Prime Minister Narendra Modi had his place in the sun last week. The resounding success of the G20 summit was recorded in every Bharatiya’s/Indian’s consciousness. It will remain in our collective memory for many years. The images recorded were of Modi confidently strutting around the newly built Bharat Mandapam, spending more than an hour receiving the guests, welcoming them with handshakes and some selected ones with a hug.
As expected, Ukraine was not happy with the declaration, but Russia was understandably satisfied. It felt that its friend India had got the better of the West!
Everyone loves a good spectacle. The G20 spectacle showcased our Prime Minister and his dream of Bharat, that was India. He sat for the dinner hosted by President Murmu in the Mandapam that evening behind a nameplate that described him as ‘Prime Minister of Bharat’. The old name, with which we are all familiar and by which our country is known around the world, appears to be out of favour with Modi after 26 Opposition parties joined hands and adopted INDIA as the alliance’s acronym. What will the Indian Ocean be named now? Bharat Ocean? We will be told in due course!
Old diplomats from around the world had not seen such a grand event played out at any G20 meet earlier. An IAS officer of my acquaintance, Amitabh Kant, was the Sherpa representing our country in the preparations for the meet, putting the nuts and bolts in place. He, too, had his day in the sun. He worked hard for the success of this year-long event and succeeded. We must give him credit for his stellar role.
Do not forget the many Foreign Service officers who must have burnt the midnight oil to ensure that events proceeded and ended smoothly. Even in normal times, they struggle valiantly with commas and dots to get documents approved and signed by just one minister, their own. In the context of G20, where 20 Foreign Ministers and 20 heads of state have to agree on each word, it is not surprising that they and Kant spent sleepless nights to ensure that the Delhi Declaration was the most potent (Kant’s choice of word) message that a G20 summit had ever issued.
The reference to the Russia-Ukraine war and climate change had him and the 19 other Sherpas worried. A consensus had to be arrived at with the help of semantics. It took up all the time of the 20 Sherpas and numerous others in the foreign ministries of the respective nations. As expected, Ukraine was not happy with the declaration, but Russia, which supplies us with cheap oil so that we can hope to become a $5-trillion economy during this decade, was understandably satisfied. It felt that its friend India had got the better of the West!
PM Modi held one-to-one discussions on the sidelines of the event with the US President, the British Prime Minister, the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, the Bangladesh Prime Minister and some other heads of state. Many bilateral issues were discussed and some resolved. All in all, it was a grand show that served to make Modi and Bharat more relevant and important in the eyes of the world.
PM Modi took the lead to induct the African Union (AU) as a permanent G20 member. The AU President, Azali Assoumani, was present at the meet as an invitee. This is a region that does not have a voice in world affairs at present. China has taken advantage of this neglect to offer its help to African countries at crucial times. It has a ‘first-mover’ start, which India, through its G20 presidency, has now attempted to neutralise.
A second major decision is the proposed corridor from India to Europe via West Asia to facilitate the movement of goods, technology and energy. It will compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative and hopefully surpass the latter in importance.
The one frog in the well was Canada. PM Justin Trudeau must have lost his good looks temporarily when Modi lectured him for not reining in the Khalistanis who account for a big slice of his supporters in Canada. How so many Khalistan-supporting Sikhs happened to settle in Canada is a mystery. When I visited Toronto some 10 years ago as a guest of a childhood friend from Mumbai, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in charge of my security was a Sikh.
A delegation of Canadian MPs visited Amritsar in the late 1980s during my sojourn in Punjab. Our government was very shy of allowing the delegation to visit the Golden Temple. The MPs had been told by their Sikh voters back home that the Punjab Police had killed many Sikh boys, with the result that young Sikhs dared not visit the temple. My friend BG Deshmukh was the Cabinet Secretary. He phoned to ask for my opinion. I welcomed the visit of the delegation so that it learned the truth.
The delegation found no policemen in the temple because it was occupied by young extremists who had become a law unto themselves. If the police wanted to oust them from the holy place, that was possible only by force, something the government wanted to avoid at that time. Later, at their request, I met the MPs at the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi. They were convinced that their Sikh supporters in Canada had misinformed them about the situation in the temple. The MPs wanted to know why Canadian Sikhs were so enamoured of Khalistan, whereas those in Punjab were not. I confess that this was one question whose answer eluded me.
But even Trudeau must have been impressed by the ability of a developing economy to put up such a show. There is no doubt that Modi spared no effort to showcase himself and Bharat. The G20 performance, like the landing of Chandrayaan-3 on the moon’s south pole, will have boosted Modi’s chances of being re-elected in 2024. Of course a lot of money was expended, but the results achieved outweighed the costs. It brought Bharat and Modi, the prime mover and shaker, to the notice of the world’s leaders and their people in a positive light.
In electoral politics, eight months are a sufficiently long period of time for opinions to alter. Modi has his nose ahead today, but intervening factors could make voters change their mind by April-May 2024.
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