However, India has no magic wand to transform the world. All the members of G-20 must rise to the occasion.


India’s dynamic and inspiring leadership can give a new direction to G-20, but we must eschew exaggerated and unrealistic expectations. G-20 was born in the aftermath of a series of financial crises: Mexican, Russian and American, to name a few, triggered off by the belated realization by the G-7 that, as a Group, they couldn’t avert or handle international financial crises without involving major emerging economies. While their intent was right, their methodology for selecting member countries wasn’t. It was plain arbitrary. It was left to Timothy Geithner, Deputy of the US Secretary of Treasury, Larry Summers and Caio Koch, Deputy of the German Foreign Minister, Hans Eichel to draw a list. Their arbitrary selection introduced an element of representational anomaly. For example, while Europe has got four members, UK, France, Germany and Italy and the EU, South America has got three: Mexico, Argentina and Brazil; the entire African continent with more than 40 countries had to reconcile with just South Africa whose resources and developmental needs are different from the majority of African countries. They could have included Kenya also to represent Eastern Africa.

Similarly, Saudi Arabia has been picked to represent both the Arab world and the Gulf region. Though it is the custodian of the holy mosques, it can’t represent the Arab world; its role in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen has been controversial. Egypt—the inheritor of one of the oldest civilizations in the world and whose president Anwar Sadat, driven by his vision of peace in the Middle East, undertook the historic and path breaking visit to Jerusalem (1977) and paid the price with his own life—should have been included.

The first meeting of G-20 was held in Berlin in1999. Initially, the meetings of G-20 were attended by the Finance Ministers and the Governors of the Central banks of the member countries. In the wake of the financial crises of 2008, US President George W. Bush hosted the first G-20 Summit in Washington on 14-15 November 2008. Since 2011, it has become an important and much awaited annual summit.

Interestingly, G-20 has no permanent secretariat of its own; the current President (rotating) runs the show in consultation with the immediate past President and the incoming President. The Troika provides continuity and guards against sudden shifts. The Sherpas of member countries seek consensus/convergence on issues of common interests through consultations and meetings. The host president usually invites friendly nonmembers as special guests.

G-20 is a formidable group today; it represents 85% of global GDP, 80% of world trade and 2/3 of global population. It is less unwieldy than the UNGA and includes both the top developed countries and the leading emerging economies. With its economic, political and military heft, it should be able to deliver on issues of common interest but, unfortunately, it seldom does enough, thanks to internal divisions.

Though the original mandate was to secure financial and economic stability of members, over the years, its interests have expanded exponentially. Now, fighting the Covid pandemic, climate change, energy security, food security, promotion of green energy, digital connectivity, promotion of higher technologies, alternative supply chains and fighting terrorism including cybercrimes and money laundering etc., are all on the table. In principle, bilateral political issues shouldn’t be discussed, but they are often raised indirectly.

G-20 summits have become popular among the participating leaders for another reason: for holding meetings with various counterparts on the sidelines and exchange notes on issues of mutual interests. G-20 summits are usually high on rhetoric but low on delivery. Three key members: the US, China and Russia are, presently, at loggerheads. The US has, in fact, imposed sanctions on both Russia and China; President Biden has termed them as America’s strategic rivals. While the US, the EU, Japan, India, Australia underline the significance of Indo-Pacific and the Quad for a rules-based international order, both China and Russia view them, essentially, as anti-China initiatives aimed at stalling her rise. Recently, Saudi Arabia, a strong ally of the US in the oil rich gulf region for decades, visibly gave a cold shoulder to President Biden, but gave a red carpet welcome to Chinese President Xi Jinping who held a summit not only with them, but also with other leaders of the Gulf region and the Arab League.

Obviously, internal dissensions and divergent objectives pursued by major players stymie the effectiveness of the G-20.There is trust deficit among some of them. Herein lies India’s significance. It enjoys good relations with all members except China. Even with China, despite the bloody clashes in Galwan valley in June 2020 and the skirmishes at Yangtse on 9 December 2022, India and China maintain normal diplomatic and trade relations. Therefore, India is capable of taking more nimble-footed diplomatic moves and facilitating dialogues and negotiations where others have failed and produce results.

PM Modi’s op-ed on the first day of India’s G-20 Presidency, carried by most national dailies, is full of soaring idealism; it paints an ambitious and enticing vision for humanity and encapsulates all that ought to be done. If PM Modi’s dream vision could be achieved, this world will be a far better place to live in.

Underlining India’s unique credentials, he wrote, “Housing one sixth of humanity and with its immense diversity of languages, religions, customs and beliefs, India is a microcosm of the world. With the oldest known traditions of collective decision-making, India contributes to the foundational DNA of democracy.”

Lamenting that many countries are still trapped in a zero-sum mindset and fight over territory or goods or resources, weaponise supplies of essential goods, hoard vaccines while millions remain vulnerable, he fervently reminded that today we have means to produce enough to meet the basic needs of all people in the world and need not fight for our survival and it need not be an era of war.

He likened India’s electoral democracy to “blending millions of free voices into one harmonious melody” and flagged economic progress through people-centric policies regarding social protection, financial inclusion and electronic payments that have leveraged “technology to create digital public goods that are open, inclusive and interoperable”. PM Modi emphasized, “During our G-20 presidency, we shall present India’s experiences, learnings and models as possible templates for others, particularly the developing world.” He also clarified that India’s “G-20 priorities will be shaped in consultation with not just our G-20 partners, but also our fellow travellers in the Global South, whose voice often goes unheard.”

Taking cognizance of the massive virtual world and transformative contribution of technologies as “the means to address problems on a humanity wide scale” PM Modi cautioned that global problems of climate change, terrorism and pandemics can be solved only by acting together and not fighting each other. There is an underlying fundamental oneness which binds us all , hence India has adopted “One Earth, One Family, One Future” as the theme for its G-20 Presidency inspired by India’s centuries old concept of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”.
India has witnessed unprecedented digital transformation (India had 60,000 phone subscribers in 1947, but now it has 1.4 billion cell phone subscribers) which she used effectively at massive scale in fighting Covid pandemic, delivering healthcare services, running government, ensuring education and providing domestic and global connectivity. Her success in harnessing renewable energy sources has been exemplary. And PM Modi has played a pivotal role in revolutionary initiatives like International Solar Alliance, OSOWOG (One Sun, One World, and One Grid) and CDRI (The Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure).Obviously, India has a lot to offer of her own experiences.

Depoliticization of global supply of food, fertilizers and adoption of sustainable environmental friendly life style, lowering of geopolitical tensions and honest conversation among the most developed nations and mitigation of weapons of mass destruction are the goals no sane person can object to. PM Modi’s unifying message is hugely inspiring:

“Our priority will focus on healing our one earth, creating harmony within our one family and giving hope for our one future.” But can India transform the world and achieve these lofty goals without a fundamental change in the mindset, priorities and strategic thinking of the major global players? India’s dynamic leadership can certainly be a catalyst for positive change, but it has no magic wand to transform the world. All the members of G-20 must rise to the occasion.

Surendra Kumar was India’s Ambassador to Libya, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo and Eritrea & High Commissioner of India to Kenya, Swaziland and Malta.