Despite the mounting anxiety and a speculative debate that the G20 summit being hosted by India in Delhi on 9-10 September would not lead to a consensual joint statement, the opening session on Saturday – Day One - had a very pleasant and unexpected surprise.
Devoid of any preparation, the host PM Narendra Modi looked down at a message conveyed to him and announced: “Friends, we have just got good news. With the hard work of our teams, and with the cooperation of you all, there is consensus on the New Delhi G20 Summit Leaders Declaration.”
Clearly, the sherpas of the various nations who had been working on the final draft for days on end and right through the last two nights had finally found that elusive semantic consensus.
The leaders who had gathered were momentarily surprised when they heard the announcement (as were many TV anchors ) and it took them a few moments to hoist the import of what Modi had conveyed.
And as he banged the gavel and announced that the Delhi Declaration (DD) had been formally adopted, the applause began – both at the colourful venue and across India; and the global constituency that was monitoring the progress of the G20.
The Dwindling Question of ‘Consensus’
In the days preceding the summit, there was disappointment that the war in Ukraine was proving to be a hurdle and that both Russia and China were not willing to endorse the language contained in the final Indian draft.
The EU (European Union) indicated that in their assessment the language 'did not go far enough’ and were firm that Russia had to be called out for its aggression. China for its part was inflexible and opined that the G20 summit ought not to dwell on geo-political matters and was also empathetic to the Russian position.
This was the impasse on Friday, 8 September and the received wisdom among those tracking the G20 summit was that there would be no final statement/declaration and this would be both an embarrassing disappointment for team Modi, given the effort that had gone into the event. I must confess subscribing to this pessimism, for it appeared that neither Russia nor China were willing to take their foot off the brake.
Piecing together bits of information that are trickling in – all on condition of anonymity – the drama over how DD became a reality was akin to a T20 cricket match – and a favourable decision was arrived at well before the conclusion of the summit.
Delhi Declaration: Killing Two Birds With One Stone?
The Indian team had a single-point directive from ‘Captain’ Modi – G20 must not be seen as divided and unable to reach a consensus. With this objective, the officials literally burnt the midnight oil on Friday by amending the contentious paragraphs and working the phones. Led by the nimble Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and the indefatigable Indian summit sherpa Amitabh Kant – it is understood that the breakthrough was reached in the early hours of Saturday.
Moscow and Beijing finally concurred with the revised Indian draft of the DD and the compromise was that while the war in Ukraine would be mentioned, as also its corrosive impact – there would be no specific reference to Russia. However, the final DD devoted eight paragraphs to geo-politics, as opposed to the two in the G20 Bali declaration of 2022 at the summit hosted by Indonesia.
The conjecture is that the comfort level between India and Russia at the highest political level (Modi-Putin) and the two foreign ministers (Jaishankar and Lavrov) enabled some candid negotiations wherein the abiding interests of both nations were accommodated in a malleable manner.
One may conjecture that PM Modi’s brief visit to the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Indonesia a day before the G20 summit ensured a degree of ASEAN support for the manner in which India was shepherding the G20 – and this would not have been lost on Beijing.
Perhaps, President Putin was also encouraged to prevail upon his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping not to play a deal-breaker and while these details may not be confirmed or denied – the final outcome was a consensus DD.
Response of the US and the EU Towards the Delhi Declaration
The subtext of the deliberations also saw the US extending valuable support to the Indian draft to enable a final declaration and this was done by ensuring that the EU was less inflexible about the language relating to Ukraine. Here the geopolitics were more complex.
Received wisdom from those in the loop about the last-minute debate and negotiations around DD suggests that the US was apprised of the implications of allowing a Russia-China veto to scuttle the G20 and how this would dilute the credibility of a group that had just admitted the African Union (AU) as its 21st member to become the world’s most inclusive grouping.
Concurrently, there was a huddle by India with Indonesia (the previous G20 chair in 2022 ) and Brazil (the next to assume this role in 2024), and South Africa – the current BRICS chair; and separately with global entities and corporate leaders.
The buoyancy and support for India that this collective effort generated, ensured that the reservations expressed by some nations were resolved and DD finally adopted, enabling Modi to make his much-awaited announcement.
What the Document Entails
The 83-paragraph DD is comprehensive and identifies all the major global changes in a lucid and persuasive manner. The entire document is pegged on the 'vasudeva-kutumbakam’ (the world is one family) principle and the need to prioritise human security – what Modi refers to as a 'human-centric' approach. Furthermore, DD also refers to the need to be cognisant of the health of planet Earth – with reference to climate change, carbon emissions, consumption patterns et al and the need to evolve sustainable lifestyle choices.
Regional connectivity projects, digital public infrastructure, harnessing technology for the socio-economic improvement of vulnerable populations, debt relief for impoverished nations, rewiring global financial norms, and evolving gender equitable policies are among a basket of issues critical to the Global South that are included in the DD.
The satisfaction for India lies in both the form and content of the Delhi G20 summit.
It was spectacular in its conduct and visual content; ambitious in scope; and substantive in outcomes; and the summit succeeded – despite the last-minute anxiety in reinvigorating multilateralism that has become increasingly frayed in recent years.
For India, the challenge will be to walk the talk for its own domestic population and deliver on the human-centric objectives of the DD. Even while aspiring to be among the world’s top GDP nations, India has the lowest per capita income among the G20 nations and this is an indicator that needs to be progressively improved.
(Commodore C Uday Bhaskar, Director, Society for Policy Studies, has the rare distinction of having headed three think tanks. He was previously Director at the National Maritime Foundation (2009-11) and the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (2004-05). He tweets @theUdayB. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)