Imaginatively speaking, it was a delightful affair of geopolitical Kama Sutra in New Delhi last weekend. Premier Narendra Modi, north India’s most successful ultra-nationalist leader, rode on the concentrated brilliance of one the world’s most capable bureaucracies and dished out a buffet of cultural delights, wildly exploiting orientalist tropes.
From neo-Asokan architecture to neo-medieval state regalia, Vedic spirituality, Raaga and Natyam, to the historical poignancy of Mahatma Gandhi, it was several days of ‘Rising Bharath’ (or, should I say Magadha?).
India’s own Vedantic philosophers (including the great Kautilya) would have, however, recoiled somewhat, at this bout of mass narcissism and quickly warned their faithful of the illusory dangers of self-love that defies the Divine Other.
As some critical journalists, both Indian and foreign, noted, Moghul imperial grandeur as well as the rich mosaic of minority ethnic and religious traditions were missing motifs in the obvious scramble to project the ruling Bharathiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Hindutva exclusivism with next year’s Parliamentary Elections in mind.
One global TV outlet commented acidly: “What India showed the world — and what it hid”. India has hosted the best-attended Group of Twenty Summit to date. Even with the absence of the Russian and Chinese leaders, still the number of Heads of Government and international agencies was bigger than any previous summit.
All G7 leaders – the top capitalist powers who still dominate the world, attended along with many ‘Global South’ leaders from Latin America, Africa and Asia, astutely invited by host India.
It was a clear case of political-economic seduction, which, at this specific juncture of global human history, only India could do, utilising its neocolonial orientalist charms to the maximum.
From the USA’s Joe Biden to the UK’s Rishi Sunak, they all came, postured, muted their arguments, dutifully acclaimed (some reluctantly) their host country’s culture (essentially a presentation of Hindutva North India) and agreed to allow ‘Bharat’ to host an incident-free Summit.
A suitably puffed up Delhi Government was able to claim success and impress its own electorate and the South Asian neighbourhood with its diplomatic prowess.
India’s seductive attraction is its current position as the potentially second biggest economy (once China reaches the top) and the biggest Western style political system. India is the Asian power that is in geopolitical opposition to China. It is also the world’s second biggest market and has, from acute self-interest, long positioned its market independent of the old Western capitalist centre.
At the same time India is an old ally of Russia but now looking westward for a quick investment and trade boost to counter neighbouring China.
All this combines to make India the current ‘peni varaka’ for the Western power bloc. It was crucial for them to keep India happy. At the same time, the West needed to preserve the current geopolitical convening capacity of the G20 itself, a grouping originally created by the West to sustain its global economic control. But that control, decades after the G20 was born, now wanes.
China’s rise and refusal – unlike India – to kowtow at all with the West, has already resulted in new configurations of global power, both economic and political. Likewise, Russia, maximising its old reputation as the West-challenging Soviet Union, works hard to retain its influence across the Global South – as African geopolitics has recently shown. Some of the most mineral-rich West African States recently kicked out pro-West regimes and seem to lean eastwards, if not to China, to beleaguered Moscow.
Most significant, however, is China’s rapid success in stitching together global security and economic alliances – the Shanghai Security Organisation (SCO) and, equally scary for the West, the BRICS economic bloc.
If the SCO brings together the major powers of the Eurasian mega continent in a military pact, BRICS, which ended a most successful summit in South Africa recently, is actually taking concrete action to do business without using the US$. Financially underwritten by Beijing, of course.
India, well experienced as a major power of the old Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), has persisted in straddling this growing new East-West rivalry. It has been very much in Delhi’s interest to signal ‘Global South’ while steering West, reminiscent of Yugoslav Communist dictator Josip Broz Tito who “signalled” socialism but steered his economy toward capitalism.
It is this unique positioning today of both its potentially massive economic clout and its global geo-strategic location that is at the root of New Delhi’s success in hosting the G20 Summit.
But the outcome of this successful hosting is a kind of ‘sour grape’ in terms of a cold, hard, look at the output of the G20 Summit.
The bulk of global assessment of the G20 Summit has been a muted appreciation of sustaining the ‘unity’ of the Group while noting the extreme dilution of that very same consensus. That dilution is stark in the difference in content of the Summit Declaration between last year’s summit in Bali, Indonesia and last weekend in Delhi.
Bali’s Declaration was a strident condemnation of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, essentially a propaganda action by NATO against challenger Moscow. Given host Indonesia’s intimate security linkages with the West, it was unsurprising that Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky was a guest in Bali and even addressed the Summit via video.
Not so, in Delhi. As Indian Foreign Minister Dr. Subramanyam Jaishankar responded pithily to a question about Ukraine’s non-mention in the Delhi Declaration: “Bali is Bali. This is Delhi…”.
Not only was Ukraine’s Zelensky not invited, but there was no condemnation of Russia at all. This is absolutely not the ‘takeaway’ that Western leaders wanted and all G7 leaders are now facing political criticism back home for that failure. The Ukrainian people’s nightmare was not given any direct consideration in the Declaration. It is but little comfort for them that the decades-long, far worse, suffering of the Palestinian people was also not highlighted by the Delhi Declaration.
True, the Indian diplomatic bureaucracy showed its world class excellence in formulation of the Declaration and in the meticulous negotiations with G20 delegates to achieve consensus. The end result is almost a non-Declaration as far as NATO strategists are concerned.
But for the West, a seeming consensus Declaration was clearly more important than any propaganda whack on a defiant Moscow. The West needed a shoring up of the G20 grouping itself, in opposition, if possible, to the newly emerged BRICS led by China. The West, as in all geopolitics, fundamentally needs economic dominance or, at least massive leverage.
To quote a commentary in India’s own ‘Times of India’ newspaper: “… the US and its allies displayed flexibility on the declaration so that India could have a successful G20. The implied idea here is that they wanted to give India this victory to counter China”.
But the very dilution of the West’s position of dominance in world discourse is a signal of the overall dilution of actual Western political hegemony. History will likely record the Delhi Declaration’s dramatic, sharp, divergence from the Bali Declaration as a singular turning point in the course of Western hegemony over the world. It is perhaps a kind of watershed in the old First World discourse of dominance.
Other, far more concrete markers of this epochal turn are already history. The naked aggression against Iraq in full defiance of the United Nations’ consensus and the subsequent chaos and social tragedy in the entirety of West Asia and also northern Africa is a powerful example of the slow dethronement of the West. Continued blind Western support for Apartheid-labelled Israel is another such marker. The ongoing political revolts by West African nations against France’s persistent economic exploitation of its former colonies is yet another marker.
In this sense, Delhi’s diplomatic success in the G20 Summit is little more than that: i.e. diplomatic navigation rather than actually geopolitical leadership. But for Premier Modi, the most important achievement is something else: a superb propaganda success in his BJP’s project to win the coming Parliamentary Election, yet again.
As Indian news media have well noted, the prominent visual display throughout Delhi was that of the photos of Premier Narendra Modi. Certainly, Modi has proven to be a master of propaganda, well trained no doubt by the formidable phalanx of Hindutva ideologues of the Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh (RSS).