India must leave its mark on 2023 The Statesman 20 Dec 2022 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


India must leave its mark on 2023 The Statesman 20 Dec 2022

          On 01 December this year India assumed the rotating presidency of the G20 as also of the UN Security Council (UNSC). While the G20 presidency has been highlighted by the government in multiple forums and politically exploited at home and abroad, not much has been mentioned on the rotating tenure of the UNSC. India finishes its two-year term as a non-permanent member of the UNSC at the end of the year. During India’s previous UNSC presidency in Aug 2021, PM Modi personally chaired a session on ‘Enhancing Maritime Security – A Case for International Cooperation.’ During its current Presidency, India’s EAM, Dr S Jaishankar, chaired a session on ‘New Orientation for Reformed Multilateralism,’ and, ‘Global Approach to Counter Terrorism — Challenges and Way Forward.’

          India also became the rotating President of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) for the first time in Sept, which has also not been given due publicity, possibly because the SCO does not possess the global weight of the G20. India will hold the presidency till Sept 2023. It is the first South Asian nation to head this organization. As the world’s fastest growing economy, India can play a role in enhancing the global reach of the SCO. However, two of India’s adversaries are part of this grouping, Pakistan and China. Pakistan hinted that it is unlikely to participate in the summit hosted next year.

As with the G20, global leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President, Xi Jinping, congratulated India for assuming the presidency of the SCO. The SCO has declared 2023 as the ‘Year of Tourism Development.’ The city of Varanasi has been nominated as the first-ever SCO Tourism and Cultural Capital during the period of India’s presidency. India recently hosted the SCO national coordinators meeting in Delhi to finalize the agenda for the upcoming summit.

In Nov, India launched the official website of SCO, themed ‘For a Secure SCO,’ with almost no fanfare. In fact, the website remains difficult to access. ‘SECURE’ was the acronym proposed by PM Modi at the 2018 summit. He expanded it to read ‘Security for citizens, Economic development, Connectivity in the region, Unity, Respect for sovereignty and integrity and finally Environment protection.’ India is likely to concentrate on security, economic cooperation, connectivity and people to people contact.

On the contrary, the G20 has been given wide publicity, though it is also a rotating appointment. Global leaders have welcomed Indian presidency of the organization. India is the nation being sought after as its economy rebounds and it remains a substantial market. On assumption of the presidency, the Archaeological Survey of India lit up 100 heritage sites for a week. The Indian theme for the G20 is ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’ or ‘vasudhaiva kutukbakam.’ PM Modi’s editorial, published by all newspapers stated that his agenda for the G20 will be ‘inclusive, ambitious, action-oriented and decisive.’

The PM also called on the nation to work towards making the summit a success. He presided over a meeting of CMs and Governors seeking cooperation in the conduct of multiple preliminary G20 meetings. There would be about 200 preliminary meetings of the organization, spread across the length and breadth of the country. In case meetings are held in Arunachal and Ladakh, China would object, while if held in Kashmir, Pak would attempt to raise a hue and cry through its allies, Turkey and China.

There is a vast difference between the SCO and G20, which is why the SCO is treated as a second-class citizen. The SCO covers 22% of the global landmass and 40% of its population, whilst its contribution to the global GDP is 20%. The G20 on the other hand is 85% of the global GDP and two-thirds of the world population. It also covers 75% of international trade. This makes the G20 attractive and important. Jaishankar has stated on multiple occasions that India will use this summit to back the interests of the ‘Global South’ implying developing and underdeveloped countries.

While the SCO largely comprises of nations in Central Asia, the G20 is west dominated. India, a rising Asian giant, with close relationships with both camps is uniquely placed to bridge the gap between the East and the West. Further, for a long time, India was part of the ‘global south’ and thus could be a voice for nations facing shortfalls due to global disruptions and wars, none of which are their doing. India has earned global respect for its open foreign policy as also assisting over 150 countries during the COVID pandemic.   

There are scenarios which could offset India’s global role in the year ahead. These include growing US-China tensions, the Ukraine war and China’s attempted incursions into India. While India maintains a distance on US-China relations, it has begun being more vocal on the Russo-Ukraine crisis. Deteriorating Indo-China relations would upset the success of the summit. Simultaneously, as the host, PM Modi would be expected to interact with all guests, in both summits, including the Pak PM and the Chinese President, an event likely to be domestically politically exploited. Navigating them would involve astute diplomacy.               

There is no doubt that 2023 will be the year of India. Many heads of state would be visiting India twice, once for each summit and in quick succession as both summits are planned for Sept. Preliminary meetings of both organizations being spread across the country gives India the unique advantage to showcase its rich heritage and culture displaying its architectural marvels and tourist venues beyond the Taj Mahal and other traditional destinations. It would also highlight India’s digital development and booming market conveying that India is the destination for investment and trade.    

The summits would only be successful with complete cooperation from states where preliminary meetings are being planned. Further, both the presidencies are rotating while the summits are national events and therefore should not be politically exploited for the forthcoming 2024 elections. Doing so would undermine the global image of India and the current leadership. India has arrived on the global stage, and it should put its best foot forward. In both presidencies, India must definitely leave its mark.