Examining India at IBSA

by Dr. Sudheer Singh Verma - 28 August, 2020, 12:00 3488 Views 0 Comment

Global politics is a place where state interacts with other states through several ways – bilateralism, forming groups or alliances, and building up institutions or organizations for serving their own national interests. The state forms a group or alliance with other states based on some underpinning factors, namely political ideology, societal composition, culture, type of government, identical historical experiences. India in the IBSA Dialogue Forum, which was set up in 2003, strives to translate different preferences of Brazil and South Africa into policy choices and their different interests into unified actions through engaging in conversation and dialogue.

India as a world’s oldest civilization, biggest democracy, fastest emerging economy, and founder of the third way in international politics (NAM) viewed the present structure of the international political system unsuitable in the 21st century to address the existing and the emerging complex problems threatening international peace and tranquillity. India considers multipolar world, reform in the international political and economic institutions (i.e. reform in the United Nations Security Council, reform in the IMF and World Bank), and proper solution of socio-economic problems in the developing countries are the best-fitted response toward building peace and tranquillity in the international level. Further, developing countries should get proper representation in the policy-making in the international political and economic institutions. India believes that the IBSA can successfully garner support from developing countries for the political and economic reforms at the international level and at the same time advance development cooperation projects in the least developing countries in achieving alleviation of poverty and hunger. The concept of IBSA appeared out of the meeting between then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the then President of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the then President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki in Evian, France on June 2, 2003, on the side-line of the G-8 Summit.

The G-3 (Cherian, 2004) popularly called IBSA involving three meaningful actors – India, Brazil, and South Africa. They do not only have multi-ethnic characters, multi-cultural democracies, and emerging economies, but also representing three continents – Asia, South America, and Africa. The IBSA was formalized by the Brasilia Declaration of 6 June 2003. Participatory democracy, respect for human rights and the Rule of Law are foundational pillars of the forum. These countries share a vision that democracy and development are mutually reinforcing and the key to sustainable peace and stability. They are committed to: contribute to the construction of new international architecture; bring their voice together on global issues; and deepen their ties in various areas, and also open itself to concrete projects of cooperation and partnership with less developed countries. The forum has established a coordinating mechanism that is Heads of State and Government Summits (yearly), and Trilateral Ministerial Commission (yearly). Five summits – 2006 (Brasilia, Brazil), 2007 (Tshwane, South Africa), 2008 (New Delhi, India), 2010 (Brasilia, Brazil), 2011 (Tshwane, South Africa), and a sixth summit scheduled to be held in New Delhi couldn’t take place due to scheduling issues and the summits at foreign minister level are taking place regularly. Communiques and declarations that consolidate common positions about global issues have been issued at the Summits and at the Joint Ministerial Commissions, as well as on occasions when foreign ministers have met on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly. Civil society cooperation and development cooperation projects in less developed countries are the unique feature of the G-3, which makes it different from other groups.  

Despite the change of leadership from Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Manmohan Singh to Narendra Modi, India’s commitment to IBSA has remained strong. The Modi government embrace the idea of human-centric development in the world. After 2011, when South Africa joined the group of four countries – Brazil, Russia, India, and China, the passivity entered in the IBSA, but at the ministerial level summits regularly held. As Rajiv Bhatia noted that the emergence of BRICS has side-lined the IBSA. While during this period, a strong body of officials and experts in the three countries has held the opinion that IBSA is the true successor of solidarity among developing countries. This solidarity was cultivated from the Bandung Conference (1955) through UNCTAD and G-77 to the BAPA+40 Declaration (2018).  For India, the IBSA remained the first choice because it is based on democratic values and similar causes of three countries. As, Ministry of External Affairs Secretary (economic relations) Manbir Singh said, “BRICS focuses on the economy but it is slowly moving towards other areas. However, IBSA is based on democratic values and other similar causes which are common to the three countries. There is a difference between the two. South Africa joining BRIC is not going to diminish IBSA”. This statement shows that India has strong faith in the IBSA. India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi stands to play a meaningful role in driving further the IBSA in projecting unified voice for the UN reform and other predominant global and regional issues.

The IBSA Dialogue forum is cooperating and coordinating broadly in four areas – first, political coordination; second, sector cooperation – agriculture, culture, defence, education, energy, environment, health, human Settlements, transport and infrastructure, public administration, revenue administration, science and technology and information society, social development, and trade and investment and tourism; third, IBSA Fund for the alleviation of poverty and hunger; and fourth, people-to-people cooperation. The Working Groups were formed and many Agreements and Memoranda of Understandings (MOUs) were signed to legally support the cooperation.   

India is vocal for multilateralism, complete end of racism, protection of human rights, and making relevant of the UN through expanding permanent and non-permanent membership in the 21st century. Three countries are regularly raising the united voice for the Security Council reform and advocating their claims for a permanent seat in the council. For this, IBSA is a suitable forum to garner support for the UN reform. As, Woolfrey, S. (2013) pointed out that the shared characteristics and interests of the IBSA countries provide IBSA with greater potential in terms of devising common positions and concrete projects over a wide range of issue areas, including global economic and political governance, south-south technical cooperation, policy transfer and development assistance. External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj said in September 2018: “… [w]e three have to ensure that our collective voice is heard clearly in BRICS and other groups on UN Security Council reforms since if we do not speak for our own interests, no one else will.” The IBSA also discusses regional political, cultural, economic issues. It appreciated India’s role in building peace in the region through rebuilding Afghanistan. India’s energetic participation in the IBSA naval exercise (Ex IBSAMAR) that started in 2008 shows the remarkable achievement of IBSA towards securing water. The six round of Ex IBSAMAR are completed successfully.

IBSA fund, which was set up in 2004 and became operational in 2006, is a unique development cooperation project around the world. The aim of the fund is to alleviate poverty and hunger through developing the capacity of government. Each country contributes $1 million per year in the fund. Projects are implemented in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. As India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin highlighted that major part of the fund has been allocated for projects in four major fields – agriculture, employment, health, and water. These fields serve significantly in achieving poverty alleviation. The UN Millennium Development Goal award showed the meaningful role of the IBSA fund played in raising the living standards of people at least developing countries. Further, India launched the India-UN development partnership Fund with the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) in June 2017. India also initiated the IBSA Fellowship Programme at the RIS in 2017. One of the most significant commitments of the IBSA towards enhancing economic ties was the initiative to set up the MERCOSUR-SACU-India Trilateral Free Trade Agreement (T-FTA) that can strongly contribute to international trade as well promote their respective development goals. The IBSA Maritime Transportation Agreement was a significant step for fostering trilateral trade flows and ensuring connectivity.

People-to-people cooperation in the IBSA, which includes various kinds of interactions such as an academic forum, business council, editors´ forum, intergovernmental relations and local government, parliamentary forum, women’s forum and so forth. Thus, India’s strong faith in democracy, diversity, plurality, inclusivity, equality, human rights and rule of law is the convergence point for keeping together united IBSA during the unprecedented rise of the Chinese authoritarian economic model in the international political system. In the 21st century, NAM’s role in the Cold War may be similar to IBSA’s role in global politics.

Dr. Sudheer Singh Verma
Author is Assistant Professor, Department of South and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Central University of Punjab

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