India’s huge population and fastest growing economy give it growing global clout. But it is a low-income superpower. And that unusual combination is reflected in the perspectives it has brought to the G20 presidency.
India has championed what Prime Minister Narendra Modi calls “our fellow travellers” in the global south – a term describing developing countries mostly (although not all) in the southern hemisphere, especially Africa, Asia and Latin America.
In January, India convened the Voice of the Global South Summit, attended by 125 countries, and promised to channel ideas from the meeting into the “deliberation and discourse of the G20”. India has also used its G20 leadership to push for the African Union – a peak body representing 55 African nations – to become a full member of the group (the European Union is already part of the G20).
“India considers it a responsibility to bring the issues, expectations and aspirations of the global south to the attention of the world through the G20 platform,” Modi said in June.
India has refocused the G20 agenda on achieving the UN’s 2015 Sustainable Development Goals which aim to end global poverty by 2030. Modi has also urged the G20 to “undertake collective action” to improve global food security which has deteriorated in many poor countries due to the disruptions of COVID-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
India has even used G20 forums to push for greater acceptance of alternative medicines and health treatments, which are popular in India and other developing countries. This included yoga, Ayurveda, naturopathy and homoeopathy.
I returned to India last month as part of a delegation of journalists from G20 nations, hosted by the country’s foreign ministry. The government’s embrace of its G20 presidency was striking. Harsh Vardhan Shringla, India’s G20 chief co-ordinator, describes it as “one of the most significant international events we have ever hosted”.
G20 ministerial meetings held in the prelude to the Delhi summit have been widely covered by India’s huge media industry and Modi, who faces re-election next year, has used the event to showcase India’s achievements and international influence.
The event has taken on a uniquely Indian feel with cities and towns across the country festooned with billboards heralding the occasion. India has even adopted an ancient Sanskrit phrase, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, as this year’s G20 theme which translates as “one earth, one family, one future”.
“This is not just a slogan,” said Modi when India took on the G20 presidency. “Today we have the means to produce enough to meet the basic needs of all people in the world.”
Acute tensions between some G20 members, especially over the Ukraine war, threaten to undermine the progress India hopes to facilitate when leaders gather in Delhi. Both China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin have pulled out of the meeting.
But India’s moment of international leadership has shown it brings a distinctive perspective to global politics. And its influence is set to grow.
Matt Wade is a senior economics writer at The Sydney Morning Herald.
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