We need to look at India’s presence in the forthcoming G7 summit on June 26-27 beyond the positive hypes and negative hopes set by domestic constituencies and global narrative peddlers.
On its own, there is nothing exclusive about this invitation. Apart from India, the German presidency has invited Argentina, Indonesia, Senegal, and South Africa to the summit to be held at Schloss Elmau, Bavaria. Yet, if some folks take Western pressures seriously (we don’t), India is expected to be on the back foot because it did not toe the G7 line and stood its own on the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
The dominant narrative today is that India needs to be punished. So far gone are these voices that global news agencies have forgotten basic journalism. They are mixing wishful thinking with facts, using the convenience of unnamed sources as cover. When they report that “Germany is debating whether to invite Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Group of Seven summit it’s hosting in June, given India’s reluctance to condemn Russia for invading Ukraine,” they hide behind anonymous sources, or “people familiar with the matter”. Despite being proven wrong several times, they persist, and create a hope that India is being isolated and humiliated, and will eventually buckle. Such narratives blissfully ignore the fact that in a China-worried world, India is a geopolitical investment; amidst rising authoritarianism, India is a democratic stake.
Further, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has brought one thing out in the open. It has exposed that non-state actors in Western democracies are nothing but appendages to state actors. Whether we agree with the actions of Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin or not, the fact that an entire country has been effectively cancelled on Western platforms displays this state-non-state collusion in gritty glory. To continue to believe that the narrative institutions such as traditional or new media or academia are ‘independent’ is living in the past.
Of course, as we all know, these ideologically-driven narratives are part of the games that nations play. But narrative writers are one generation behind times; they will continue with their increasingly-enfeebled outbursts against India in their favourite echo chambers. Outside their self-serving opinions, the real G2G (government-to-government) engagements, C2C (company-to-company) deals, and P2P (people-to-people) conversations are intensifying. For instance, every country and member of the G7 — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States; along with the European Union — is seeking a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India; they are looking at India as an investment destination. Riding on their coattails, companies are signing deals, and individuals planning careers.
That said, the grouping will demand a larger security footprint from India, which they will profit from by selling arms, aircraft, and technologies. In the post-Afghanistan world, Pakistan is imploding; in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, China is supporting Russia. As a result, the strategic swing of the US, the dominant elephant in the G7 room, is leaning towards India to counter China. The expectations from and support for India, therefore, will rise rather than fall. They will be further strengthened next week at Elmau.
But that does not mean that India’s meetings with the G7 as a group or the heads of governments will be friction-free. US President Joe Biden will push for stronger statements against Russia, but will keep India’s energy interests in mind. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will pressure India to buy less oil from Russia, even as they will continue their own purchases. On climate action, the retreat to coal-based power by Germany will abate some of its aggression against India. The India-Canada relationship needs diplomatic repairs, but it will begin to heal only after Canada elects its next Prime Minister. The relationship with India-neutral Japan under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is strengthening. Across governments, France has proved itself to be a dependable friend, while the US has remained an interest-driven transactional colleague. These friendships and transactions will increase.
But in Elamu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will need to have a thick skin, particularly on Russia, climate, and technology. He will need to push the India agenda. On behalf of the rest of the world, he will be expected to voice the impending threats to sovereigns in the form of the West ousting countries out of financial infrastructure such as the SWIFT network. He will have to push the debate on safeguards for democracies against financial quarantines through sanctions or supply chain isolations. He will, of course, place the India narrative on the G7 table, and push it hard by expanding it as a voice for non-white, non-West nations. He will be responsible for extracting deals and negotiating hard around rogue nations such as Pakistan and China while ensuring that India’s multi-polarity stance is not compromised. He will have to throw out the with-us-or-against-us position, and offer a mature alternative.
As the fourth-largest economy in the group, India will have some say; as a poor country, it may not be enough to get results. But as an emerging regional and great power over the next quarter century, it is up to the G7 members to engage with India, even as India will have to create spaces for economic, security, and political dialogues with it. As a result, the G7 Summit should be seen as a continuum across several conversations, a constant work-in-progress.
If we take a step back and question the effectiveness of the G7, what we get is little more than communiques of virtue. This should not shock anyone. As far as global outcomes go, there is only one body that has international legitimacy — the failing and flailing United Nations. In the world of international hugging and clubbing, there is an entire alphabet soup of groupings, from G20, NAFTA, and BIMSTEC to BRICS, ASEAN, and Quad that provide world leaders diverse platforms. While most can be seen as routes to bilateral relationships — they are the most-tracked and the most-analysed forums — some leeway must be given to leaders for specific conversations, if not a complete unity of purpose.
On the surface, other than holy statements, all such summits return empty-handed; beneath the surface, the conversations of engagement work their way over time. The G7 Summit next week will deliver more of both.
(This first appeared in the ORF)
Gautam Chikermane is Vice President at ORF. Views are personal, and do not represent the stand of this publication.