India en route to becoming capital of Global South

This new negotiation process needs a heartland, a centre-point, some place which has both the heft and the scale to bring the Global South together.
(Photo | ANI)
(Photo | ANI)

The Ukraine war is turning out to be a pivotal moment in the transition from a unipolar world. We may or may not yet be a multipolar world but among the old certainties that have crumbled is the ability for major Western developed countries to build and maintain the narrative of consensus that they seek on issues that matter to them.

It is now certainly clear that while few in the world wish for war, especially war that could potentially involve nuclear exchange, few have bought, in its entirety, the Western version of the war in Ukraine.

More importantly, most of the Global South, or major countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, have chosen a more nuanced perspective—while being deeply critical of war, they have also considered multiple viewpoints to the conflict and their own interests including that of energy and food security.

This divergence is not confined to the war in Ukraine. It is seen in the climate change debates where some of the richest countries in the world are hesitant vis-à-vis climate equity and climate justice even as developing countries march ahead not only in embracing green technologies but also in demanding significant financing to ensure that the less prosperous countries can receive the funds transfer they need to make the transition.

Some of this debate is constructive: note for instance the growing ties between India and Australia on issues like energy and critical minerals which are propelling this partnership to new heights. Some, more raucous, are seen in many responses coming from parts of Africa to countries like France, Germany and Belgium, who are being asked hard questions about the legacy of colonialism as they seek to engage more deeply with African nations.

This debate is particularly pertinent because a large section of the Global North considers it is the repository and the custodian of something called the ‘liberal order’, and its mode of operation has traditionally been to bestow or hold back ‘recognition’ to other countries—especially of the Global South—on issues of democracy.

But in Asia and Africa, pushback to this modus operandi is growing, and a new negotiated relationship is emerging where the Global South seeks greater equity in the partnership, and freedom to take an independent stance on issues.

This new negotiation process needs a heartland, a centre-point, some place which has both the heft and the scale to bring the Global South together. New Delhi is a natural contender to play such a role and has actively sought to perform this task.

In January, India held the first Voice of Global South Summit which had 47 African countries, 29 Latin American and Caribbean, 31 Asian, 11 from the Oceania region, and seven from Europe. In contestation, China is focusing its energies more acutely on the developing world, restructuring its Belt and Road Initiative, organising a new summit with central Asian nations, and talking about how a Ukraine kind of conflict should not unfold in Asia.

But Chinese efforts try to obscure the fact that a lot of conflict, and potential conflict, originates from China and its expansion in Asia. Chinese predatory debt structures in countries like Sri Lanka and others have also caused immense turmoil.

With a history of the non-aligned movement and recent commitment to global goods and services (for instance in sending much-needed vaccines around the world), India has much greater credibility in the Global South and North than China.

As a democracy, India has also a much wider political canvas for dialogue, and as an extremely culturally diverse country, it is adept at working with some of the most crucial concerns on equity, respect, distribution of goods and services, and reinforcing sovereignty norms in the conversation between the Global North and the Global South. India is in the rare position of not only being able to bring together the Global South but also build effective bridges, like its role in the Quad, between the North and South.

There is now a consensus building that the peace benefits that came from the end of WWII and which, especially after the Cold War ended, brought about openness and prosperity throughout the world, are ending. The world will remain globalised but it will not be as open as it has been for more than half a century.

The war in Ukraine is changing the energy supply scenario comprehensively for the near future as Europe looks towards America instead of Russia for its needs. This means the US will become more vital for a large, and wealthy, part of the world for their energy (gas) needs—at least in the near term—boosting share prices of shale gas companies and weakening the environmental argument in America.

This might have a global negative influence on the fight against global warming. However, the fact that US oil fields are slowly running out of supply might be something to cheer, for it will drive a greater shift towards renewables in the country that has the most resources to drive this change. On its part, Russia will look more and more towards Asia to supply oil and gas, and its relationship not only with China and India but also the vast Southeast Asian populations will be a vital geopolitical factor.

India is in somewhat of a sweet spot—even though its relationship with China is at an all-time low, China’s relationship with the US seems to sink further every day. The US, which now talks in terms of an existential contest with China, has a new House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, whose purpose is obvious in its name.

Both the energy and the environmental crisis—and the geopolitical contestation—will have adverse impact on the Global South, and only India is in somewhat of a sweet spot to negotiate middle paths to these challenges. It is likely, therefore, that it will emerge as the definitive capital of the Global South.

Hindol Sengupta

Multiple award-winning historian and author

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