Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will host US President Joe Biden at the G20 summit


  • India's presidency will culminate on Sept. 9-10 with this year's G20 Leader's summit in New Delhi
  • New Delhi used the presidency to further its ambition of becoming the champion of the global south
  • Despite success on development-related issues, India could not broker an agreement on concerns such as the Ukraine conflict

When India took over the G20 presidency last year, New Delhi knew that this was the nation's moment to shine. But apart from using the rotating G20 presidency to trumpet India's credentials to the world, the country also lent its voice to be a mouthpiece for the global south at a time of great geopolitical volatility.

Today, India has become more geopolitically assertive, and is seen by some as a "bridge" between developed and developing nations.

"India has focused on amplifying the concerns and causes of the Global South throughout its G20 presidency, thus projecting itself as a leader of this disparate region of emerging economies," Shairee Malhotra, Think20 India (T20) Taskforce Coordinator for India's G20 presidency, told International Business Times. "At the same time, its close ties with countries in the Global North have allowed it to act as a unique bridge between the North and South. Thus, India has 'branded' itself in two concrete meaningful ways - as a leader of the Global South, and a bridge between the Global North and South."

The G20 presidency will culminate with India hosting world leaders on Sept. 9-10 for this year's summit in New Delhi.

India's assumption of the G20 presidency took place when the world was still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, and when alliances were being rethought due to the Ukraine crisis. Even as the world was transitioning through a time of geopolitical stress, India successfully mediated discussions among the group of 20 nations on a number of developmental issues this past year, experts said.

"India has navigated its G20 presidency through a volatile geopolitical context and heavy polarization," Malhotra said.

India used its presidency "to bring the focus back on economics and development has allowed India to emerge as a voice of reason in a chaotic world system. It has widened the scope and the stakeholders in the global governance system," added Jhanvi Tripathi, coordinator for the Think20 India Secretariat under India's G20 presidency.

Amidst the rising superpower tensions in the world, India ensured the developing nation's issues, which often get sidelined at world forums, were given adequate attention. In some ways, this has led to the global south pivoting toward India to voice their concerns to the rest of the world.

"India has made its G20 presidency a presidency of the people," Tripathi told IBT. "The so-called Global South has been more receptive and we see them responding to the call to push the development agenda over divisive politics with alacrity. ... India has been able to navigate what had promised to be a difficult year for the G20, given the European crisis, with aplomb."

It was clear that India's assumption of the G20 presidency would not be a routine handover of the international body's stewardship. The country's plan to grow its clout and push the agenda of the global south was evident right from the start of this year.

"It is clear that [the] world is in a state of crisis," Modi said during the Voice of Global South virtual summit in January. "Most of [the] global challenges have not been created by the Global South, but they affect us more."

In the months since then, Modi continued to reiterate India's commitment to the global south through various efforts.

"The 'Voices of the Global South' conference, which had happened as a sort of pre-cursor to the G20 formal meetings set the tone to position India as a champion for the developing world. India has embraced the role of a leader in this geography, and therefore a representative voice at other international platforms," Tripathi said.

India hosted over 220 meetings across the country during its presidency, and brokered agreements between diplomats from the G20 member nations on a number of issues.

"Sustainable development has been driving India's G20 agenda. It has also been quite forthright in its approach towards representing the voice of the global South," Swati Prabhu, research coordinator for the Think20 India Secretariat under India's G20 presidency, told IBT.

"This is certainly aimed at securing its strategic interests amidst the ongoing geopolitical flux and what better platform than the G20," she added. "Also, considering its human-centric approach towards development, India also understands that diplomacy for development (and building robust partnerships) is an important strategic tool to increase its outreach in the global South and beyond."

While G20 nations saw progress this year on a number of development-related issues, India could not negotiate an agreement on concerns like the Ukraine conflict. The grouping also did not see eye-to-eye on certain issues related to the climate crisis as well.

Some of the world's major powers, which are part of the G20, strongly condemn Russia's brazen invasion of Ukraine that took place in February last year. Meanwhile, the global south are more worried about the exogenous implications of the war on their own economies rather than echoing the West's condemnation of Moscow's behavior. Moreover, China and Russia, whose presidents are both skipping this weekend's summit, indicated they will not agree to signing off a G20 communique that says "most members strongly condemned the war."

This could mean that the joint declaration or statement, which is normally issued at the end of the annual G20 summit, might not be issued this year. India's presidency would be the first G20 presidency that fails to see the issuing of a joint statement in this case.

Nevertheless, Malhotra pointed out that this does not mean India's G20 presidency can be undermined or overlooked.

"A joint statement is not the sole indicator of success," she said. "Technical reforms are just as important. For instance, the seven-year G20 action plan on accelerating progress on the SDGs was approved during the G20 Development Ministers meeting in June. This demonstrates that India has managed to retain the focus on issues impacting the developing world whilst not downplaying the repercussions or seriousness of the conflict."

Despite member nations not seeing eye-to-eye on certain issues, this year's G20 summit will still be marked as a poster year for India in global governance. Both the West as well as developing nations cannot ignore the diplomatic clout that India has today.

"Undoubtedly, the international community considers India as an important actor and agency under the current geopolitical theater-actor (in the context) of building partnerships and coalitions in different geographies and agency for delivering capacities and sharing knowledge," Prabhu said.

"Nobody can actually afford to ignore India," she added. "PM Modi has projected and attempted to position the country as a global thought leader through various meetings (ministerial, working groups and engagement groups) of the G20."