As the world’s leaders gather in New Delhi, it is clear that India’s G20 presidency will be remembered as a historic pivot in global governance. The 2023 G20 slogan — “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” or “The world is one family” — exemplifies a typical Indian melding of tradition and contemporary concerns.
For a G20 summit that is about reviving, reforming, and defending globalisation, vasudhaiva kutumbakam has taken on a meaning beyond hospitality to visitors from across the world. Translated into the rallying cry of “One Earth, One Family, One Future”, it emphasises the interconnection of cultures across geographies, and, as in families, reminds us of our obligation to those left behind, those yet to benefit from globalisation.
Of the many priorities India is taking forward in its stewardship of the G20, three serve to illustrate how the concerns of the Global South have come to occupy centre stage. The first principle is the democratisation and decentralisation of the global economy. “One Earth, One Family, One Future” should be seen especially in the backdrop of recent geo-economic developments that threaten our interconnected futures. Muscular industrial policy has staged a return in geographies that were once the strongest votaries of globalisation.
The United States has passed an Inflation Reduction Act that, in its specifics and motivations, looks little different from the nativist “Make America Great Again” agenda that preceded it. The European Union is girding to introduce a carbon border tax. At best, the rest of the world sees this as an attempt to regulate external markets on European principles. At worst, it looks like open protectionism of a sort the EU has historically attacked when it comes from much poorer countries. Correcting this drift away from the pure principles of globalisation — in which all benefit, but the poor benefit the most — is a priority for the developing world.
The second is reform and restoration of global finance. Since the 2008 crisis, financial globalisation has ceased to operate properly. The purpose of finance is to take savings and deploy them in projects, sectors, and geographies where they will garner the greatest returns. Where are those projects, sectors, and geographies today? As various agencies including the International Monetary Fund estimate, over three-fourths of global growth in the coming years will be in emerging economies.
International finance is, however, still focused on serving the old trans-Atlantic geographies. Wealth creation has been disconnected from growth creation. A financial sector that indulges merely in the perverse redistribution of wealth within societies rather than in enabling global growth that raises all boats is simply unfit for purpose. This G20, under India’s presidency, and those that follow, will aim to fix development and infrastructure finance so that capital can flow to the places where it can best stimulate growth — benefiting all of us, across the world.
Third, and most important, India has changed the tone and texture of the G20. What was once a summit meant merely for technocrats and policy wonks has become a people’s festival. The people’s G20 has a purpose: To amplify the issues that matter to the billions who have been, for too long, ignored by those technocrats and wonks. Dialogue on urgent issues — food, health, jobs, adaptation to climate change — has brought hundreds of millions of Indians, and billions beyond our shores, into the ambit of the global governance discussion. From now on, every presidency will include such perspectives, regions and demographics. India’s proud contribution to the G20 is a diversity that will shake the tree of global governance.
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In the past, G20 summits have been remembered for activists outside the venues, protesting against the idea of global governance itself. There is always a place for dissent. India, as a vibrant democracy, knows this better than anyone. But the only answer to such activism is the creation of a wider group that can argue against it. The people’s G20 correctly recognises that democratised global governance and a reformed globalisation can enthuse a wider group, and thereby answer the concerns of those activists who sought to disrupt previous G20s. The warm embrace given to the G20 in India by Opposition-run state governments and marginalised groups is an indicator that there is nothing political or partisan about this hope. India has found a wider, deeper and more expansive response to the malaise of global governance.
This historic turn towards the Global South marked by India’s G20 has begun to redress decades of reductionism. The Global South is no longer a pejorative. India’s G20 has reclaimed this description and shown that our self-image is of a group seeking green growth, tech-first growth, women-led growth, and inclusive growth. Scholarship from richer countries may have been dismissive of the developing world and its aspirations. But today the Global South is seen as wanting more than just handouts. India’s vibrant scholar community, India’s deft diplomacy and, indeed, India’s warm hospitality have reclaimed our identity. For the first time, the Global South is the pathfinder for a greener, digital and equitable growth. This is the developmental legacy of the people’s G20, and of India’s presidency.
The writer is President, ORF and Chair of the Think 20 secretariat during India’s presidency of the G20