India is now a member of the following: BRICS, IBSA, BASIC and RIC. "Alphabet soup," admit senior Indian officials. These are all multilateral groupings, created post-Cold War, whose members are not first world but have gone beyond the second or third worlds. This between-world is only in the past year showing signs of geopolitical stirrings.
BRICS is a head above the rest in influence. It has more economic clout, representing nearly a fifth of global GDP. This is a collection, said Manvir Singh, the Indian foreign ministry’s Joint Secretary (Economic Relations) just before the summit, "fastest growing economies of the world." It is also showing some political coherence. BRICS finance ministers meet separately before the G-20 summits.
They have taken common positions in the United Nations Security Council. Even China, whose GDP is larger than that of all the other member-states combined, say Indian officials, has found political utility in the group. Says Rong Ying, strategist at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, "BRICS is a vision of alternative thinking to the West."
In comparison, RIC, among the first post-Cold War power sets, is defunct. The Russia-India-China meetings never produced much as it came to be defined as an anti-US entity even though none really believed in that stance. "This, in any case, has been largely subsumed into BRICS," said a source.
BASIC arose from the common negotiating position Brazil, South Africa, India and China took at the Copenhagen climate change talks. And it hasn’t grown beyond that. "It has a narrow agenda of climate change and energy," said a source. It can’t be merged into BRICS because it includes Russia, a major energy exporter. "For example, its take on the Kyoto Protocol is completely different," said a source.
IBSA is the organization where India has potentially the greatest influencel. The India-Brazil-South Africa group is the one body that excludes China. India has pushed for IBSA to be defined as an organization of "democratic" countries. They differ with China on their development agenda, say sources. IBSA members still have "a long way to go".
"The IBSA countries only happen to also be part of BRICS," said a source. India, for now, is not displeased with the multiplicity of bodies. Each of them has its uses when it comes to furthering Indian interests and New Delhi intends to work through them with that in mind. "We will use which ever instrument that is available. This is not an either/or situation," said a source. What excites India the most right now? New Delhi’s overriding concern right now is energy, an issue "that ties each of these groups together." This attitude does not differ in principle from China’s. "There are many overlapping memberships as we are living in a multipolar world," says Rong.
"Their viability will depend on if they can deliver and implement a better vision, to make a case that they are not a talking shop."
(With inputs from Reshma Patil)