As the host to the BRICS summit in Goa this weekend India will lay out the red carpet for the leaders of the group which was once seen to consist of the five emerging economies. Now, with the Brazilian and South African economies in slow motion, Russia struggling and China and India not growing as they earlier were, the grouping’s economic strength has taken a beating.
Despite this, the West still watches the moves made by BRICS warily and follows its announcements very carefully, especially since the substantive part of the summits have been political in nature in the recent years.
The summit declarations have gotten longer – the Ufa declaration was more than 70 paragraphs long — and have increasingly dwelt on topical political issues.
Since India is hosting the summit, it has invited countries from its eastern neighbourhood – under the umbrella of BIMSTEC that includes Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal – for an outreach with the BRICS leaders. Begun at the summit in Fortaleza 2014, this practice was adhered by Russia in Ufa in 2015, when the host called leaders from the countries in the region. So, Brazil had called the Latin American countries in Fortaleza for an outreach with the BRICS leaders (that was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first multi-lateral outing), and Russia had called the central Asian and countries part of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation).
However, since Pakistan was seen as a spoiler in the region, India decided to exclude them from the regional outreach, one reason being it wanted to avoid the inevitable China-Pakistan axis at the BRICS summit. This was much before a majority of the SAARC countries decided to pull out of the SAARC summit in Islamabad, forcing its postponement.
Instead, India called the neighbours in the east – under the rubric of its Act-East policy.
But there is no doubt that the Pakistan factor will definitely loom large over the BRICS summit – especially after the surgical strikes in the post-Uri attack phase. India is cautious in not making the mistake of putting Pakistan at the fore of the agenda but through the arc of terrorism it will ensure that all countries from BRICS and BIMSTEC are on the same page.
It will be interesting to see how China responds to Delhi’s moves as they are Islamabad’s all-weather friends.
As a commentator in Goa rightly observed, “Whatever gathering the South Asia region may host, be it SAARC or BRICS or BIMSTEC, the India-Pakistan equation is always bound to play on everyone’s minds.”