In the contemporary global order, the phrase “Global South” refers to a wide span of countries, ranging from the geographical regions of Africa, Central and Latin America, and a large chunk of Asia, to the substantial “South” within a broadly perceived “North” (such as the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe). However, the concept should also be understood as one that has been gradually envisioned, created, restored, and recreated amid a long-standing clash between the global imperialistic hegemonic forces and the emancipatory decolonial forces, which have not undeniably subscribed to the predominant global design.
This process began in the later half of the 20th century, when the peripheral “third world” countries (now the “Global South”) came to the fore and outwardly pitched for decolonization, democratization, equitable development, reconfiguration of international institutions, and the redistribution of power. In doing so, the Global South made a collective conscious choice to critically engage with the existent world order.
Throughout this evolving process, the crucial concern was not that the marginalized could not speak, but that they should be necessarily heard in a dignified way. And India played a decisive role in internationalizing these concerns by making them substantial parts of the discussions at the United Nations meetings and conferences. India’s benign yet assertive role, deep-rooted in its history, democratic polity, and eclectic culture, has been a primary enabling factor in the post-colonial world. Most of the Global South countries could easily relate to India or optimistically looked toward it, because of its universal civilizational appeal and the stimulating experiences of its inclusive, non-violent freedom struggle.
However, with the passage of time, a remarkable evolution could be discerned in India’s international standing and global exposure. India has gone from having limited capabilities to emerging as one of the fastest growing economies in the world; from having limited international engagements to fostering multidirectional diplomatic engagements; from being a reluctant rule-taker to becoming a pragmatic rule-shaper; and from openly asserting strategic autonomy to exploring varied geopolitical opportunities under the influence of strategic balancing. As a consequence to this, there is a greater inclination on the part of the world today to understand India and recognize its capabilities and contributions. There is a strong realization in today’s world that feasible solutions for existing global problems cannot be worked out without India’s involvement. India has the potential to serve as a competent balancer while bridging complex issues and arguments. This is one of the biggest reasons why the world is enthusiastically looking toward India’s G-20 presidency, which it assumed on December 1, 2022.
India’s G-20 presidency has been contemplated by various experts across the world as an opportunity of extensive scope and potential. India is certainly seizing the moment. The Economic Times described how India is executing its role as G-20 president:
With eleven engagement groups, twelve working groups under the Sherpa track, and eight under the finance track, the Presidency is undertaking over two hundred meetings of ministers, government officials, and civil society members, engaging young minds from various educational institutions across thirty-two different work streams in fifty cities across length and breadth of the country, instead of limiting all the events to the capital.
This demonstrated commitment toward maintaining inclusion, welcoming a diversity of ideas, and enhancing the spirit of cooperative federalism, is quite commendable. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pointed out that “the G-20 is a unique opportunity to showcase to the world that India is not just confined to Delhi, but includes every state and union territory.”
Expanding that to the global scale, India is equally committed to showcasing that the global stage does not belong only to the Global North. India’s presidency is highly significant because it comes as part of a three-year stretch where the G-20 is being led by countries from the Global South: Indonesia in 2022, India in 2023, and Brazil in 2024. Amid three succeeding presidencies from the Global South, India has a distinct opportunity to address the pressing concerns that impede the progression of the Global South.
Concerning this, the Indian leadership has affirmed, “Our G-20 priorities will be shaped in consultation with not just our G-20 partners, but also our fellow-travellers in the Global South, whose voice often goes unheard.” India has invited six guest countries from the Global South to become a part of the G-20 summit: Bangladesh, Egypt, Mauritius, Nigeria, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.
As a pathbreaking initiative, India organized the “Voice of the Global South Summit” in New Delhi from January 12-13, 2023. With the theme “Unity of Voice, Unity of Purpose,” the virtual summit brought together 125 countries of the Global South to share their perspectives and priorities on a common platform across a whole range of issues. The summit presented a good opportunity for India to consult a sizable number of developing countries not represented in the G-20, and to learn about their expectations from its presidency. A conference or gathering of such magnitude and dynamism had never been called previously by any other host of the G-20 summit.
During his inaugural address to the Global South Summit, Modi called for a global agenda of 4Rs (“Respond, Recognize, Respect and Reform”) to re-energize the world. He elaborated that “this meant responding to the priorities of the Global South, recognizing the principle of ‘Common but Differentiated Responsibilities’, respecting the sovereignty of all nations, and reforming international institutions to make them more relevant.”
Additionally, during his opening remarks at the Concluding Leaders’ Session of the summit, Modi announced five key initiatives on India’s part: a “Global South Center of Excellence” to conduct research on “development solutions or best practices” of any of the Global South countries; a “Global South Science and Technology initiative” to share India’s expertise in space technology and nuclear energy with other developing countries; the “Aarogya Maitri project” whereby essential medical supplies will be provided to any developing country affected by “natural disasters or humanitarian crisis”; a “Global South Young Diplomats Forum” to synergize the diplomatic voice of the Global South; and “Global South Scholarships” aimed for “students from developing countries to pursue higher education in India.” Providing further impetus to these key processes of amplifying the voice of the Global South, Modi recently called for the African Union to be given full membership of the G-20 at the upcoming September summit in New Delhi.
Based on these initiatives and gestures, it may be inferred that by prioritizing the developmental requirements and geopolitical concerns of the Global South, India is vigorously anticipating its G-20 Presidency to be a facilitative “windpipe” for the Global South.
While the world today is at the cusp of drastic geopolitical, geoeconomic, and technological transformations, India’s optimistic call for inclusiveness and reformed multilateralism will definitely be tested. The developed and developing countries are often at loggerheads with respect to various issues, like redefining the functionalities of key international institutions, cross-border trade, economic sanctions, climate financing, and regional conflicts. Besides, the perils of global governance have intensified more in recent years, particularly with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the emerging debt crisis, de-escalating global growth rates, and the Ukraine war.
Concerning this, the biggest challenge for a premier international grouping like the G-20 would be to make globalization work in a sustainable way. Given the requirement for a new concerted dynamics, a herculean task before India will be to cultivate a feasible and tangible global consensus by aligning national priorities with the regional strategies and global solutions. Although India is committed to ensure a successful presidency by virtue of its global vision and comprehensive power dynamics, the decisive accomplishment of the task will be a challenge.