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G8 glass ceiling upsets India

Manmohan returns from the G8 Summit with a sense of confidence as the leader of a fast-growing economy that the world takes seriously, writes Narayanan Madhavan.

delhi Updated: Jun 11, 2007 10:53 IST
Narayanan Madhavan

Prime minister Manmohan Singh returned at the weekend from the G8 summit in Germany with a sense of confidence as the leader of a fast-growing economy that the world takes seriously, but there is a lingering aftertaste of bitterness because the warmth of the world’s most influential leaders was not matched by conduct that would have made the trip a big success.

The nagging question New Delhi’s diplomats face after India joined the Group of Eight as one of the five “outreach” partners is whether there is a glass ceiling of sorts that separates the big eight from the emerging five that include China, Mexico, South Africa and Brazil.

On protocol and consultations, the two engines that drive the nitty-gritty of global diplomacy, the G8 stumbled in winning over Singh, whose words suggest that he was being patronised rather than co-opted at the high-table in Heiligendamm, where the Baltic summer breeze contrasted a chill that India felt on declarations concerning climate change and nuclear non-proliferation.

“We were not active participants in the G8 processes. In fact, the G8 communique was issued even before our meeting and we did make the point that in future, if similar meetings have to take place, then we should get a chance to discuss issues of our concern before the G8 meeting so that our point of view can be reflected in the thought processes of the G8,” Dr Singh told reporters on the flight back from Berlin.

While Western leaders were saying loud and clear that India and China would be crucial to the success of reducing greenhouse gas emissions that heat up the earth and distort climates, the emerging economies were really not consulted on the declaration.

The G8 communiqué on the world economy mentioned them as having discussed issues even as the O5 group of outreach partners were talking to each other at Berlin, a three-hour drive away.

Not for nothing, the O5 suggested that it could turn into a G5, setting future consultations on its own. China and India warmed up to each other as well at Berlin.

Leaving little to imagination, Singh repeated to the media what he told the G8 leaders: “I said we have come here not as petitioners but as partners in an equitable, just and fair management of the global comity of nations, which we accept as reality in the globalised world.”

A spokesman for the prime minister dismissed speculation that Singh was reluctant to attend the summit in the first place, but it was clear on Sunday that India’s delight at joining the world’s elite had clearly worn off.

On nuclear cooperation, India and the US are moving forward to make their civilian deal a success, but the G8 declaration made an appeal to bring India in the multilateral non-proliferation regime, which India has opposed for decades. “It was not negotiated with us,” Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said curtly after the declaration. “I’ll tell you what we believe in. They are trying to say what they think. It was not presented to us.”

Menon also said the word “outreach” was for G8 not for the O5. “It is out for them, not for us.” The government’s position on climate change has also become hard.

It clearly wants a UN-sponsored regime on emission cuts, a reality President George Bush accepted in what could be called a visibly positive outcome of the summit.

External Affairs Ministry officials assert that they can talk in any forum but deals must be negotiated and enforced by the UN, and keep in mind India’s right to economic growth and development.