As India assumed the G20 presidency on Thursday, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said New Delhi will seek to emerge as the “voice of the Global South”, and work to “depoliticise” the global supply of food, fertilisers and medical products.
Addressing the ‘G20 University Connect – Engaging Young Minds’, an event organised to mark the G20 presidency, Jaishankar said it would also be India’s endeavour to make consensus on key global issues “more relevant” through a wider process of consultation. “As the mother of democracy, India’s G20 presidency will be consultative, it will be collaborative and it will be decisive,” he said.
Responding to a question after his speech, Jaishankar said: “Today, the world is very polarised. Even having everybody in the room was a real challenge at the last G20 meeting in Bali. So, a country like India, which is independent minded… is respected to a great extent, is trusted, which has a kind of a middle ground to bring differing parties to the table… I think the value for countries in the middle, who are good at forging common ground, who have multiple relationships, I think that has grown in a polarised world and… the value of the Indian presidency will be demonstrated because we have that trait.”
He said that while “polarisation may occur elsewhere, the people who suffer most are the Global South”.
“We do think there are issues out there which need to be brought to the table… How do you keep the sustainable development agenda? How do countries deal with debt? How is it that climate change is not affected by a lack of additional resources? These are all issues today and our intention is to be a champion of the global south and find ways and that’s why the majority of our guests who were brought in… are actually from the global south,” Jaishankar said.
India is positioning itself as the voice of the developing and the less developed countries in the world. This was the theme articulated by India at the G20 summit in Bali last month.
In a series of tweets, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India “will work to further promote oneness, inspired by the theme of One Earth, One Family, One Future”, and listed terror, climate change and pandemic as the greatest challenges that can be best fought together.
“India looks forward to working on encouraging sustainable lifestyles, depoliticising the global supply of food, fertilisers and medical products, among other subjects,” tweeted Modi. “Gone is the time to remain trapped in the same old zero-sum mindset, which has led to both scarcity and conflict… I firmly believe now is the best time to go further still and catalyse a fundamental mindset shift, to benefit humanity as a whole,” he tweeted.
“The G20 is a diverse platform that seeks to forge common ground on key issues among prominent countries. Our endeavour is to make that consensus more relevant through a wider process of consultation,” Jaishankar said in his speech.
“Harmonising various interests is something that is ingrained deeply in India’s history and culture, we have long been a pluralistic and consultative society who have debated issues openly before we arrive at a decision. Since this is deeply ingrained in our DNA, we have never been insecure with diversity. Our essential unity is not only the basis for pluralism but it is also a source of confidence for engaging the world. As the mother of democracy, India’s G20 presidency will be consultative. It will be collaborative and it will be decisive,” he said.
“Our G20 presidency is taking place at a very critical moment in international affairs… In these difficult times, it is therefore particularly important that world leaders focus on the right issues. Issues that especially affect the more vulnerable sections of the world,” he said.
“It is also a time when we must become the voice of the global south, that is otherwise under-represented in such forums. Countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America trust India to speak up for them. We have, of late, been in the forefront of expressing their concerns on fuel, food and fertilisers, and we share the apprehension that sustainable development climate action and climate justice could be side-tracked due to more dominant issues,” said Jaishankar, adding that India “has to take the lead in pushing for collective action”.
He said the global order today is not truly reflective of the state of the world. Institutions and practices created 75 years ago still dominate global decision making, he said, adding that a representative and democratic international order must press for change, not just in the United Nations but in other international institutions as well.
Calling the G20 presidency a “crucial responsibility” at “a very challenging time in world politics and at an inflection point in India’s own history”, Jaishankar also referred to an article written by Modi, which appeared in several newspapers and was posted on his website too on Thursday.
“We should reflect on what to my mind were the eight key points that he has articulated. One, the greatest challenges can be solved not by fighting with each other but by acting together. Two, technology gives us the means to address problems on a humanity-wide scale. Three, digital public goods that we have created are increasingly perceived by the world as delivering revolutionary progress. Four, India’s experiences can provide insights for possible solutions. Five, our G20 priorities will be shaped by the interests of the global south. Six, we will encourage sustainable and environment friendly lifestyles based on trusteeship over nature. Seven, we will seek to depoliticise the global supply of food, fertilisers and medical products. Eight, we will encourage an honest conversation among the most powerful countries,” he said, outlining India’s approach on the G20 presidency.
“As the host, it is India’s prerogative to invite guest nations. And we have exercised that right in respect of the UAE, Bangladesh, Mauritius, Egypt, Nigeria, Oman, Singapore, the Netherlands and Spain,” said Jaishankar.
G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant, who also addressed the event, said it was a unique responsibility. Delivering the keynote address, P K Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, described the G20 presidency as a “watershed moment”.