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Guest appearance

To return to the G7: what is it and why is India there? The G7 is a Cold War relic. It’s basically six rich, white, Atlanticist powers along with one rich, honorary-white, Pacific nation

Mukul Kesavan Published 16.06.24, 08:26 AM
Should India even be at the G7 Summit?

Should India even be at the G7 Summit? Sourced by the Telegraph

The morning’s paper had a picture of the prime minister hugging the pope. Not all pictures of Narendra Modi hugging world leaders are pictures of world leaders hugging Narendra Modi. The exuberance of the prime minister’s embrace means that the other party is generally more hugged upon than hugging.

But it was good to see the prime minister underline the world-historical importance of India’s elections to the G7. The G7 is a self-selecting group of rich, liberal democracies. This used to be the G8 before it suspended Russia for annexing Crimea ten years ago, so there might be a vacancy. Modi was getting his application in early. He must think that if Russia under Vladimir Putin was once a member of this outfit, it can’t be that hard to get in.


Modi’s iteration of India’s democratic credentials (“biggest festival of democracy”, “mother of democracy”) was, as always, a preliminary to Indian democracy’s greatest achievement: its great good sense in electing Modi: “And I am fortunate that the people of India have given me the opportunity to serve them for the third consecutive time. This has happened for the first time in India in the last six decades. The blessings that the people of India have given in the form of this historic victory is a victory of democracy. It is a victory of the entire democratic world.” It’s probably even a victory for entire political science.

Modi’s inability to tell the difference between history and his political career is now Caesarian. Let’s parse this paragraph. Had Modi said that winning three consecutive terms in office as prime minister is an extraordinary achievement that puts him in the same longevity league as Jawaharlal Nehru, he would have been right. But he couldn’t do that because bragging about personal political victories in an international forum is unseemly. It would also mean mentioning Nehru who must not be named and who has been airbrushed out of sanghi histories of the republic.

So the solution Modi (or his speech writer) found was to assimilate world democracy to his re-election. Which raises the question: is an election where the incumbent gets voted out less of a credit to democracy than one in which the incumbent is re-elected? For Modi, since he is the incumbent, the answer is, naturally, yes. For everyone else, the ability to peacefully vote governments out is the hallmark of a healthy democracy.

In his droll way, Modi observed in his speech that some members of the G7 would soon be experiencing the excitement of elections. This was a reference to the British general election scheduled for the first week of July, the US presidential election schedul­ed for the end of the year, and the snap elections called by Emmanuel Mac­ron to the French National Assembly. The leaders of these countries at the summit were unlikely to have been amused. Rishi Sunak is likely to lead the Conservatives to a historic rout; there’s a growing consensus that Do­nald Trump will beat Joe Biden to the presidency and Macron’s En Marche! might be steamrollered by the far-Right National Rally. Modi was probably looking at the bright side: the likely presence of Trump in the next G7 Summit will give him a majoritarian soulmate to commune with.

To return to the G7: what is it and why is India there? One way of understanding this exclusive club is to look at the countries that constitute it. These are the United States of America, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan. The G7 is a Cold War relic that reflects a time when these nations dominated the world economy, when Russia was a communist superpower, and China was a poor country. It’s basically six rich, white, Atlanticist powers along with one rich, honorary-white, Pacific nation.

If being a rich democracy was the criteria, Russia ought never have made the grade. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia became a basket case. There was a point in the Nineties where life-expectancy in Russia dropped below India’s. It was neither rich, nor anything approaching a stable democracy. Its membership, pushed by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, was a carrot for carrying out ‘market reforms’ and transitioning to a democracy. China has never been considered for membership apparently on account of not being a democracy but in actual fact because the G7 is, in the words of Stewart Patrick of the Council for Foreign Relations, “a steering group for the West”.

The reason India has been an observer, along with several other non-member countries, for many years, is that the G7 realises that the shifting centre of gravity of the world economy has left it somewhat marooned. Nouriel Roubini and Ian Bremmer wrote that “We are now living in a G-Zero world, one in which no single country or bloc of countries has the political and economic leverage — or the will — to drive a truly international agenda.”

Ishaan Tharoor pointed out a de­cade ago that “The G8 no longer ac­c­ommodates the world’s biggest or most dynamic economies; the G8 no longer accounts for all the world’s nuclear weapons; the G8 doesn’t speak for any particular identity or values...” Lula da Silva, Brazil’s president, was blunter; fifteen years ago he said, the G8 “doesn’t have any reason to exist.” Its very existen­ce conjured up a bloc like BRICS where large emerging economies could caucus together. In response to this, the G7 has taken to disguising its legacy status by inviting non-member countries. Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea and India attended in 2023. Along with India, Jordan, Uk­rai­ne, Brazil, Argentina, Turkey, the Uni­ted Arab Emirates, Kenya, Al­ge­r­ia, Tunisia and Mauritania have been invited for the 2024 summit. The G7 might want India in attendance given its economic heft, but it is one of many invitees.

The Group of 20 is an intergovernmental forum with a rationale. It has 19 countries that represent the 19 largest national economies in the world plus the European Union. These countries are drawn from across the world and they represent all five continents. The G20 might be a talking shop, but it has some claim to represent the world economy’s biggest hitters. Modi might have made a meal of India’s rotating presidency, but at least India is a stakeholder in the G20, an integral part of it. In that luxury hotel in Puglia in southern Italy, however, Modi is a guest at a rich private club that would never have India as a member. Should we even be there?

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