The Narendra Modi-led government chalked up two major victories on the first day of the G20 summit in New Delhi on September,2023 with the inclusion of the African Union as the 21st member of the group and the release of the Delhi Declaration.
“In keeping with the sentiment of sabka saath (with everyone), India had proposed that the African Union should be given permanent membership of the G20. I believe we all are in agreement on this proposal,” declared Prime Minister Narendra Modi, banging his gavel thrice to signify assent at the inaugural session of the two-day summit “Before we start our work, I invite the AU president as a permanent member to take his position.”
This was followed by AU Chairperson and President of the Union of Comoros Azali Assoumani hugging Prime Minister Modi before taking a seat among the leaders of the top 20 global economies.
India, which has been at the fore in propagating the issues of concern of the Global South, has also been aggressively lobbying for the inclusion of the 55-member AU after taking over the G20 presidency in November last year.
The G20 members –Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the UK, US and the European Union (EU) together account for around 85 percent of the world’s GDP, almost 80 per cent of global trade, and approximately two-thirds of the world’s population. The inclusion of the AU will significantly boost those figures.
While not unexpected, this inclusion reinforces India’s position as a voice of the developing nations whose concerns were usually not so deliberately addressed by the G20.
The release of the Leadership Document, announced at a hurriedly convened press conference later in the day, was however, totally unexpected, given the deep polarisation over the Ukraine issue and the perceived hardening of positions among the US led western alliance and the Russia-China axis on the other. The absence of Presidents Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia had added to the apprehension that a consensus document might be a tall order.
So, when a hurriedly convened press conference which had the External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant, Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs Ajay Seth, Chief Coordinator for the G20 and former Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra, was announced, most people assumed it would be about the inclusion of the AU and perhaps a bit about the discussions between Prime Minister Modi and US President Joe Biden the night before.
The conference began tamely enough, with Dr Jaishankar talking about the focus of India’s presidency being to make it as inclusive and as broad-based as possible, and Finance Minister Sitharaman talking about how the Finance track of the summit had progressed under her leadership. It was Kant who let the cat out of the bag by announcing that “the New Delhi Declaration has 83 paras in all, with 100 per cent consensus across all countries.” He then went on to elaborate on various sections of the document, saying “this is a document of the Global South and developing countries which came together to list out their priorities. And India has been their spokesperson…”
Dr Jaishankar picked up from there, saying that “while noting that the G20 is not the platform to resolve geopolitical and security issues, the leaders recognised that they can have significant consequences for the global economy. In particular, they dwelt on the ongoing war in Ukraine, and the impact it has had on developing and least developing nations still recovering from the pandemic and economic disruption. The three Fs, Food, Fuel and Fertilizers, were issues of special concern…”
Asked about the levels of participation and the absence of Presidents Xi and Putin, Dr Jaishankar concluded that “it is for every country to decide at what level they would be represented. I don’t think one should overly read meanings into it, what I think is important is what is the position that country has taken and how much it has contributed to the deliberations and outcomes. And all the G20 members, including China, were extremely supportive about ensuring that this document was adopted with a 100 per cent consensus.”