The external affairs minister has cleared the air about the Ukrainian president's participation in the September summit
India, which holds the rotating chair for the G20, does not plan to invite Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky to the annual summit, slated to be held in New Delhi on September 9-10. The host country's external affairs minister, Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, clarified New Delhi's position during a press conference on Thursday.
The unequivocal announcement puts to rest speculations about Zelensky possibly sharing the international stage with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Such a possibility had gained momentum during the four-day visit of Emine Dzhaparova, Ukraine's first deputy foreign minister, to New Delhi in April. She was the first top-ranking official from Ukraine to visit India since Russia launched its military operation against Kiev in February 2022. Speculation about Ukraine piling pressure on India and seeking New Delhi's endorsement ahead of the September summit were reinforced by Zelensky's attendance at last year's G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, and more recently at last month's G7 gathering in Hiroshima, Japan.
However, a Bali or Hiroshima redux was clearly taken off the table by Dr. Jaishankar's emphatic statement. His address coincided with the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi presenting a report card on its nine years in office, while Dr. Jaishankar himself weighed in on India's foreign policy outreach as New Delhi seeks to chart out an independent outlook.
Foreign policy transformation
The minister made it abundantly clear that India would refuse to be swayed by coercion, inducements, or false narratives, while taking a swipe at two of its nuclear-armed neighbors, Pakistan and China, for harboring cross-border terrorists and disturbing the peace and tranquility in the frontier areas, respectively.
He cited India's current standing at the global high table - a state of affairs hitherto considered a pipe dream - while pressing New Delhi's legitimate demand for inclusion as a permanent member of the elite UN Security Council that has remained elusive to date. India's cumulative collective experience, under the diplomatic leadership of Dr. Jaishankar and his three deputies - Vellamvelly Muraleedharan, Rajkumar Ranjan Singh and Meenakshi Lekhi - have helped the nation emerge as a credible voice for the countries in the Global South, the government's report card stated.
Dr. Jaishankar, a career diplomat and a rare globe-trotting Indian external affairs minister, gave examples of relations with countries in the Global South across continents to present a rounded view of India's foreign policy outreach in the Modi era, which is a marked departure from his predecessors. India is seen as an "effective, credible development partner," whose global footprint is visible in things from an Aram supercomputer in Namibia to a textile factory in Kenya to a transformational ferry in Guyana to Metro Express in Mauritius.
Neighborhood First and Act East policies
Pakistan and China remain the biggest irritants for India in its vicinity. However, New Delhi's Neighborhood First and Act East policies have been robust, the minister claimed. Power generation, infrastructure development and better connectivity have given a boost to economic activity across South Asia from Myanmar to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives amid the strengthening of bilateral ties as envisaged in the toolkit of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Kampala Principles. Economic collaboration has emerged as a formidable bridge between India and the world at large.
Dr. Jaishankar cited several case studies to bolster his argument about India's emergence as are liable economic collaborator. They are the reliance of the US semiconductors industry on the Indian diaspora, which forms a major brain trust, to New Delhi's Vaccine Maitri campaign - 'maitri' loosely translates as 'friendship' from Hindi - at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, to India's role as a first responder during the devastating earthquake in Türkiye in early February, to bringing about economic stabilization in bankrupt Sri Lanka last year.
A place at the global high table
According to Dr. Jaishankar, India has made a global name for itself because it is a part of several elite groupings, such as the Quad, G20, and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which have helped to lend a shine to its image as a narrative shaper. The Raisina Dialogue, India's initiatives on migration and mobility, and on climate change during the Paris and Glasgow summits, coupled with cultural connections with Central Asia, have all contributed to its enhanced global stature, the minister said.
India is among the countries that have spoken out against China's Belt and Road Initiative, the expansion of which is being questioned by several Western nations, particularly Italy, he added.
India's immersive globalization journey, Dr. Jaishankar elaborated, was on show during the Vande Bharat mission, which started in 2020 and over the next two years brought over seven million nationals back home from across the world while the pandemic was raging. According to Dr. Jaishankar, India has become a force for good to be reckoned with, whose cutting-edge technology has been feted across the world - such as the growing popularity of the Indian Unified Payment Interface from Singapore to Japan.
How has the average Indian benefited?
Dr. Jaishankar said that the average Indian enjoys enhanced security, better connectivity, and economic stability, including thanks to the massive infrastructure development push in border areas with neighboring rivals such as Pakistan and China. The 2015 Land Border Agreement (LBA) with Bangladesh, he said, is an apt example. The benefits can be measured in low oil prices, thanks to cheap Russian crude, spikes in exports and foreign direct investments, the affordable cost of fertilizer, and trade pacts with several countries, which are proving to be an economic game-changer.
Technology is also one of the biggest enablers of Indian diplomacy, as the country's 181 global missions and consulates are all plugged in and all information is a click away, he added. This has helped India to issue 14 million passports over the past year, up from 8.7 million in 2014, when Modi took office. "The government has the back of every Indian traveling abroad," the minister added.
In hindsight, India is experiencing a virtuous cycle in diplomacy -a new high -where the Modi government's efficient delivery monitoring mechanism and strategic communication, emboldened by a clarity of thought, has imparted to the country a global outlook.
Modi has been the defining face of the changing foreign policy. The Indian leader, who will address a joint session of US Congress during a state visit to Washington DC on June 22, will add another coveted feather to his cap, much to the delight of his supporters. He will be the only Indian prime minister to have addressed a joint sitting of the US Congress twice.
He will be the guest of honor at France's Bastille Day parade on July 14, becoming the second Indian prime minister after Dr. Manmohan Singh in 2009 to attend the ceremony. This is the escape velocity of India's foreign policy outlook that has changed through the Modi years.
Evolving global ties
Dr. Jaishankar, despite repeated prodding from journalists, refused to fall prey to opposition leader Rahul Gandhi's remarks about the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government and his persistent digs at Modi. The minister stopped short of commenting that Gandhi has the habit of making such remarks whenever he is abroad but did predict that the results of next year's parliamentary polls are a foregone conclusion.
Dr. Jaishankar extricated himself from the political slanging match. He was keen to explain India's ties with key nations such as the US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, and with blocs such as the European Union, the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. He singled out Russia as a trusted ally since 1955 and a key to Eurasian stability.
Indo-US ties have come a long way, the minister said, thanks to the compelling case for stronger bilateral ties, and also to Quad, and the I2U2 economic cooperation forum with the US, Israel, and United Arab Emirates.
India's diplomacy on an upswing
India has had some diplomatic hiccups recently, such as the row and protests in neighboring Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan over the 'Akhand Bharat' map during the recent opening of a new parliament building. The map is a mural that depicts several ancient sites that are currently in other countries' territories as part of a 'United India.' Dr. Jaishankar glossed it over as a cultural depiction of an Ashokan empire-era vision and does not hint at any kind of expansionist design by the Modi regime.
As India seeks to expand its global diplomatic footprint - on the back of up to 20 million Indian diaspora members and as many People of India Origin abroad - the air miles of Dr. Jaishankar and his three deputies will hold the key to realizing New Delhi's far-reaching ambitions.
Asked whether due to the Ukraine conflict he foresees any difficulty formulating the leaders' declaration during the G20 summit in September, the minister deflected the question. "Diplomacy is a business for optimistic people," he said while flashing a smile.
India has become a self-assured country in line with Modi's vision of an 'Amrit Kaal' - which in the sacred Hindu Vedic astrology refers to an auspicious moment to start a new business or undertaking. And, despite an uncertain global climate and frosty ties with Pakistan and China, all of his lieutenants are busy working towards that goal.