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India trying to be part of solution to world’s problems

A salient feature of this year’s Independence Day is that Indians are internationalising their hopes for the country.

India trying to be part of solution to world’s problems

Honour: India’s G20 presidency has given its people a sense of pride in the country’s foreign policy. ANI



K. P. Nayar

Strategic Analyst

INDIA is celebrating this Independence Day with an aura of external responsibilities like never before. The difference between many previous August 15 celebrations and this one is that earlier India was part of the problem. Now, it is trying to be part of the solution.

Climate change is an important current example. Without a conscious change in Indian attitudes, there would have been no Paris Climate Accord in 2015 — for 18 years after the Kyoto Protocol, further progress was halting and often stalled. Part of the ‘problem’ were India and China. The latter changed its ways well before India did. The results of New Delhi’s new avatar are all too evident. With the next UN Climate Change Conference — COP28 — scheduled for November-December in Dubai, the UAE’s Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber made India his first port of call on February 7 after being appointed President-Designate of that all-important conclave. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s support, Sultan Al Jaber wants to make COP28 “ignite a transformational agenda that is pro-growth, pro-climate and leaves no one behind.”

Metamorphosing from being part of the problem to emerging as part of the solution is easier said than done. Individuals and countries often stumble during such transitions. One instance of a setback in this context was India’s abrupt and clumsy exit in November 2019 from the world’s largest trade deal — the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) — of 15 Asia-Pacific nations. It stunned regional economic powerhouses, which had invested in the Modi government’s commitment to the region by restructuring India’s ‘Look East’ policy and strengthening it into an outcome-oriented ‘Act East’ policy soon after it came to power in 2014.

Global responsibilities are not new to India. As the beacon of decolonisation worldwide and in the vanguard of self-rule for oppressed peoples of the world, India was guaranteed prominence on the world stage even as it was approaching Independence in 1947. Mahatma Gandhi’s record ensured that. India was one of the 50 countries which attended the two-month-long San Francisco conference in 1945, during which the United Nations was founded. Men and women in their 20s, whose ambition is to represent India abroad by passing the annual Indian Foreign Service examination, are constantly reminded to this day that India is a ‘founding member’ of the UN.

On the eve of Independence Day, as the country is experiencing great changes, a point to ponder, therefore, is: When did India become part of the problem and how is it steadily attempting to be part of the solution? Reviewing history, the watershed was 1960 when Jawaharlal Nehru’s government volunteered to be the co-sponsor at the UN of a ‘Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples’. True to its beliefs, India was also the first country to raise the issue of apartheid in South Africa at the UN — way back in 1946. This led to the formation of the General Assembly’s Sub-Committee against Apartheid. In principle, these were morally upright initiatives as memories of colonial oppression were still fresh not only within the Nehru government, but also among every member of the young Republic’s Parliament.

From that tipping point, India was soon elected as the first Chair of the UN’s Decolonisation Committee, popularly known throughout its existence as the ‘Committee of 24’, tasked with efforts to end colonialism once and for all. In the years that followed, India became a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77 at the UN. Maybe all this was too much at one go for a young country to take. Perhaps, it gave India delusions of grandeur. The ability to punch above its weight on the global stage definitely put the country’s leadership — across political parties — on a collision course with the most powerful segments in the community of nations. The problems of developing countries became India’s problems, and the creation of a more equitable international order became a motivation for actions with a messianic zeal — little thought was being paid to the consequences of foreign policy for its people.

With a bit more of detachment — like China acted during Deng Xiaoping’s reform years — India could have been a very different country today. Incredibly, India could have been part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ‘Asian Tigers’ which changed the lives of their people while India stagnated with its ‘Hindu rate of growth’, the infamous term coined by economist Raj Krishna. Unfortunately, Indira Gandhi’s view was that the ASEAN members were little more than tinpot dictatorships. India could have been a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), a regional economic forum of 21 countries, and benefited from globalisation in its best and early years. The story of how India missed the APEC boat, which this columnist tracked as a correspondent covering the Ministry of External Affairs more than three decades ago, is a sordid tale of callousness and tunnel vision that was emblematic of the years of pretended altruism in the country’s diplomacy.

Less than a month after this year’s Independence Day celebrations, the leaders of G20 nations, which account for more than three quarters of the Gross World Product (GWP) and 75 per cent of international trade, will gather in India for their first G20 summit in New Delhi. India is currently Chair of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which comprises 40 per cent of the global population and approximately one-fifth of the GWP. It has recently helped revive the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation and the Indian Ocean Rim Association. India’s G20 presidency has given its people a sense of pride in the country’s foreign policy for the first time since the early years of freedom when Nehru was the PM. By making G20 akin to a mass movement with its meetings spread across 50-plus cities and a countrywide restoration of buildings and facades, PM Modi has given ordinary Indians a stake in the summit. A salient feature of Independence Day-2023 is that Indians are internationalising their hopes for the country. Whether this will be good or bad for the country will depend as much on the management of public diplomacy as on reviving the national consensus on external affairs which existed before the Manmohan Singh and Modi governments came to power.

#Climate change #Environment


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