outpost of China in Europe.”7
The war has entered a crucial stage and the Russian armed forces have been forced to retreat from some strategic areas it had conquered. President Putin has ordered a partial mobilization. For the first time, ordinary Russians are feeling the impact of the war. A businessman in Moscow describes a growing sense of vulnerability by quoting from Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’, which is a favourite of President Putin as follows: “When a leader of the pack has missed his kill, he is called the Dead Wolf as long as he lives, which is not long”. 8
President Putin’s dilemma of whether to consolidate gains which are being reversed by expanding the range of weapons (which is implicitly acknowledging the possibility of using small tactical nuclear weapons) is bringing the international community closer to a major conflict than any other time since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The contradictions in US position on Ukraine has been highlighted as follows: “First, that of enabling Ukraine to mount a robust defence – a humanitarian For now, one hopes that Benjamin Abelow’s last word is not prophetic: “False narratives lead to bad outcomes.” 9
Several Western writers and thinkers regret the insistence of the West to dominate the world even when economic power has shifted to Asia. Jeffrey Sachs says: “We are at the 60th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis……We are driving to the precipice, and we are filled with our enthusiasm as we do so. And it’s just unaccountably dangerous and wrongheaded, the whole approach of U.S. foreign policy. And it’s bipartisan”. 10
As incumbent President of the G 20, PM Modi has spoken several times to both President Putin and President Zelensky and most recently to President Zelensky. India is ready to support all efforts at de-escalation.
There can be no doubt that the direction of the Ukraine conflict may cast a long shadow on India’s presidency.
In the post-pandemic period, this will be undoubtedly the most important multilateral event being organized outside the UN. India hosted NAM and CHOGM Summits in 1983 and International Solar Alliance Summit in 2018. These meetings, though important, did not include all P5 and major countries.
The G 20 presidency will be at the beginning of Amritkaal, the next 25 years after the 75th anniversary of India’s independence, which makes it both futuristic and inclusive. India is also Chair of SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) from September 2022 to September 2023 and President of the UN Security Council for the month of December 2022.
As the world’s largest democracy, the third largest economy of the world in PPP terms and second most populous country of the world, India will make a meaningful contribution to the G 20 to support faster, sustainable and inclusive growth.
The G 20 presidency will place India on the global stage, and provide an opportunity for India to place its priorities and narratives on the global agenda. It would also provide a unique opportunity to showcase India’s progress and developments as well as its rich cultural heritage and diversity.
India hopes it can contribute to a speedy end to the Ukraine-Russia conflict during its presidency. India’s hopes for its G 20 presidency can be summed up in this verse from the Rig Veda:
“May the stream of my life flow into the river of righteousness.
Loose the bonds of sin that bind me.
Let not the thread of my song be cut while I sing;
And let not my work end before its fulfillment”. 11
(The author is a retired Indian Ambassador. Views are personal. Excerpted with special permission from an article published in the India Foundation Journal)
1. Economic Times
2. Business Standard 15th Feb 22
3. P M Modi’s Tweet
4. MEA Press note dated 13th September 22
5. MEA Press note dated 30th September 22
6. Amitabh Kant on Twitter updated 5th September 22
7. The Times 13th June 22, ‘Henry Kissinger at 99: how to avoid another World War’, Interview by Niall Fergussen
8. The Economist of 8th to 14th October 22 (pg 22)
9. Benjamin Abelow’s ‘How the West Brought War to Ukraine’ published by Asia Times.com (3rd September 2022) in David C. Speedie’s article ‘Did the West bring war to Ukraine’?
10. Amy Goodman interviewing Jeffrey Sachs, economist and director of the Centre for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, about his latest article headlined “The West’s False Narrative About Russia and China”.
11. Rig Veda 11.28. 1-9