Modi’s call to empower Global South echoes at G-7

India’s voice as current president of the G-20 and the SCO had additional resonance at the G-& meet, more so as India seeks to represent the voice of the Global South in the G-20 and inscribe the concerns of the developing countries on its agenda, writes Kanwal Sibal

The G-7 summit to which India was invited provided New Delhi a platform to express its views on the challenging issues confronting the international community today. India has been invited to earlier G-7 summits too but on this occasion India’s voice as current president of the G-20 and the SCO had additional resonance, more so as India seeks to represent the voice of the Global South in the G-20 and inscribe the concerns of the developing countries on its agenda. In their briefings on the invitation extended to India the Japanese put emphasis on creating a synergy between the G-7 and the G-20.

India’s voice on its own has now more credibility in G-7 and other groupings when global issues are discussed. On climate change and related issues of environment and energy, India has moved away from its earlier defensive posture, and on the back of its own internal and external initiatives, PM Modi could with confidence recall to the leaders present that India had created global institutional mechanisms to address these issues, such as Mission Life, International Solar Alliance, Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, Mission Hydrogen, Biofuel Alliance, and the Big Cat Alliance. 

He also conveyed that India was moving swiftly towards its goal of Net Zero by 2070, implicitly rejecting the thrust of the G-7 communiqué that the “major economies” should move towards Net Zero by 2050. For credibility, he mentioned that India’s vast railway network was slated to become Net Zero by 2030 and the current installed capacity of renewable energy in India of about 168.9 GW, and expected to rise exponentially in the future.

PM Modi also threw back the responsibility on the G-7 to do their part to meet the Climate Change and associated challenges by providing technology transfer and affordable financing to the countries in need without which, he said starkly, “our discussion will be futile” with “no change on the ground”.

In a bid to build an important link between the G-20 and the G-7 agenda, Modi, in another G7 session, took up the cause of the Global South on global food security by calling for building an inclusive food system that focuses on the world’s most vulnerable people, especially marginal farmers, strengthening global fertilizer supply chains by removing the political obstacles in them, a new model of natural farming, taking digital technology to farmers around in the world, separating organic food from a fashion statement and commerce and connecting it with nutrition and health,  and preventing food wastage. With India having taken the successful initiative to have the UN declare 2023 as the International Year of Millets, he reminded the leaders present that millets addressed simultaneously the challenges of nutrition, climate change, water conservation and food security.

Recalling by implication the failure of the G-7 to assume a cooperative leadership role in combating Covid 19, Modi drew attention to the reality that availability of vaccine and medicines during the pandemic was linked to politics instead of human welfare. He proposed the establishment of resilient healthcare systems, with traditional medicine playing its part in creating “holistic healthcare,” with the mobility of doctors and nurses as a priority, with India’s strengths in this field no doubt in mind.

The other messages Modi conveyed were changing the development model inspired by consumerism, focusing on development, technology and democracy together, and progress made by India in women-led development. With the obsession in the West about transgenders, Modi mentioned that India had made a law to ensure the rights of transgender persons, with a railway station in India run entirely by them.

Prime Minister Modi’s bilateral meeting with President Zelensky attracted unnecessarily high media interest in India. The G-7 has studiously provided Zelensky every possible national and international platform to promote him personally. Inviting him to Hiroshima was expected, especially as Japan has lately become very outspoken in condemning Russia for its military intervention in Ukraine, to the extent of galvanizing support for G-7’s position even from African countries, many of whom have refused to condemn Russia.

It was not only appropriate but diplomatically necessary for Modi to meet Zelensky, as not meeting him would have eroded India’s balancing strategy. India has diplomatic ties with Ukraine, obtained its help in evacuating Indian students when the conflict erupted, and has provided humanitarian aid to the country. India cannot take a position that dialogue and diplomacy, not a military win, is required to end the conflict, and then refuse to have a dialogue with Ukraine. More so as India has been called to play some sort of a mediatory role to end the conflict by some voices at the international level.

PM Modi had even before he reached Hiroshima told a Japanese news outlet in an interview that India’s position on the Ukraine conflict was clear and unchanged, giving advance notice that India will not yield to any pressure at the G-7 meeting. In his meeting with Zelensky, while recognising that the Russia-Ukraine issue was a major one impacting the entire world, and that he understood the pain and sufferings of war felt by the Ukrainian people, and that he would personally do everything that is possible to end the conflict, Modi artfully circumscribed its scope for India by saying that he did not see it “as a political or economic issue” (more, significantly, not even a military one) but “an issue of human values”.

At the joint meeting of the G-7 leaders and the invitees with Zelensky, Modi reiterated the same position, adding that “from the very beginning, we have maintained that dialogue and diplomacy is the only way” and that “we will make every possible effort to contribute, in whatever way India can, for resolving this situation”. He was addressing his message to the G-7 leaders and Zelensky in view of their strategy to rule out dialogue and diplomacy for the time being, continue arming Ukraine with increasingly lethal weapons to enable its armed forces to launch a successful military counter offensive that would compel Russia to negotiate.

Modi made the point that in “today’s inter-connected world, crises in any one region affect all the countries”, and that “the developing countries, which have limited resources, are the worst affected” with a food, fuel, and fertilizer crisis. He boldly broadened his critique by asking why we are “facing the need to discuss matters of peace and stability in distinct forums”, and not the UN “which was established with the very purpose of establishing peace”, and failing even until now to agree on the “definition of terrorism”. An introspection would make it clear that “the institutions created in the last century are not in line with the system of the twenty-first century” and “do not reflect the realities of the present”. The UN, he said need reform and had to become “the voice of the Global South. Otherwise, we will just keep talking about ending conflict. UN and Security Council will become just a talk shop”- a blunt but valid observation.

The Prime Minister called for all countries to respect the UN Charter, international law and sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries and oppose unilateral attempts to change the status quo (can also be read as an indirect swipe at China). He evoked Buddha’s teachings to the gathered leaders to the effect that “enmity does not calm enmity. Enmity is pacified by affinity”. Eventually, all water off the duck’s back as at the Hiroshima summit an additional arms package of US$ 375 million and unwavering support for Ukraine was announced by the US.

(Kanwal Sibal is India’s former Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to Russia. Views expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)

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