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Thursday, December 21, 2023

India’s Evolving Role in the Global South

For centuries, Indian philosophy emphasized ‘Partnerships’ and ‘Solidarity’ with the developing nations, and India’s presidency at G20 also reiterated ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.’ These ideologies were practiced even before India became independent, and they strengthened to a greater extent after independence. Indian policymakers understood the subjugation due to the colonization in many developing or underdeveloped countries and provided assistance according to the needs and potentiality. India promoted the values of ‘coexistence’ and ‘sharing’ in the South-South Cooperation from time to time.

In the post-Cold War era, many Asian and African countries (the Global South) were still grappled with economic and social independence from the colonizers. India assisted developing nations at various levels like education, training, and initiatives, including economic development and cooperation. India also showed non-aligned foreign policy when alliance structure perplexed the world. Development through bilateral trade, humanitarian assistance, or peace-building assistance programs was complementary to Indian external affairs and always showed ‘solidarity’ and mutual growth towards developing countries. In 2008, India also committed to the ‘Neighborhood First Policy’ where light was on creating ‘mutually beneficial, people-oriented and non-reciprocal.’ It strengthened cooperation, connectivity, and development in various sectors.


Unfolding the latest progress, unfortunately, COVID-19 has devastated almost every sector in every country of varied intensities. India has a 1.3 billion population with diverse socio-economic backgrounds, and still, through the initiative ‘Vaccine Maitri,’ offered support to over 150 nations in the form of ‘Made in India’ vaccines, medical equipment, and medicines during the pandemic and gained a reputation as ‘Pharmacy of the World’. This aid had no divide between the Global North and the Global South. In general, humanitarian assistance was prioritised over partnerships of geopolitical interests. This reflects that the policy of the whole society – one family approach is not new to Indian foreign policy. It is both ‘equal’ and ‘equitable’ values of the Indian policies.

India’s latest example of its dynamic leadership goes without saying. India hosted a virtual summit in 2023 as ‘Voice of the Global South’ with more than 120 countries from the Global South. The theme reiterates the core values of Indian philosophy, i.e., “Unity of Voice, Unity of Purpose.” Moreover, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the summit, “We have turned the page on another difficult year that saw war, conflict, terrorism and geopolitical tensions; rising food, fertiliser and fuel prices; climate change-driven natural disasters; and, lasting economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Further, he says, “Your voice is India’s voice” and “Your priorities are India’s priorities”. Certainly, this was taken up as an initiative by India at the same time G20 was hosted and the intriguing part is India invited around 120 nations who are not part of the G20 forum to discuss and prioritise on a platform where nations can feel levelled to share the perspectives of the challenges. It is an achievement for an emerging nation like India to host as a country from the Global South and also lead an effective summit that was never thought of before.


To empower a region, there should be representation from the same region for a change to occur. This way of strategic leadership would result in better solutions and liberation from perpetual problems. In this stance, India’s presidency of G20 concluded with G21. The inclusion of a new permanent member, the African Union (AU), which consists of 55 member states from the African continent, is an added feather to the cap of G20 history. This signifies how truly India has championed the Global South and illuminates the African continent’s strategic significance.

Coming to the G20 Summit, the troika of Indonesia, India, and Brazil is itself a leadership of countries from the Global South, and India has achieved a bright response during its tenure. The historic moment was when all 83 paras of the G20 New Delhi Declaration were passed unanimously with a 100 per cent consensus. The theme revolves around ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ or “One Earth, One Family, One Future.” The final meeting of India’s leadership was delivered on the 9th and 10th of September to all the G20 members and invitees. The speech was divided into three segments, One Earth, One Family, and One Future respectively, which cover all the policies and initiatives that took place around the year.


India and India’s G20 demonstrated credibility and trust on the global stage. ‘Human-centric development’ was given importance over ‘GDP-centric’ growth. It shows how policies should transcend borders and focus on human development. Furthermore, ‘women-led development’ was concentrated over ‘development for women’ not just in the speech but also as one of the six priorities of the G20. Indeed, this change in terminology is also a sign for shift from old perspectives to the newer ones to put forth better solutions. The emphasis was on increasing investments and access to education, skilling in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) women. For holistic development, India fostered women-led MSMEs and governance from grassroots. A proposal for G20 Talent Visa’ for the betterment of pooling talent and all economies was a critical and appreciated thought by policymakers. India also restated the need for reforms in global institutions like the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) with the evolving problems and presented the growing need for multilateral institutions in this multilateral world.


In addition, the struggles related to debt especially plague developing countries, and this was also underlined under India’s G20. Debt- restructuring and reforms for Multilateral Development Banks (MDB) was also a vital part of the agenda. “Our view was that the Global South, developing countries and emerging markets, which has been a key component of India’s (G20) presidency, must be able to get long-term financing and must be able to use new instruments for financing to drive both SDGs (sustainable development goals) and climate finance ,” India’s G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant said. Besides, on the technological and futuristic front, India’s proposal on Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) to connect people across the globe who lack digital identities was primarily commended. PM of India said, “The solutions we have built using our DPI have now been recognised globally. Now, through the G20, we will help developing countries adapt, build, and scale DPI to unlock the power of inclusive growth.” India has done a tremendous job by setting examples like Aadhar (digital identity), UPI (Unique Payment Interface), DigiLocker, and Co-Win (enabled digital connectivity during vaccination drive) in the last decade. Moreover, UPI is now adopted in countries in the Global South like Southeast Asian Nations, Bhutan, Nepal, etc., and also in the Global North by France. These developments made people more inclusive and eliminated several voids in a developing country like India with people from diverse backgrounds and profoundly percolated to almost every sector, every region, and every household. In this context, it is not just South-South Cooperation, but India also played a significant role in reducing the divide between the Global North and the Global South. Other initiatives like the One Sun, One World, One Grid initiative, the International Solar Alliance, Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, One Earth One Health or the International Year of Millets or the Infrastructure for Resilient Island States (IRIS) all prioritise the welfare of the Global South.


The main question is not just what India’s efforts are but how the world perceives India in the Global South is equally essential. From a bigger-picture view, India is viewed as a strategic partner to Southeast Asian Nations and India also transformed its ‘Look East’ to ‘Act East’ foreign policy. For instances, India has been actively engaging in the joint sales, joint patrols, exchanging information relation to maritime with Philippines, railway project as a Trilateral Highway which is a partnership of India, Myanmar and Thailand. Vietnam and India are ‘comprehensive partners’ and India has longstanding security and cultural relations with Singapore, Laos and Cambodia. According to a study by CAF which is a Development Bank of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), the LAC and India’s relations grew by 145% over the last 10 years and includes an ambitious work plan to benefit the Global South. South Africa’s Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said, ‘India’s G20 leadership as opportunity for the Global South and an opportunity for developing countries to set their issues on the world stage. It is evident that India is seen as a positive leader by the Global South countries. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said, ‘The world, especially the Global South, perceives India as a development partner – as a credible, effective development partner with delivery on the ground.’ ‘India-UN Capacity Building Initiative’ was also launched, where India aims to share development experiences, best practices, and expertise with partner countries in the ‘Global South’ through capacity building and training programs.

In conclusion, as Ruchira Kamboj, India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations says, “…As far as India is concerned, our engagement with the Global South is not just a matter of policy, it is ingrained in the very fabric of our culture and philosophy.’ Thus, it is comprehensible that India’s role is evolving in the Global South and is not just a contributor but also a driver (leader) in many instances for many countries.


Kotha Lakshmi Kasuma (Masters Student in International Affairs from O.P. Jindal Global University)

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