Hong Kong | Thu November 17, 2022
When world leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, issued a joint statement condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine, a familiar sentence stood out from the 1,186-page document.
It quoted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks to Russian President Vladimir Putin at their face-to-face meeting in September, saying, “Today’s period must not be of conflict.”
The 1.3 billion-person nation’s media and politicians seized on the inclusion as evidence that the world’s largest democracy has been instrumental in bridging gaps between an increasingly isolated Russia and the United States and its allies.
The Times of India, the largest English-language newspaper in the nation, ran the title, “How India unified G20 on PM Modi’s notion of peace.” According to India’s Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra, “the Prime Minister’s message that this is not a time for conflict” “resonated very deeply across all the delegations and helped bridge the gap between diverse parties.”
The announcement was made as Modi accepted the G20 presidency from Indonesian President Joko Widodo. Modi will host the following leaders’ summit in the Indian capital of New Delhi in September 2023, about six months before he is anticipated to run for the position of president of the country for a third time.
Modi, according to observers, is emerging as a leader who has been courted by all sides, garnering him popularity at home while securing India’s position as an international power broker as New Delhi carefully balances its connections to Russia and the West.
The G20 conference is being utilized as a large banner in Modi’s election campaign to demonstrate that he is a great global statesman, according to Sushant Singh, a senior scholar at the think tank Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. “And the current Indian leadership now sees itself as a strong nation seated at the high table,” the author continued.
India bridges ‘multiple antagonists’
According to some reports, the highly anticipated meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden and the rush to look into the deaths of two Polish citizens after what Warsaw claimed was a “Russian-made missile” landed in a village close to the NATO member’s border with Ukraine overshadowed India’s participation at the G20.
In an effort to stop their rivalry from escalating into an open clash, Biden and Xi met for three hours on Monday, as was extensively covered in international news. Additionally, on Wednesday, G7 and NATO leaders met in Bali for an emergency meeting to discuss the explosion in Poland.
While trying to distance his nation from Russia, Modi, on the other hand, held a series of discussions with a number of foreign leaders, including recently appointed British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, on topics ranging from food security and the environment to health and economic recovery.
While India’s “modest agenda” for the G20 focused on issues like energy, the environment, and post-war economic unrest, Happymon Jacob, associate professor of diplomacy and disarmament at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, said that Western leaders “are listening to India as a major stakeholder in the region” because it is a country that is friendly to both the West and Russia.
Since the end of the Cold War, New Delhi and Moscow have maintained close connections, and India continues to rely significantly on Moscow for military hardware. This relationship is crucial given the ongoing tensions between China and India along their shared Himalayan border.
India is in a favorable strategic position as New Delhi has been moving toward the West at the same time as leaders try to halt Beijing’s rise.
According to Harsh V. Pant, a professor of international affairs at King’s College London, “one of the ways that India has an effect at the G20 is that it seems to be one of the few countries that can engage all sides.” “India has been able to build a bridge across many adversaries in this role.”
‘Voice of the developing world’
India has urged a halt to the fighting in Ukraine on numerous occasions since the conflict began, but has refrained from formally denouncing Russia’s invasion.
Analysts claim that India’s limitations are being tested as Putin’s aggression has escalated, murdering thousands of people and destabilizing the world economy.
According to observers, Modi’s more forceful words to Putin in recent months were made in the context of rising food, fuel, and fertilizer prices as well as the difficulties that these price increases were causing for other nations. India could bring its own agenda to the table next year, whereas this year’s G20 was viewed through the lens of the war.
India assuming the presidency coincides with the world paying close attention to renewable energy, growing costs, and inflation, according to Jacob from JNU. There is a perception that India is a crucial nation that can meet the needs of the South Asian area and beyond.
The battle is driving up prices globally for various energy sources, which is hurting consumers who are already dealing with rising food prices and inflation.
The globe is “struggling with geopolitical tensions, economic slowdown, rising food and energy prices, and the long-term ill-effects of the epidemic,” Modi said in a speech at the conclusion of the G20 conference on Wednesday. He claimed that India was leading the way.
In his speech, he pledged that India’s G20 presidency would be “inclusive, ambitious, resolute, and action-oriented.”
According to Pant from King’s College London, India will be “very much the voice of the developing countries and the global South” at the summit the following year.
“Modi’s approach is to repeat the concerns that some of the poorest countries have about the current global order in order to project India as a country that can adapt to today’s difficulties.”
All eyes on Modi
Everybody is keeping an eye on Modi as he launches his campaign for India’s 2024 general election as India gets ready to hold the G20 presidency.
Domestically, the populist policies of his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have polarized the country.
While Modi continues to enjoy enormous popularity in a nation where approximately 80% of people identify as Hindu, his administration has come under fire for its repeated restrictions on free speech and treatment of minorities.
Modi’s political backers have been eager to promote his international credentials in the face of these critiques, portraying him as an important figure in the world order.
According to Singh of the Center for Policy Research, “(the BJP) is adopting Modi’s G20 meetings as a political message that he is enhancing India’s reputation overseas and creating strong ties.”
A much-anticipated “UK-India Young Professionals Scheme,” which would permit 3,000 Indian citizens between the ages of 18 and 30 to live and work in the UK for up to two years, was unveiled this week by India and Britain.
At the same time, a rush of happy pictures and videos of the leader with his Western counterparts appeared on Modi’s Twitter.
Singh affirmed that “His domestic image is solid” and added that it will be interesting to observe if Modi can continue to strike a cautious balance as the fight goes on.
“However, I believe that his domestic standing contributes to his international position. And if it holds true, the global public will undoubtedly respect him.