In what was a major diplomatic win for India, unanimity was reached in the Delhi Declaration.
The recently concluded G-20 summit hosted in New Delhi is all the talk in global affairs forums. An inter-governmental forum of 19 countries, the European Union and now the African Union, which together account for 85 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product and two-thirds of its population, the G-20 was founded in 1999 in response to that decade’s massive Asian financial crisis, to formulate key economic and financial policies. Importantly, the G-20’s economic agenda encompasses issues such as gender-inclusive growth and global health, through the G-20 Health Working Group established in 2017 to strengthen healthcare systems and address their socio-economic determinants via targeted public policy measures.
The Bharat Mandapam at New Delhi’s Pragati Maidan, framed with the tallest ashtadhatu Nataraja statue depicting Bhagwan Shiva’s cosmic dance, was the venue for this summit. Delightful animals were on display -- as topiaries, architectural sculptures of elephants, and motifs on tapestry. The G-20 member countries have a variety of national animals and birds -- tiger, jaguar, lion, kangaroo, bears and beavers, wolves, dragons and pandas, along with peacocks, roosters and robins, eagles, falcons and hawks, thrushes and sparrows, cranes and geese -- and several of these also enjoyed pride of place. Despite the attendance of the big leaders, big outcomes had not been expected, as foreign policy experts were doubtful of reaching a consensus, given the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But at the conclusion of the summit, the list of achievements has been impressive.
In what was a major diplomatic win for India, unanimity was reached in the Delhi Declaration. With the support of the United States and other member nations, the declaration used the language of war, and called for the protection of sovereignty, territorial integrity and peace, signalling the growing importance of the Global South. India secured permanent membership for the African Union, which comprises more than 50 countries, a tremendous win for the post-colonial world. Like the nations of Africa and Latin America, India, too, has a painful history of colonialism, its wealth drained by centuries of racist plunder. Against this historical backdrop, the inclusion of Africa is highly symbolic, as only South Africa was a member until now. The announcement and MoU for an ambitious economic corridor connecting India, Europe and the Middle East, to also include the United States, France, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Germany and Italy, was also huge. As President Joe Biden announced, this new development initiative will bridge ports to facilitate ease of trade, export clean energy, improve digital inclusion, and spur economic growth.
Any policy disagreements aside, Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak won many hearts with his genuine warmth and charisma. Mr Sunak emphasised his Indian cultural heritage and faith, expressing support for a deeper bilateral relationship. Mr Sunak, not just a head of government but a seasoned statesman, said it was not for him to instruct the Global South on what position to take on global wars. A substantive Indo-UK trade agreement is likely. Some South Asian analysts said the change of heart of a few Western commentators, who had earlier greatly upset international audiences with their colonial arrogance and who were now talking of multi-polarity and praising India, was also a win. But two prominent Delhi-based news hosts dismissed them as “players” who could be trusted to do anything to stay in the game.
Meanwhile, one man who is getting a lot of respect from across the political spectrum is India’s brilliant external affairs minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who must be credited for his post-colonial vision and courageous leadership.
At the same time, and for all the big wins coming out of this summit of eagles and falcons, its “smaller” successes must also be celebrated, especially as the bigger plans will have to surmount big challenges. Years ago, I became fascinated with the hummingbird, that tiniest bird of the Americas which, despite its small size, catches everyone’s eye with its effervescent colours and uniquely structured wings that flap and fly at an incredible speed. A hardworking creature that outlives bigger birds, hummingbirds pollinate flowers, disperse seeds and control the insect population. What had struck me most, though, was how some larger predatory birds, annoyed by the hummingbird’s visibility and vibrant colours, attack and feast on it as a group.
(Unlike humans, there is at least there is no illusion in the animal kingdom. The lion does not pretend to be the deer’s friend, and the deer does not protect the lion out of love; it knows to see and flee.)
India’s invitation to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as a guest for the summit was a small but welcome gesture, to remind ourselves that our relationships with those closest to us is also important, especially when there is some history of trust. India had extended support to Bangladesh during the 1971 liberation war, a genocide which also included the systematic rape of an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 Bengali women. As important was the understanding over Taiwan which, on the request of the United States, India has agreed to support, another step forward for India-US relations. Decades ago, the persecution faced by peaceful Tibetans had received very little international attention; Taiwan will be different.
India, Brazil and other countries of the Global South will continue to be courted by a range of suitors, so astute decisions must be made. Where the ostrich digs its head in the mud, the wise owl looks more closely. Those whose strength is independence, alongside productive collaborations, must be cautious of partners who misused their power to cause harm. In Asia, the Sri Lanka-China and other stories provide insight into the need for diversifying portfolios rather than relying on large developmental loans from friends who may seek to control more than the terms of repayment. Friendships are not just about disagreement; good friends also go to a great extent to support each other. (As for making just, timely decisions, one expects that even from ethical strangers, let alone leaders supposed to be serving the public good.) The Global South’s global wins must continue alongside addressing the local needs of socio-economic inclusion. As I wrap up this article, news is coming in of a unique, hybrid hummingbird with glittering gold feathers just found in the Peruvian Andes. It is a new world, and one hopes for a golden dawn.