The G20 Leaders’ Summit earlier this month marked a historic moment for India, or Bharat, as 20 of the world’s most powerful leaders met in New Delhi to discuss global economic and trade issues.
This was unprecedented, as it is the first time that India hosted such a massive gathering of heads of government. It was an opportunity to display the considerable material advances that India has made in infrastructure and development.
There were many firsts, such as the inclusion of African Union leaders at a major international summit. Other takeaways include the successful announcement of a G20 Declaration, which did not just condemn Russia for the conflict in Ukraine, allowing for a potentially more nuanced international perspective of the ongoing tragedy. The tantalising possibility of negotiations between Russia and the West exists, as the language used in the final declaration was softer than was the case during the previous Bali summit in Indonesia. Last and most significantly, a strategic trade corridor between India, the Middle East and Europe that could revolutionise global trade.
UK-India relations also appear to be on the upswing, from the British diaspora view. Most importantly for UK-India relations, considerable progress appears to have been made towards signing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). PM Rishi Sunak stressed that while there was some way to go to a final agreement, there was scope for a final agreement possibly by the end of this year.
“Both Modi-ji and I are keen to see a comprehensive and ambitious trade deal between our two countries. Both of us think that there is a good deal to be done,” he told reporters in India. Negotiations are still ongoing, underlining the complexity of the trade terms under negotiation. Hurdles to overcome include disagreements on intellectual property rights, services, and data protection, which may need stand-alone negotiations in their own right. India wants to protect its pharmaceuticals sector, so it can continue to make generic drugs indigenously. UK-India trade stands at a little over $20bn but given the size of both economies at around $3.5 trillion (India being slightly bigger) much more can be done to boost trade.
Curiously, there is no consensus in the media on all of the exact issues under negotiation, with the Indian High Commission in London recently clarifying that additional visas for Indian professionals are NOT an issue under discussion as reported by UK media, but rather that India wants greater ease of intra-company transfers and portable pensions, which would benefit the booming Indian IT sector. Modi also invited Sunak for a bilateral visit at the earliest convenient date, which Rishi Sunak accepted. This opens up the possibility of having cricket fan PM Sunak visit soon again when India hosts the World Cup next month or even as the guest of honour at India’s 2024 Republic Day parade, for example. The optics of Sunak as the first Indian origin PM are a net positive for UK-India relations but it also has led to a series of agreements on security, defence, science, and technology among other areas which will tangibly benefit both countries.
MORE LIKE THIS…
The warm and cordial relationship between Sunak and Modi was visible in the interactions between the leaders. Of course, PM Sunak’s first visit to India generated substantial interest in the Indian media, as he visited Akshardham Temple in Delhi and participated in traditional prayer ceremonies with his wife, Akshata Murthy. He chose to honour his Hindu heritage in front of the world’s cameras at the G20 meet and won praise from people across India for his respect for tradition and elders, both of which are valued not only in India but across the Global South. It is interesting to wonder what colonial era Britons would have thought of Sunak’s actions during his visit to India, and indeed his very premiership.
The controversy over British aid to India in segments of the UK media following the successful Chandrayaan-3 touchdown on the Moon show that some of the British media is still stuck in a neo-colonial mindset, which may not be well adjusted to current political realities.
The whole event was designed to highlight the rise of new India – its modern infrastructure, world class digital payments system and transport. It also demonstrated the rise of Delhi as an independent geopolitical pivot which does not bend to Western diplomatic pressure on key issues such as the Russia-Ukraine war. The language used in the surprise G20 Declaration was interpreted as a climbdown by Western media and diplomats from the previous G20 Declaration in Bali, as it did not explicitly condemn Russia’s actions. Instead, it only denounced the use of force for territorial gain in general terms.
While the declaration was a surprise, it was a testament to the hard work of Indian diplomats who succeeded after holding over 200 meetings behind the scenes to achieve some consensus on a divisive and contentious issue. Indian influence is on the rise, and its potential to act as an international mediator as it rises is also clear to see. This is all the more notable when contrasted with the absence of China’s President Xi at the summit.
MORE LIKE THIS…
A major positive outcome was the announcement of a new trade corridor linking Europe and the Middle East to India through port and rail infrastructure, announced by US President Biden. That was an important win for the Americans, who had been blindsided by China recently announcing a Saudi-Iranian peace deal and helps them to regain some influence in the strategically important Middle East. It will benefit a host of countries, from Greece to the UAE to India.
The reopening of an ancient trade route (ancient India and Rome traded along similar routes, for example) will be beneficial for Indian manufacturing exports, helping India to export cheap goods to the West and become a major manufacturing power.
The Delhi G20 was the beginning of a historic shift in power, announcing the rise of India globally. How this will impact the world at large remains to be seen, but it promises to be fascinating to watch.
MORE LIKE THIS…
Jeevan Vipinachandran is a UK-based writer and political analyst specialising in political conflict and counter-terrorism. With a Masters in Comparative Politics: Conflict Studies from the London School of Economics (LSE), his core interest is in international relations with a special focus on the rise of India and its impact on the world stage.