India: How will Narendra Modi shape the G20 presidency?

Thursday, 1 December 2022 (14:47 IST)
As this year's G20 summit came to a close in Bali, Indonesian President Joko Widodo formally handed over the bloc's presidency to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. New Delhi will officially take over the G20 leadership on December 1.

"We have to make full use of this opportunity and focus on global good, world welfare," Modi said over the weekend.

"Whether it is peace or unity, sensitivity toward the environment, or sustainable development, India has solutions to challenges related to these," he added.

Will India set the global agenda?

Over the course of the year, and in the run-up to the leaders' summit in 2023, India is expected to host over 200 G20 working group meetings, scheduled to take place in various locations across the South Asian country. 

New Delhi has already unveiled the logo, theme and website of its G20 presidency, and set up a secretariat to coordinate all the diplomatic activity.

"This is the first time India is going to set the agenda for the world. So far, we were reacting to the agenda being received from the developed world," Amitabh Kant, an Indian official dealing with G20 meeting preparations, told local media.

Indian officials have said the G20 presidency offers an opportunity to showcase New Delhi's leading role in global affairs, particularly at a time when the world is confronting multiple geopolitical and economic crises.

Happymon Jacob, who teaches foreign policy at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, pointed out that India is simultaneously becoming the chair to both the G20 and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

"Even as India is reluctant about mediating in the Ukraine conflict, its actions and words will have an impact on the global reactions to the war and the postwar international situation. To that extent, I believe India being the chair of these two institutions is important," Jacob told DW.

"New Delhi is likely to put up a good show next year including perhaps getting Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend the meeting."

Consensus-building poses a huge challenge

But Anil Wadhwa, a former Indian diplomat, said India faces some key challenges during its presidency.

"The climate crisis has accelerated, and the conflict in Ukraine will cast a long shadow on the G20 consensus-building efforts. In light of the conflict, many countries face rising debt, poverty and a looming food and energy crisis," he told DW. 

New Delhi will need to skillfully navigate this diplomatic minefield and promote efforts to build global consensus on tackling these challenges, he added.

Meera Shankar, a former Indian ambassador to the United States, also said New Delhi is assuming the G20 presidency at a challenging time. But she stressed that India shouldn't allow the problems to disrupt the forum's agenda.

"The challenges that the world faces are so enormous that geopolitical conflict and rivalries should not be allowed to crowd out or derail the important work of the G20," she said.

On the Ukraine conflict, she noted that "the way forward lies through diplomacy and dialogue, not expanding military conflict."

An all-out diplomatic effort?

In recent years, the G20 has emerged as the world's premier intergovernmental forum, comprising both developed and developing countries.

The bloc represents economies that account for over 80% of global GDP, about 75% of its commerce and 60% of the population. 

But tensions among the grouping's members have been on the rise over the Ukraine conflict, trade disputes and soaring prices of food and fuel worldwide, among other problems.  

Against this backdrop, New Delhi is expected to highlight the need for unity and cooperation to resolve the major global challenges. 

Officials say India will deploy all its diplomatic and persuasion skills to ensure that Russia, China, the US and other Western powers shed their differences and attend the 2023 leaders' summit in New Delhi.

"India has been well served by the Bali meeting, even if unwittingly. There was a joint declaration, when not too many expected one. Two, the paragraph on Ukraine passed muster and this will be a template for the Delhi summit," said Mohan Kumar, a former diplomat.

"The challenge is if something untoward happens either in Ukraine or elsewhere, which then completely hijacks the Delhi summit. But it is hard to predict these things. For now, India will feel reasonably confident that it can pull off a successful G20 summit in September next year."

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