G20, India’s Presidency and the value of multilateralism


In a polarised world, the country can leverage itself as the “voice of the Global South”, effectively connecting the South to the Global North.

G20 India

India takes over the presidency of G20 for 2022-2023 and is planning almost 200 sectoral meetings in order to ensure successful outcomes. Clearly, India will build from the Indonesian Presidency, coalesce India’s historical experience of negotiating, leveraging, consensus building in multilateral groupings, leverage itself as the “voice of the Global South”, and act as a possible bridge in a polarised world.

Agenda setting

The strength of G20 functioning over the years lies in its successes in contributing to global governance. Known especially for its work in stabilising the economy during the 2008 financial crises, it shows that despite its inability to deliver the world out of the COVID-19 crises, the G20 still remains a serious and viable platform for macro and intersecting policies in a complex world.

The India meeting will likely work on multiple tracks. To connect the Global South to the developed countries, India can table several non-traditional security issues including the debt crises (over 50 countries of the Global South face external debt), food insecurity exacerbated by issues of obstructed supply chains, and climate change – the decimation of sensitive ecology and the need for climate justice as a permanent agenda item with dedicated resources and their delivery timetable will surely be discussed. Energy security lies at the heart of every country’s basic need for survival and security and rules around this will continue to be on the table. The dread of terrorism and strengthening international law and how the G20 addresses this is something India would like to be discussed.

A second track will surely showcase India’s specific leads like the methodologies of deepening digitalisation into the rural sectors and for women in medium and small scale sectors of the economy like micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), and focus on green transitions, with the India initiated solar alliance that already has over a 100 countries on board and links with cutting fossil fuels and procuring clean technologies for the Global South. Post COVID-19 recovery is another macro theme of interest to India and the G20.

The third track will take forward the “working groups in progress” of G-20 like the Global Health Architecture, digitalising economy transitions, energy transitions, trade, financial regulations, banking rules,  currency flows, agriculture and best practices – anti-corruption, education, employment working groups – amongst others. Coordination between the WTO and G-20, and focussing on the Sustainable Development Goals and financial inclusions are no less important.

The fourth track will likely be for reforms within major multilateral institutions including the Security Council, the United Nations and the WTO.


India’s Sherpa for this meeting Amitabh Kant said that India would operationalise macro issues like accelerating the pace of inclusive and sustainable growth. The challenge of climate finance and “lifestyle for environment and life” will also be on the table. (Amitabh Kant, Interview, News On Air, October 11, 2022 at: https://newsonair.com/2022/09/14/200-different-events-and-meetings-to-organise-across-all-states-and-uts-of-the-country-says-sherpa-of-g20-amitabh-kant/).

The context is the challenge

The geopolitical context of this year is itself a challenge to the presidency. G-20 reflects the divisions verging on confrontations that stem from the Russian aggression in Ukraine and the war of attrition that follows. This comes after the COVID-19 pandemic that exposed a global health crisis. Simultaneous are the economic issues, especially high inflation, mounting food and energy crises. Getting a consensus on how to manage climate change and the need to preserve planetary ecology remain top challenges.

Simply put, geopolitical and geo-economic divisions reflect three international positions with matching narratives:

  1. Nations from the collective West that focus on a “rules based order” and the need for their primacy. (Historically the developed countries were instrumental in crafting the post World War II international security architecture, which has been beneficial to them). They believe that countries that do not conform to the “rule based order” should be pressursed or isolated.
  2. Nations like Russia and China conceptualise their own civilisational and historical experience as the way forward. They contest Western narratives and want to construct a multipolar world.
  3. Nations from the Global South or developing countries, including India, envisage an inclusive international law based order that enables them to articulate their desires. These nations want further decolonisation and to construct a world order that will address the historical and economic inequities. They look for concessions to ‘catch-up’. Regime survival and sovereignty is primary for these latecomers on the international stage. So they focus on transactions between great powers. In addition, the emerging economies amongst them seek regional leadership. 

India has harmonious relations with the collective West and with Russia, and works with China in several multilateral forms. This gives India the advantage to paper over contradictions between countries in order to get a dialogue going for consensus within the G20.

