India, for the first time, held a summit meeting of those countries that comprise the Global South. The Voice of Global South Summit, held virtually, was aimed at giving voice to the unheard, thereby leveraging India’s role as the current G20 president. It was held under the theme — Unity of Voice, Unity of Purpose — and attracted over 120 countries. Needless to say, the summit was truly grandiose, with 29 Latin American and Caribbean countries, 47 African countries, 31 Asian countries, 11 Oceanian countries, and seven European countries in participation.
Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra stated that India’s objective with the Voice of Global South Summit was to create a shared platform to deliberate on such concerns, interests and priorities that affect the developing countries, as well as to exchange ideas and solutions, and most importantly, to unite in voice and purpose in tackling the aspects of shared concerns and priorities. This endeavour is inspired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, and Sabka Prayas” and has its foundation in India’s philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
In his opening remarks at the Voice of Global South Summit, PM Modi stated that the world is in crisis and told developing-country leaders that their voice is India’s voice and their priorities are India’s priorities, thereby projecting India as a key stakeholder in Global South affairs.
The intent of India becoming the voice of the Global South, which is otherwise under-represented in international forums, is well documented with the Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar reaffirming the same when India assumed the G20 presidency.
What is the Global South?
While the phrase ‘Global South’ has been used in international relations discourse since the late 1900s, little is known about what it actually represents. The conception of the Global South can be traced back to the Brandt Report of 1980, which proposed a division between North and South countries based on their technological advancement, GDP, and standard of living. Historically, global North-South disparities have been characterised by significant gaps in access to resources essential for crucial growth outcomes.
Global South and Global North are just another broad categorisations used to easily study international political systems. Such categorisation has also manifested in the form of – the East/West divide, the First/Second/Third world countries, etc.
The genesis of the Global North/South discourse is grounded principally on the commonality experienced by the South countries since they had a history of colonisation, largely at the hands of the European powers. These countries have similar wealth, education and healthcare metrics, and so on. In the current international world order, certain countries have also been deliberately excluded from significant international organisations that make crucial economic and political decisions with global implications, such as the UN Security Council’s P5 or the International Monetary Fund (IMF). As a result of such deliberate isolation, the countries of the Global South have banded together to campaign for common issues in various aspects of life. This is known as ‘South-South Cooperation,’ which is a partnership of developing and least-developed countries on a bilateral, regional, intraregional, or interregional basis in the political, economic, social, cultural, environmental, and technical areas, as defined by the United Nations.
The term Global South has been used numerous times by EAM Jaishankar. According to him, “Polarisation may occur elsewhere, the people who suffer most are the Global South.” Furthermore, he added that the “Global South is now experiencing crucial difficulties including an unabated rise in the prices of energy, food and fertilisers, coupled with increasing debt and rapidly deteriorating economic growth.” Jaishankar also noted during his talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow that the “Global South feels the burden of rising (oil and gas) prices.”
Many believe that the Global South’s purpose is to challenge the North’s supremacy and positions in various international organisations, consequently perpetuating a cycle in which a few countries accumulate critical resources. Another criticism levelled at the concept is its inclusion of relatively, economically prosperous countries such as India and China. Since the term Global South was coined to refer to countries that were left out of the industrialisation phase and are essentially poor, the inclusion of some of the world’s fastest-growing economies muddies the essence of the grouping.
Here, we should consider a London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) paper that claims that the “Global South does not refer just to the hemispheric south. It has been a general rubric for decolonised nations located roughly south of the old colonial centres of power.” The experience of different countries dealing with the Covid-19 epidemic is a modern-day example of the North-South divide.
Positioning India at the Helm of Global South
India has a lot to offer to the world, especially to the countries of the Global South. With its enormous population and enormous economic capabilities, India, through the Voice of Global South Summit is working to unite the nations of the Global South into a powerful front so as to adopt an action-oriented approach for the betterment of the region. While addressing the summit, PM Modi stated, “In the last century, we supported each other in our fight against foreign rule. We can do it again in this century, to create a new World Order that will ensure the welfare of our citizens.”
Regardless of whether it was at the UNSC or multilateral forums, India has always addressed and voiced the needs of the Global South. It has always shared its developmental experience with the nations of the Global South. PM Modi stated, “As India begins its G20 presidency this year, it is natural that our aim is to amplify the Voice of the Global South.”
According to C. Raja Mohan, “India has the material power and political will to lead the Global South. We are entering an era of renewed great power competition for the Global South. The developing world, too, is looking ahead and not looking back to the old scripts; its leaders want concrete options and are adept at bargaining with multiple suitors.”
India too has risen in the international hierarchy and is well on its way to becoming the third-largest economy. India’s objective is not to rebuild a global trade union against the North. The nation is eager to become a bridge between the North and the South by focussing on practical outcomes rather than returning to old ideological battles. In recent years, New Delhi has often talked of itself as a ‘South Western power’ that is capable of building deep partnerships with the US and Europe and at the same time, championing the interests of the Global South.
