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India’s G20 Presidency and the Future of Indian Leadership in International Affairs

As the initial phase of the G20 continues to unfold, India has been demonstrating its deep understanding of the transitions taking place in the international power structure. While multipolarity has increasingly become a buzzword among commentators of international politics. It is crucial to conceptually decipher what it practically means for India’s leadership and the future of international geopolitical affairs. 

The most prominent characteristic of multipolarity rests on the nature of the dispersion of power in the international system. Accordingly, the potential emergence of new poles will not only significantly reorient the way states engage, but also how key regional and international issues are perceived and prioritized. Consequently, shifts in the distribution of power will also create shocks within traditional sources of power given the fluctuations of state influence and what they entail for the shaping of international narratives. However, today’s transition towards multipolarity should not only be analyzed through the lens of material power. Rather, the dynamism of state perception towards the established order also presents itself as an equally crucial determinant of what to expect in the years to come, particularly in line with inter-state cooperation and competition. 

This year’s G20 comes at a time of critical traditional and non-traditional security challenges that continue to plague the international system, albeit in varying degrees. Consequently, the finance and foreign ministers meeting at the G20 witnessed stark disagreements and divergences, particularly in line with the war in Ukraine. While such disagreements were expected, given the presence of ministers from the Western states and Russia, such an occurrence also reflected the rigid and binary approaches of particular states towards international affairs. Hence, the adamant nature of engagement between both sides has resulted in the inability of all members to maximize the potential of such a crucial platform, which seeks to provide solutions and address multi-dimensional challenges that are impacting the world today. It is this worrying international trend that highlights the need for an equitable voice.

On the day of the foreign ministers' meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a bold and pressing statement by emphasising how no group in the international system can claim leadership by side-lining and overlooking the plight, vulnerabilities, and sensitivity of the developing world. It is this difficult nature of political polarization at the expense of the interests of the silent majority, that the Indian Prime Minister seeks to rectify. India, under the Modi Government, has illustrated its steadfast commitment to play a bigger and more proactive role in translating its rise into a practical form of leadership. Being the world’s largest democracy, whose external engagements revolve around the centrality of international law, India’s growing accumulation of robust material capabilities will be grounded on its willingness to work within the established rules-based order. However, as a rising great power, India’s leadership will also draw on its history, principles, and experiences as a civilizational state. Such attributes will not only supplement the established order, but also pragmatically reform it. 

On the same day, External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar echoed this by indicating how the United Nations has become increasingly unable to address and represent contemporary realities. India seeks to draw on its pluralistic, inclusive, and democratically driven national attributes to project a kind of leadership that understands the complex yet necessary balance between diversity, development, and security.

Moreover, India continues to endeavour to contribute equitable solutions to the plight of the developing world, given the increasingly worrying tendencies of marginalizing it due to the polarising dynamics of international geopolitics. Accordingly, the past few years witnessed more active participation by India in various political, security, and economic centered multilateral institutions across the world –  including the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), The Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), the Quad, and the G7 – to contribute towards a sustainable international political-economic outlook that banks on a people-centric, democratically motivated, and equitable approach. 

Furthermore, India has also spearheaded key initiatives such as the recent Voice of Global South Summit to provide a necessary platform for developing states to shape international narratives beyond the traditional locus of power.  In addition, the establishment of a Global South Centre of Excellence will be India’s proactive contribution towards cultivating an avenue for engagement not only between state leaders but also members of civil society and epistemic communities to collectively pave a way forward for sustainable development, security, and stability. Furthermore, the way India continues to deal with various international security issues has also garnered the support of states across the developing world. 

Therefore, such examples, including the ongoing G20 presidency, provide a window to the future of India’s increasing leadership role in the world. However, several external and internal factors may continue to challenge or delay India’s rise. From the unwillingness of traditional sources of power to compromise to the parallel rise of an assertive China. However, such challenges also provide an opportunity for New Delhi to pragmatically recalibrate its policies to better position itself at the forefront of international affairs at a time of great geopolitical turbulence. 


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