Other challenges

All multilateral meetings have challenges and India as the host for the 2023 meetings will have to pre-empt these. For example, can the coming G20 agendas confront the growing polarisation in the international system? There is a belief that countries have a preference for bilateralism. Further, there is cynicism about the instrumentalist use of multilateral bodies for country specific agendas. The danger of rhetoric and repetition of policies is another criticism. However, any reading of international history shows that there can be no substitute for multilateralism. Countries of G20, all of which have great economic weight, are keenly aware of these challenges and all will surely recognise India’s lead in taking steps towards negotiating for the resolution of the multiple crises that the international community faces. Multilateral engagements provide the hope for peace, development, security and a just order even if the change comes slowly and there are periods of its decline and deadlocks.

At a time of climate change, depleting sensitive ecologies, and cost of living crises, there is no alternative to multilateralism. The G20 has become a major and irreplaceable platform where the Global South engages seriously with the developed Global North. And rules of global governance have a chance of emerging.

Bringing in the grassroots 

G20 has interfaces with a number of “engagement groups” like think tanks (T20), women’s groups (W20), business (B20), youth (Y20), labour (L20), climate activists and so on. This is a model of people to people engagement between G20 partners. These are platforms that mine ideas from the grassroots, link leading academics and think tanks with G20 forum. These platforms discuss G20 policies with their own constituencies and civil society.

The Civil20 (C20) in Indonesia concentrated on vaccine access, discrepancies in health services and increasing the national health sectors. Indian civil society will continue these discussions and also needs to talk about medical and paramedical education, alternate medical systems and collaborations on health and research.

The Women20 is particularly important, and the outcomes from the Indonesian meeting that asked for promoting equality, safety and welfare of women by ending policy discriminations and for economic inclusion by supporting women in MSMEs as well as focussing on women’s empowerment across communities are important and need policy, advocacy and methods of social change.

The meetings on science and culture are important and the Indian Presidency can think of going beyond technology to scientific theory and culture. For a country, which has largest number of youth in its demography, like Indonesia, India will want to look at employment, entrepreneurship, skill development, besides digital education and penetration.

There has been a debate and research into the impacts of activism in the climate negotiations, debates around the WTO, the issue around patents, labour rights, and women’s empowerment amongst civil society organisations and think tanks already. These can add value to this G20 meeting. India, like others before it, will have to ensure the legitimacy of this process.

Some reports of earlier multilateral meetings reveal a bias of states toward “government organised civil society groups”. The need for healthy input and some self-criticism is the basis of the rule based order and India will have to show that, like other democracies, they too have civil society engagements.

Compliance and performance indexes

Academic institutions like the University of Toronto have monitored the G20 over the years.[i] They measure the compliances by G20 members and have a yearly compliance index. (at http://www.brics.utoronto.ca/compliance/2021-new-delhi-final.html and at http://www.brics.utoronto.ca/compliance). This index shows that G20 has a comparatively high compliance rate. Since accountability and transparency are a key to good governance, the G20 Indonesia meeting’s decision to set up an institute to study G20 policies is a welcome step. The India meeting in 2023 will likely put more shape to this initial decision.

Baton passing

A noteworthy aspect is that India takes over the presidency from Indonesia and passes the baton to Brazil and then South Africa in the coming years. With three developing countries in the lead, the focus shifts both materially and symbolically to the Global South. This coincides with the ‘pivot’ to the South of many countries of the North. In substantive terms, the G20 facilitates dialogue and rulemaking for the engagement between the South and North, India could bring together the ideas of several parallel multilateral groupings and platforms of which it is part of like the IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa), BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Non Aligned Movement and others. Engagement in these groups has given the Indian team a sense of the demands, aspirations and positions of the Global South, the emerging economies and the North. This is a unique vantage point.

The conclusions of this curtain raiser should actually come when India hands over the presidency to Brazil at the end of 2023. However it is not hard to predict that India will put up a grand show. There are many challenges in this year of presidency. But continuity, consolidation, consensus and commitment to a more sustainable, inclusive, equitable planet as the common agenda can see through this important multilateral body and strengthen global multilateralism.



[i]The full compliance report can be downloaded at the BRICS Information Centre at http://www.brics.utoronto.ca/compliance/2021-new-delhi-final.html.; Past reports are also available at http://www.brics.utoronto.ca/complianceBRICS Research Group,  University of Toronto and CIIR,  Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration