The success of a G20 presidency lies as much in how the legacy is passed on to the next presidency, as it is in the achievements of one’s own presidency. India’s opportunity to shape the agenda of global governance and steer it towards a more inclusive future came at a time of crisis in multilateralism. As the call for nations to find consensus grew on a host of issues including climate change and green energy transition, the great power rivalry between the United States and China was growing more intense. Moreover, China’s aggression at its borders with India was pushing the bilateral relationship to new lows and the Ukraine war was not only upending the European security order but also raising consequential questions on the future of global partnerships and multi-alignment. During its presidency, New Delhi optically as well as substantially took the essence of G20 and foreign policy to its own people, involving universities across the length and breadth of the country, and creating an inclusive atmosphere of debates and deliberations in its public policy circles.
From matters of security to more human-centric issues, events and policy recommendation outputs cut across the entire spectrum, focussed on discussing solutions to problems of the world, and not that of a few countries. As the G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration contended, “We meet at a defining moment in history where the decisions we make now will determine the future of our people and our planet.” The negotiations that apparently went into the release of the New Delhi Declaration mirrored the perilous divisions in the world that the next presidency has to navigate. While New Delhi managed to glide over the absence of the Chinese and Russian leaders from the summit and struck a much-needed consensus, the geopolitical fault lines are there to stay, and it is incumbent upon major stakeholders of a more stable world order, to work closely with the upcoming Brazilian presidency to leverage the momentum generated towards inclusiveness. As the New Delhi Declaration commented, “Reaffirming that the G20 is the premier forum for international economic cooperation, and recognizing that while the G20 is not the platform to resolve geopolitical and security issues, we acknowledge that these issues can have significant consequences for the global economy.”
One of the most tangible outcomes of India’s presidency and the New Delhi summit was that of the African Union (AU) becoming a permanent member of the G20. To champion the voice of the Global South, without welcoming the concerns of the African countries would have put a wedge between the rhetoric and reality of India’s leadership. Managing multilateral governance of emerging technologies is fast acquiring primacy among all major stakeholders of the international system. Digitization is cutting across all walks of life, and how the spread of technologies can be made more inclusive for the benefit of the maximum will remain a primary task of cooperation and collaboration. India has been a frontrunner in terms of digital innovation and implementation, and as such, it is imperative for New Delhi to take global leadership in creating a “safe, secure, trusted, accountable and inclusive digital public infrastructure, respectful of human rights, personal data, privacy and intellectual property rights.”
India’s presidency also marks an important juncture in the international system, when the centre of power is shifting from the West to the East. Moreover, the concerns of the Global South have become more important and prominent as the post-World War II global order largely scripted and implemented by the Global North undergoes a phase of churning before the birth of a new order. India’s G20 moment, in this context, is also one that reflects on the opportunities of creating a bridge between the Global South and Global North.
India’s identity as a post-colonial country has clearly transformed into that of being a country that takes equal pride in its modern accomplishments and the legacy of its civilizational heritage. New Delhi no longer hesitates to engage with the West, with its feet firmly grounded in the East and is ready to build new vistas of cooperation with the Global North to prioritise the concerns of the Global South. India’s strategic embrace of the United States and the larger West has come at a time when New Delhi’s outreach to its partners in Asia and Africa are at an all-time high. New Delhi’s leadership at the G20 also came at a time in world history, when the failure of multilateralism designed for the 20th century was showing its expiry signs. Unlike during the bipolar Cold War, the new great power rivalry between the United States and China is transpiring at a time of growing multipolarity. In such geopolitical and geo-economic circumstances, the role of an independent power such as India becomes imperative, to ideate and propagate that this new world order calls for collaboratively designing and implementing a multilateralism that is inclusive. This legacy of India’s G20 presidency needs to be built upon, as Brazil prepares to take the baton and run the next mile.