Although India is not a member of the club of the wealthiest democracies in the world, G 7, India, as a guest country, gained several advantages from the outcome of the G 7 summit which concluded at Carbis Bay in the English holiday region of Cornwall last week.
Among the special invitees, India was the most prominent, but there were some apprehensions because of the reported concerns in the west about the direction India was taking. The Freedom House had recently downgraded India as a “partial democracy” and some others had characterised India as an “elected autocracy.” Prime Minister Modi decided to take the bull by the horns by speaking to the group online three times, particularly in the session on Open Societies.
The Prime Minister Modi was categorical in asserting that G7 was India’s natural ally and reiterated India’s commitment to democracy, freedom of thought and liberty. “Was happy to address the @G7 Session on Open Societies as a Lead Speaker. Democracy and freedom are part of India’s civilizational ethos, and find expression in the vibrancy and diversity of India’s society," PM Modi had tweeted. Consequently, the Joint Statement of the G 7 on Open Societies contained no criticism of India directly. Moreover, a long list of challenges to democracy in the statement was prepared in close consultation with India. Indian Government sources clarified that reference to national security and public order concerns are an exception to the need for internet freedoms.
The repeated assertions in the statement about multilateralism at the instance of President Biden are in keeping with India’s call to multilateralism, not only in the context of the pandemic, but also at the UN in dealing with global issues. On climate change, the PM called for collective action, recognizing that this challenge can’t be addressed in silos. He shared that India is the only G20 country on track to meet its Paris commitments, according to the MEA. The PM also highlighted the importance of the International Solar Alliance.
In their first face-to-face meeting since the pandemic began, the G 7 leaders appeared unsure of maintaining their leadership of the world in the face of an unpredictable pandemic, an antagonistic China and a defiant Russia. The return of the United States, though diminished by Donald Trump and a dreaded disease, to the fold breathed a whiff of fresh air into the group. President Biden appeared weak and unsteady, but his determination to recapture the leadership of the world by strengthening alliances and confronting adversaries was palpable. The group was energised into taking quick decisions, not from a position of strength and confidence, but in a desperate bid to avert a disaster in the aftermath of the pandemic, the looming danger of climate change and the threat from China and Russia which had sharpened their antagonism in the shadow of the pandemic.
India had stressed the importance of fair sharing of vaccines and medicines with all countries, as India had done when the crisis arose. G7 vowed to share vaccine doses with poorer nations that urgently needed them. This was not charity, but a dire need of the group itself to prevent more waves of infection. All that the group pledged was 1 billion doses, with half of that coming from the United States and 100 million from Britain. The number of doses was far too low to vaccinate 70% of the world population, without which the much desired herd immunity cannot be ensured. Moreover, finance and logistical help are needed to get the vaccines delivered and administered in the farthest corners of the globe. The rules of the WHO were framed on the presumption that pandemics might come from the developing world to the wealthy nations, but the journey of Covid-19 in the opposite direction demanded a total change in extending support to the developing countries.
India had demanded that any pledge to make countries carbon free should be accompanied by provision of technology and funding to the developing countries to help them reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The G7 communique reaffirmed its commitment “to jointly mobilise $ 100 billion per year from public and private sources, through to 2025” which may help the negotiations leading to the Glasgow conference in November 2021.
China and Russia loomed large as adversaries in formal and informal discussions. The leaders criticised China over human rights in its Xinjiang region, called for Hong Kong to keep a high degree of autonomy and demanded a full and thorough investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China. The focus on the threat posed by China highlighted the value of cooperation with India. A plan by the European countries to strengthen relations with China was virtually abandoned by the G 7, opening greater opportunities for India. The animosity with Russia may pose a challenge to relations between India and Russia, but the old linkages with Russia are likely to continue.
The G 7 communique contains a six point agenda relating to the pandemic, reinvigorating economies, securing prosperity, protecting the planet, strengthening partnerships and embracing values. “We shall seek to advance this open agenda in collaboration with other countries and within the multilateral rules-based system. In particular, we look forward to working alongside our G20 partners and with all relevant International Organisations to secure a cleaner, greener, freer, fairer and safer future for our people and planet,” G 7 proclaimed. The new spirit of multilateralism and the intention to work closely with G 20 augur well for India to work with G 7 closely.