Nearly two months before this week’s G7 summit, a news agency anonymous sources to speculate that Germany, the host, was debating whether to invite India’s prime minister. The purported reason: India’s reluctance to condemn Russia for attacking Ukraine. The German government report was “wrong” and, in due course, invited India to the June 26- 28 summit in Bavaria. Significantly, the resolute diplomatic line taken by India at the summit didn’t align with the reasoning behind the invitation that had surfaced in a section of the western media.
In any other year, India’s participation in a G7 summit would have been a routine affair. But this year a motive was attributed: a section of the western press as part of the West’s continued effort to pull India away from its close strategic relationship with Russia.
A number of geopolitical factors, diplomatic needs and strategic considerations have combined to shape India’s refusal to toe the western line on disengaging with Russia and fall for the one-sided narrative in condemning Moscow. While denouncing the war and advocating for its resolution through diplomatic means, India has been walking a tightrope in exercising strategic autonomy in its dealings with Russia and other big powers. Some of these considerations and how they have defined the course charted by India during the ongoing war in Ukraine have been in earlier . In Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s interactions at G7 as well as in statements made by his government, India has been consistent in distancing itself from the western chorus on isolating Russia. That’s a far more important refutation of the pre-summit speculation.
As a non-member invitee to the summit this year – along with South Africa, Indonesia, Argentina and Senegal – India had a sense of diplomatic clarity on how it needed to approach the meeting amidst the ongoing war in eastern Europe. Even if the G7 countries, which include some of the world’s leading economies, chose to issue a strongly-worded statement against Russia and a roadmap to counter Moscow, India didn’t go beyond its measured position calling for “cessation of all hostilities” and searching for a diplomatic resolution.
Instead, India was more focused on using the summit to engage with heads of governments bilaterally. This saw Modi having talks with leaders of the US, UK, Canada, and Japan. In the coming months, India is set to start its term as the president of G20 – the intergovernmental group of 19 leading economies and the European Union – and the talks Modi had with his counterparts from Argentina, Indonesia and South Africa could be part of the due diligence for fine-tuning the agenda for future meets of the group.
Along with bilateral engagements, India went with the summit’s stated positions on a rules-based order and sustained support to democratic systems. The ideological sweep of these broad-based statements continue to be handy for New Delhi’s strategic concerns regarding its northern and western neighbours. Moreover, they can be put to use for soft power leverage where these commitments act as diplomatic calling cards. More significantly, India made an eloquent reiteration of the concerns and role of large Third World economies in ensuring a fair and clear approach towards carbon neutrality. India went beyond the usual Third World pitch for green justice, especially made by large economies of the global south, and talked about its initiatives in adopting clean energy. Modi urged the G7 countries to invest in India’s huge potential for adopting clean energy. “We hope that the rich countries of G7 will support India's efforts. Today, a huge market for clean energy technologies is emerging in India. G7 countries can invest in research, innovation, and manufacturing in this field. The scale that India can provide for every new technology can make that technology affordable for the whole world. The core theories of the circular economy have been an integral part of Indian culture and lifestyle.” the prime minister said.
Groups like G7 are keen on reinventing themselves in a phase where their decline has been obvious and often dissected. The constant outreach to G20 countries could be part of that rebuilding process, though its impact isn’t clear. In this context, the announcement of the US-initiated Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, or PGII, is set to be seen as an alternative to China’ Belt and Road Initiative. Even if opinion on PGII might range from being a counter to BRI to being a foil, India would have to scrutinize it from a cost-benefit prism, and not merely be seduced by what the new ambitious plan is competing with. That would need another tightrope walk with clear-headed strategic autonomy.