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Aside from setting a milestone as the largest digital conference attended by heads of state and ministers from the developing world, the Voice of the Global South Summit, the two-day virtual conference hosted by India from January 12, is significant on three counts.

First, it sets a somewhat radical tone for India’s presidency of the G20 during 2023 by hijacking the initiative to mobilise 125 countries that are not members of that exclusive economic grouping and giving them a voice.

Second, this move leaves India open to the interpretation by foreign policy hawks of the developed economies that it is leading the charge against the Global North.

Third, it is likely to leave China feeling upstaged and outmanoeuvred by India’s bold leadership push among developing nations.

New Delhi brings a new lexicon to the process that clearly resonates with developing economies. The goal is to usher in an era of “human-centric development.”

No host of the G20 has espoused such a reform-driven agenda with a wide geographical spread that included 29 countries from Latin America to the Caribbean, 47 countries from Africa, seven countries from Europe, 31 countries from Asia, and 11 countries from Oceania.

These countries formed the core audience for the messaging emanating from New Delhi and voiced by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the inaugural and concluding sessions of the conference.

Across 10 sessions, the Global South Summit provided a platform for developing nations “marginalised” by the G20 to ventilate their grievances, articulate their priorities and provide inputs as New Delhi lent an empathetic ear.

The demands ranged from debt alleviation, digital connectivity, climate change and emissions to restorative justice for displaced populations such as the Rohingya refugees of Myanmar.

Prime Minister Modi deftly surfed over the seething discontent, setting the terms of engagement with the Global North, outlining his vision of “a globalisation that brings prosperity and well-being to humanity as a whole.”

The Global South Summit was a declaration of intent by India to emerge as a key player on the world stage by carving out a sphere of influence of its own among the developing nations. Prime Minister Modi’s assertion that “India’s G20 presidency will attempt to voice the views of the Global South on these important issues” is a decisive step towards achieving that goal.

But it also means New Delhi is not shy to debunk international institutions such as the United Nations, with Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar reportedly calling it “a frozen 1945-invented mechanism.”   

Despite its earnest efforts to win a  permanent seat on the UN Security Council, India would now appear to have a strategic interest in showing the UN up to be an obsolete institution weakened by its own structural constraints under the claustrophobic grip of the big powers.

In a thinly disguised reference to the UN and other multilateral institutions, India’s Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra sees the Global South Summit as spotlighting “the need for articulating the voice of the Global South in international institutions and for reforming them for a balanced representation of the developing countries.”

New Delhi may win the hearts of developing nations by voicing such sentiment. But building a consensus around it as the host of the next G20 summit might be a challenge.

public interest journalism


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