PM Modi at Bharat Mandapam for the G20 Summit ( Image Source : PMO )
India continues to bask in the glory of G20, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) holding grand celebrations to hail Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s achievement of getting a “100 per cent consensus” to adopt the Leaders’ Declaration on one hand, and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar hopping from one TV channel to another to showcase how it was in a way India that made it possible on the other. While it was indeed a challenge to bring all members together under one roof and agree to the language on the war between Russia and Ukraine, New Delhi needs now to focus on the bigger challenge back home that continues to fester since 2020 — the military standoff at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the Indian Army and the Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) of China that has upended all the border agreements and protocols existing between New Delhi and Beijing, achieved painstakingly over decades.
This was also the first time when all the 46 countries that comprise the G20 agreed to bring out the statement on the first day of the two-day summit. The event was held at one of the most iconic convention centres in India’s capital — Pragati Maidan — renovated to a ‘Bharat Mandapam’ as New Delhi was dolled up from top to bottom all at a reported cost of Rs 4,100 crore. The ruling BJP as well as PM Modi called this year’s G20 a “People’s G20” even if the average man on the street is still contemplating how to bring food on the table. But as a rising power, it is imperative for developing countries like India to tell the developed world that makes up the G7 that the issues of emerging economies are worth fighting for and just because they are facing a war in their backyard, does not mean the rest of the world goes hungry. And this is also one of the reasons why the European Union of 27 nations did not want to jeopardise the G20 process by adamantly sticking to the issue of the Russian-Ukraine war.
A senior EU official, familiar with the negotiations on the G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration, said that even though Russia was not mentioned in the joint statement, they had made India agree to the language that was mentioned in one of the United Nations Resolutions against Russia, which New Delhi had abstained from while the majority had voted in its favour. They also said they would now be using this New Delhi Declaration as a template of sorts to badger Russia on its aggression over Ukraine. Interestingly, both Russia and China have been putting hurdles in the way ever since India gained the G20 Presidency in December 2022. However, China supported the statement because there was a “lack of direct criticism” against Russia. Kyiv, meanwhile, said the declaration was “nothing to be proud of”.
Europe, as one diplomat from a Nordic country that is also a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), told me that Europe was in a “fix” and it had to agree to the joint statement anyhow as it did not want to show the Global South that Brussels does not care about the issues of their world. Brussels or Washington did not antagonise the African Union (AU) as the continent is becoming more and more crucial for the world, both strategically and politically. The senior diplomat also believed that giving space to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy would have made matters worse for all. The Europeans do not want the G20 process to fail and not having a joint statement would have spelt a death knell for the grouping. Days after the summit was over, German Ambassador Phillip Ackerman said it was the G7 that “saved” the G20 from breaking up. But Ukraine was far from being content. Kyiv’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said: “It is clear that the participation of Ukraine (in the G20 meeting) would have allowed the participants to better understand the situation”.
Put Focus On India’s Borders Now
Whatever was said and done, India got the impossible done and no wonder the BJP now claims it to be a victory of sorts, hence the showering of flower petals on PM Modi. India’s western allies as well as Russia and China are now contended with the position New Delhi has taken. Therefore, it’s time now for the government while it presses the pedal of upcoming elections to work assiduously in settling India’s border areas that the country shares with China as well as Pakistan.
China may have “helped” India greatly in stitching together the 83-paragraph joint statement because it serves Beijing’s own purpose of defending its new-found friend – Russia – but the absence of its President Xi Jinping should not be taken by New Delhi casually at all. Xi became the first Chinese leader to skip a G20 Summit when the grouping got upgraded to the level of Head of Government. Hence, this was a clear signal to India that Beijing is not going to put an end to the military standoff anytime soon and this will be the fourth such winter when India’s soldiers will have to brave the harsh weather conditions in the Ladakh region if the matter is not solved by then. The government has not made public where the talks between the military commanders and diplomats are headed. So far, troops on both sides have disengaged from Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley, Gogra (PP-17A) and Hot Springs (PP-15).
But this cannot continue for long while coffers get drained. China will be bleeding India if the standoff is not resolved at the earliest. India has also spent a whopping Rs.15, 477 crore to only build roads along the LAC. While strengthening border infrastructure is a useful step, India has to look at resolving the crisis with China and normalising ties with Beijing. And this problem can be solved by India alone bilaterally with China, no other G20 country will come to their aid, certainly not Europe.
Meanwhile, the border with Pakistan continues to keep Indian forces on tenterhooks. India lost three key men in uniform, Colonel Manpreet Singh, Major Ashish Dhonak, and DSP Humayun Bhat, this week in an encounter in Kashmir’s Anantnag district. The tragedy has now sparked a political row as the Opposition has accused the BJP of being apathetic to the incident. Union Minister Gen (retd) V.K. Singh blamed Pakistan and said unless it is “isolated” these incidents would continue. But the statement by the former Army Chief begs the question of why after four years since the abrogation of Article 370 cross-border terrorism continues to take place there unabated. Why is Kashmir still not normal? Why has the government not held elections there?
Enough of G20. The time now is to resolve complicated border issues back home before the Modi government goes into full election mode. During the upcoming special session of Parliament, which will be held from September 18-22, the government should make sincere efforts to bring “100 per cent consensus” on the border matters with the opposition and other political parties as it did during the G20 Summit. Surely, convincing your colleagues will be easier than world leaders.
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