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Why G7 needs allies like India

New Delhi occupies a unique place as an oasis of political and economic stability

Why G7 needs allies like India

Forum: Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the G7 summit in Italy as the leader of an ‘outreach country’. ANI

Manoj Joshi

Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi

PRIME Minister Narendra Modi’s presence as an outreach guest at the G7 summit in Italy is a useful backdrop for the launch of the new government’s foreign and security policy.

India is not yet the world power it wants to be. What we need to guard against are hubris and overreach.

The G7 meeting has brought out just how fragile the world order is these days. India occupies a unique position here as an oasis of political and economic stability, but it cannot but take into account the turbulent waters that are washing its shores.

The political situation in four of the G7 nations appears brittle — the US and the UK are going to the polls amid uncertainty, while Germany and France are witnessing the rise of right-wing forces. Two of the big world powers are, of course, entirely out of the G7 process, which purports to promote democracy. But those two, China and Russia, are making major efforts separately and collectively to challenge the G7’s purported global hegemony.

The presence of India, Turkey, Brazil and some other countries is an acknowledgement that the G7 needs allies to manage issues relating to migration, climate change, economic competition with China and the wars in Ukraine and Gaza. In turn, these countries are seeking to persuade the G7 nations, which are increasingly economically and demographically challenged, on the need for more equity and balance in global decision-making.

In all this, Modi’s central challenge and opportunities are in India’s neighbourhood and beyond. While continuity has been the central message that the BJP-led NDA government has sent out, there will be inevitable changes arising from the very fact that the General Election has shifted the national political paradigm.

The presence of leaders from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles at the swearing-in of the new government speaks for itself, as does the fact that the leaders of Myanmar, Pakistan and Afghanistan were not invited. India’s relations with those invited are fairly even, even though we face challenges in Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The participation of Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu was significant because of our strained relations with the island republic.

The Indian strategy of riding out the Chinese challenge in the neighbourhood was most visible last year when Sri Lanka faced a financial crisis. China played hard to get, but New Delhi immediately provided humanitarian and financial assistance of $4 billion, surpassing even the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF’s) 48-month bailout package of $3 billion. By providing financial assurances, New Delhi also shored up Sri Lanka’s IMF process.

The absence of Pakistan, whose then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had attended PM Modi’s 2014 swearing-in, has its own story of just how sharply India-Pakistan relations have deteriorated, even though the government in power is that of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), albeit in a coalition.

India says it emphasises its Neighbourhood First policy as well as SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region) for the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). It has China very much on its mind. Whatever may be the military challenge India confronts along the disputed border, the one it faces from China in South Asia and the IOR is equally significant and has implications for the geopolitical future of the region.

China, too, is a neighbour and, it too, was not present. In an interview to Newsweek on the eve of the General Election, Prime Minister Modi had noted that there was a need to “urgently address the prolonged situation on our borders so that the abnormality in our bilateral interactions can be put behind us.” Last week, speaking in Mumbai after taking charge of the Ministry of External Affairs for a second term, S Jaishankar said India would focus on finding solutions to the border issues that had bedevilled their relationship.

American ties with New Delhi are on a high after Modi’s Washington visit last June. While US elections could disrupt some of the bonhomie, they are unlikely to lead to any major change. But managing ties in a potential Trump presidency will definitely be a strain, though the Gurpatwant Singh Pannun issue is unlikely to create major problems. The American focus, regardless of who wins, is likely to be China, though there is a danger that another US-China tariff war could affect us in the form of collateral damage.

India’s ties with Russia are definitely being tested by the Ukraine war. India may be gaining from its oil purchases, but it is alienating its Western allies. As the situation in Ukraine remains serious, pressure on the West to step up its support to Ukraine brings pressure on India indirectly. Having told Putin that this was not the era of war in 2022, Modi is now hard put to come up with some initiative which will lend credibility to India’s proposition that the issue could be settled through dialogue and diplomacy. In the meantime, New Delhi continues to walk a tightrope — it attended the Swiss peace conference, but not at the Prime Ministerial level.

Another area which may require attention is West Asia, where Modi deserves credit for building solid ties with the UAE, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt. These were not just about the nine million-strong diaspora or energy security but also aimed at tapping the region for investment and buying into their plans for a post-oil future. At present, however, new initiatives like the Israel-India-US-UAE grouping and the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) have sought to link Indian ports to Europe via the Israeli port of Haifa. Significantly, the G-7 communique pledged support to the IMEC.

India is not yet the world power it wants to be. As a leading power, however, there are opportunities for taking initiatives and shaping policies both in the neighbourhood and beyond. What we need to guard against are hubris and overreach.

#Narendra Modi

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