India has successfully positioned itself as a 21st-century powerhouse during the course of its 75-year journey. The country’s global stature has continuously expanded and has played a crucial role in mitigating global crises. Aside from having one of the largest diasporas, other factors such as technical breakthroughs, economic potential, and improvements in social indicators have helped the country establish itself as a strong global leader.
In addition to India’s Vaccine Maitri, which provided medicines and vaccines to over 100 countries during the pandemic, the world has seen how the nation played a significant role in evacuating citizens from Afghanistan and Ukraine during the times of hostilities in those countries.
Notably, India’s digital public assets like UPI, RuPay, and India stack, which are supporting such a large portion of the Indian population, can be a powerful instrument for the digital transformation of other developing and emerging countries. The first nation to implement the Bharat Interface for Money – Unified Payments Interface (BHIM-UPI) was Bhutan, which is a direct neighbour of India. Various other nations, like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, also permit the use of the RuPay card system.
Another example of India’s assistance to other nations is its hospital system, which treats thousands of foreign patients and has proved to be one of the most efficient and effective healthcare systems worldwide. If the Global South and India worked together, they could make significant advancements in the fight against terrorism, maritime policy, and other fields.
How can India be the Voice of Global South?
Championing the Global South today would demand more active Indian engagement with the messy regional politics within the developing world. India must also come to terms with the fact that the Global South is not a coherent group and does not have a single shared agenda. There is much differentiation within the South today in terms of wealth and power, needs and capabilities. This demands a tailored Indian policy for different regions and groups of the developing world.
India is eager to become a bridge between the North and the South by focussing on practical outcomes rather than returning to old ideological battles. If India can translate this ambition into effective policy, there will be no contradiction between the simultaneous pursuit of universal and particular goals.
China is increasingly making inroads in the Global South through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for developing infrastructure. However, it is still questionable whether the BRI will be a win-win situation for both parties or it will focus only on China’s Profit.
Issue of Green Energy Fund
Despite Global North countries’ higher contribution towards global emissions, they are neglecting to pay for funding green energy, for which the ultimate sufferers are the least emitters – the lesser developed countries.
Impact of Russia-Ukraine War
The Russia-Ukraine war severely affected the least developed countries (LDCs), aggravating the concerns related to food, energy and finance, thereby threatening the development prospects of LDCs. If India can translate this ambition into effective policy, there will be no contradiction between the simultaneous pursuit of universal and particular goals. But New Delhi should be aware of the pitfalls.
In the past, India’s ideological enthusiasm for the Global South was not matched by material power and political will. Today, India’s material capabilities have grown and its leadership is brimming with political ambition. But New Delhi is some distance away from overcoming the entrenched indifference within the governmental machinery to India’s new international possibilities.
In a significant announcement, PM Modi announced the “Aarogya Maitri” project, wherein the country will provide essential medical supplies to any developing country affected by natural disasters or humanitarian crises. PM Modi also said that India would launch the Global South Science and Technology Initiative to share its expertise in areas such as space technology and nuclear energy, and establish the Global South Centre of Excellence.
As was seen in the maiden Voice of Global South Summit, India’s approach to the Global South is holistic, multi-pronged and multi-sectorial, ranging from finance to health to environment.
Proposal on TRIPS Waiver
Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver, first proposed by India and South Africa in 2020, would involve a temporary global easing of intellectual property rights (IPRs) on Covid-19 vaccines and treatments to enable them to be produced on a far larger scale, to support global health and a way out of the pandemic agreement on Covid-19 vaccines, drugs, therapeutics, and related technologies.
Vaccine Maitri Campaign
In 2021, India began its historic campaign called the “Vaccine Maitri” initiative which is in accordance with the ‘Neighbourhood First’ Policy.
As will be obvious from the above, the concept of ‘Global South’ has varied inflections across disciplines. The Global South currently exists at the confluence of and tension between systems of knowledge and ways of conceptualising space, habitations, cultures, aesthetics and political economy.
Additionally, the phrase ‘Global South’ paints a vision of the world with the historically neglected and minor geopolitical players at its centre. The world is fully aware of the untapped potential that exists in the growing economies of the Global South. The countries will witness significant progress if they cooperate in areas like technical exchanges, ideas exchanges, exchanging best practices in manufacturing, and other areas.
The Voice of Global South Summit under the theme Unity of Voice, Unity of Purpose envisages bringing together countries of the Global South to share their perspectives and priorities on a common platform.
PM Modi has emphasised the next phase of global growth will come from countries in the South.
Esha Banerji is presently associated with a premier think-tank in India, specialising in defence, security, and strategic studies. Her research interest and focuses of analysis are defence strategy, geo-economics, foreign affairs, and the implications of Chinese security developments on the region, especially India. Views expressed are personal.
Read all the Latest Opinions here