Herald View: The circus that came to town

Those in India who buy the fiction that India’s stature in the world is really growing under Modi, and see the just-concluded G20 parade as proof of this belief, are living in a fool’s paradise

A G20 signage in New Delhi (Photo: Getty Images)
A G20 signage in New Delhi (Photo: Getty Images)

Herald View

You’ve heard, of course, what a great coup The Great Leader pulled off in the capital recently. The ‘New Delhi Declaration’ is apparently the envy of the free world—or so we have been led to believe by India’s G20 Sherpa, his sidekicks and the government’s cheerleaders in the media.

Diplomats and some ex-diplomats too have waxed eloquent about the “unanimous declaration”, a 32-page, 83-paragraph trophy that we are waving as proof of our vishwaguru credentials.

It must have been quite an exercise to draft a document that Russia and China, the US, UK and France, India and all the rest—not all of them friends—could agree on. So what did they agree on that might justify such an extravaganza? (It apparently cost India some Rs 4,000+ crore to just stage the two-day affair.)

The crowning achievement, from all accounts, was a two-letter word: to bring Russia and its sympathisers on board, the New Delhi Declaration (NDD) managed to change the phrase ‘aggression by the Russian federation against Ukraine’ in the G20 Bali document of 2022 to ‘the war in Ukraine’.

“It took almost 20 days to agree on the Declaration before the summit and five days here on the spot,” Svetlana Lukash, Russia’s G20 negotiator, was quoted as saying by Russian news agency Interfax. So, make no mistake: that little tweak took tortuous negotiations.

But to what end that might make the Declaration worth even the paper it’s printed on? Did the West’s conciliatory retreat secure a commitment to end the war in Ukraine? Did the NDD even insist on an unconditional ceasefire? After supporting Ukraine with money and weapons and other blandishments, why was it necessary to whitewash the fact of Russia’s aggressive intent in Ukraine and what made the West buy in, so to speak?

For sure, there are some lofty ambitions articulated in the NDD, but scarcely anything ties the signatories down to binding commitments on any global or planetary threat. For example, the Group agreed to treble renewable energy capacity by 2030 but no goals were set on emission cuts, even though the G20 nations account for nearly 80 per cent of greenhouse gases. Or consider the studied silence on the raging civil war in neighbouring Myanmar, which threatens to destabilise the region, or the Chinese occupation of Indian territory, which the Indian Army occasionally concedes and the government doggedly denies.

What use are these multilateral forums—and these grand summits at great expense—if they can’t, or cynically won’t, thrash out issues that affect us? Sceptics in the US and Europe have even asked why the world needs yet another multilateral forum. What can/ will the G20 achieve that the United Nations or the G7 or the Global Climate Conference cannot, besides producing ‘rivers of deathless prose’ and ‘mountains of joint statements and outcome documents’, as a commentary in the Washington Post asked.

While that sounds a bit like sour grapes—as the West witnesses the shifting balance of power, and will do anything to deny and resist China’s growing salience in the new world order—India is willy-nilly playing into the hands of the West to ward off the threat it perceives from China in its own backyard.

It’s a doubleedged sword, though: for if the G20’s raison d’être is to be a voice of the Global South, then leaning on the West to be a counterweight to China in this region is neither astute nor tenable.

If the G20 signatories went along with the narrative that the ‘unanimous declaration’ was a diplomatic coup, and something of value to the world besides, it’s because they all have their axes to grind—the West, in particular.

And those in India who buy the fiction that India’s stature in the world is really growing under the Modi government, and see the just-concluded G20 parade as proof of this belief, are living in a fool’s paradise.

For their eyes only: a Bollywood wit told us that Akshay Kumar is poring over a script, tentatively titled ‘The Greatest Show on Earth 2023’, where our muscular male lead will play the foil, for a change, to the real-life hero who stars in the fantasy. It might be true.

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