Digital India and G20: Projection of Indian Leadership in the Global South

by Aditi Basu - 21 March, 2023, 12:00 3645 Views 0 Comment


The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for an efficient and self-reliant digital payment infrastructure for every country. Representing two-thirds of the world’s population, the G20 is an essential politico-economic bloc whose presidency is a milestone for India’s external affairs. It is a multilateral platform for India to project its digital diplomacy or “Tech for diplomacy”.  As India assumes leadership of G20 between November 2022 and 2023, it is said that the digital economy shall be one of the key issues for post-pandemic world recovery. Digital diplomacy remains one of the most important tools to project soft power diplomacy. According to a recent report by the Reserve Bank of India, India’s digital economy has grown more than twice than its main economy and this has been accredited chiefly to its Digital India Mission that was launched in the year 2015. It offers a plethora of opportunities for digital marketing, digital transformation, digital public infrastructure (DPI) and digital cooperation to the Global South, in general, and the G20 countries, in particular.

India’s digital economy has witnessed a tremendous rise in the last decade and it is hoped that it shall effectively create a citizen-centred digital economy with the cooperation of all the G20 and the First World countries. Meanwhile, India has also launched a multilingual “Stay Safe Online Campaign” for its citizens’ safety in the online world while making digital payments. This applies to all age groups of society. The G20 Digital Innovation Alliance (G20-DIA) identifies and implements the various digital innovative technologies developed by the startups of the G20 nations and other non-member countries as well that shall be beneficial for mankind in education, health, agriculture and economy. The exchange of these technologies shall dissolve the existing barriers between the Global North and South through inclusive, sustainable economic development. The upcoming G20-DIA summit at Bangalore will showcase the top nominated startups from the globe to present their innovative digital solutions. It shall highlight the digital innovations which India intends to offer to the world through the alliance and its role in bridging the north-south divide for the advancement of the global economy (PIB 2022).

During its presidency, India plans to develop the digital services sector. Mr. Amitabh Kant, the G20 Sherpa of India, has highlighted India’s strategic motivations for leadership in the Global South when it comes to digital revolution. The country has already set an example for the world with its AADHAR (biometric identity of every citizen) and Unified Payments Interface (UPI) initiative. India’s digital diplomacy involves facilitating the Indian diaspora overseas in cross-border transactions in order to boost the country’s GDP. Countries like the UAE, Bhutan, Singapore and Nepal have adopted the UPI system in their respective nations. Along with that, India aims to license its systems to developing countries, such as in Asia and Africa, for their own domestic use. India’s move shall be an inclusive one, seeking to secure digital identity to all developing countries through financial and data services. It aims to promote digital educational, health and financial services like online shopping, online banking transactions, e-commerce, telemedicine and pursuing online courses. India has stated its plans to train three million government officials on Artificial Intelligence, blockchain development and much more to provide efficient governance at the grassroots level. E-health services remain the priority of Global South nations. While addressing the virtual summit of the Voice of Global South, Hon’ble Indian Health Minister Shri Mansukh Mandaviya highlighted the need for resilient health systems in the Global South to prepare the countries for health challenges in the future. He reiterated how healthcare facilities coupled with digital technologies were essential for the people and how India’s CoWIN platform was a huge success in diagnosing and vaccinating the Covid affected (The Indian Express 2023). These shall be on a public-private-partnership model seeking the cooperation of all sectors of every nation. The most suitable multilateral platforms could be the International Solar Alliance and the ASEAN which would ensure rapid digitalisation, keeping in mind sustainable practices and environmental proactivity.

India being a strategic economic power shall carve out a definite framework for G20 to execute different tasks, making “digitalisation” the touchstone of governance and economic activities in all the member countries. In its Bali declaration of 2022, the organisation analysed the essentiality of inclusive digital cooperation, digital trade and citizens’ digital literacy and its development. The world’s largest democracy focuses on a “human-centric” approach to digital revolution to drive greater investments for enhancing the total output of the economy of every member country. This is because the development of digital technologies results in the creation of more jobs, apart from projecting the country’s global image. Digital technology needs to be integrated into public services which shall improve citizens’ access to them. This is to be ensured through the “India Stack Digitisation Project” for providing digital identities to the people, an integrated financial and personal data management system, virtual documentation and verification through the expansion of pre-existing UPI and AADHAR services.  India launched its indigenous 5G technology towards the end of 2022 as its commitment towards the global community (Jagtiani and Hagebölling 2023). Critical infrastructure and digital technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Web3 house immense potential to strengthen democracies economically through the G-20 platform led by India which shall bridge the north-south divide. Added to it, cyber security issues like hacking, bullying and cyber threats need to be addressed for the smooth operationalisation of digital technologies.

The prime focus of India, as reiterated by PM Modi in the G20 Bali Summit, lies in developing the Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) of every developing country suited to its needs, that shall strengthen its national economy by eliminating poverty and hinge. This shall be fruitful, especially for the Low and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) for building a cohesive framework of digitalisation at affordable costs for countering its challenges along with breaking the traditional barriers that stand in the way of the digital revolution. In areas like breach of security and privacy issues, G20 cooperation is highly solicited for it shall effectivity utilise the opportunities that the globe offers in terms of digital security. For this, a robust cyber security framework needs to be established with the help of G20 countries and India being the President of this term. Therefore, it can be safely concluded that India’s role as a Middle Power in bringing the Global North and South together on the G20 platform is reflected by the joint partnerships between the First and Third World countries on digital technologies, cyber security, digital start-ups, research and development in IT and many more, requiring the collaboration of leaders across different sectors and institutions. With the G-20 platform showcasing India’s 56 locations, it reflects the diversity of a nation with a cooperative federal structure and the country’s increasing global stature.

Aditi Basu
Author is an Independent Researcher. She has completed her Masters in Political Science from Jamshedpur Women’s College, India. Her research interests include Indian Foreign Policy, International Relations, Feminist Power Politics, Soft Power Diplomacy and Climate Diplomacy.

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