HT Grand Tamasha: Underscoring implications of India’s triumph at G20 meet
This week on Grand Tamasha, a weekly podcast coproduced by HT and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, host Milan Vaishnav sat down with commentator Ashok Malik to discuss the larger implications of India’s triumph at G20 meet
It has been two weeks since Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprised observers by announcing on Day One of the G20 summit in New Delhi that all twenty member nations had achieved consensus on the New Delhi G20 Summit Leaders Declaration. The announcement capped nine months of frenzied activity which involved thousands of meetings, consultations, and side events associated with India’s presidency. This week on Grand Tamasha, a weekly podcast coproduced by HT and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, host Milan Vaishnav sat down with commentator Ashok Malik to discuss the larger implications of India’s triumph. Malik, now in the private sector, previously served as policy advisor to External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and speech writer and spokesperson for former President Ram Nath Kovind.
Malik stressed the significance of India ensuring that consensus among the fractious group was achieved, not just for India but for the organization as a whole. “It was important for the G20 to establish that it was still resilient, still viable, and still had utility and value in this post-Ukraine, post-COVID, and post-geopolitical rift world,” remarked Malik. “And particularly, that it could still be of use to the vast concourse of humanity—the 125 odd countries of the Global South.” Malik suggested that India’s success at the G20 will have lasting impacts on India’s global image: “The world became more acutely aware of India’s ability to be a problem-solver, a bridge, a negotiator, and a force for international reconciliation…in the best manner possible.”
Malik also stressed that India’s foreign policy engagement also has greater domestic salience than ever before, an important development in an election year. According to him, this is a function of the massive changes India’s economy has experienced since the 1991 liberalization. “The common Indian’s interest in foreign policy has grown with international engagement. It is not a negative response to international engagement, it’s actually a positive response,” Malik explained. “In 1991, some 15 percent of India’s GDP was dependent on external trade, that number is around 45 percent today. Of course, the economy is much, much larger: it was around $300 billion in 1991 and today it’s around $3.5 trillion. A much wider proportion of a much larger economy today is dependent on international trade.”
One of the highlights of the summit took place not in the summit hall, but on the sidelines, when the United States, India, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and others announced a new India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEEC). Many observers believe this corridor serves as an explicit counter to China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). However, Malik argues that there’s an important difference between IMEEC and BRI, namely the former’s on economic viability. “These will be projects that have an economic rationale because all of the regions and countries concerned are going through enormous economic transformation and expansion,” stated Malik. He used the example of how “UAE and Saudi Arabia are investing enormously in a post-oil economy, which could mean anything from renewable energy to financial hubs and new cities…to healthcare and other emerging technologies.” There is also the normal passage of manufactured goods on this route from India to Europe and the reverse flow. “The countries involved in the [corridor] have proven economic capacities and markets. These are projects that, in the end, can be viable,” noted Malik.