Wednesday, 18 May, 2022
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Western press critical of Modi, so why is G-7 inviting him to UK summit?

Despite Modi’s hubris in declaring victory on the virus, the world recognises that the prime minister remains the tallest leader on the national landscape.

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The world has begun to circle around China. At the ongoing G-7 foreign ministerial meeting in London — a talk shop of major economies that does not include either China or Russia — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had a message for Beijing, and even Moscow: we will protect the world against you.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar took a special flight to London to participate in the extended G-7 meeting — the UK has banned all commercial flights from London because of the raging pandemic in India — a measure of the importance New Delhi is according the conference.

If things get better at home, Prime Minister Narendra Modi may well travel to the UK next month to attend the G-7 summit. It will be his first face-to-face meeting with US President Joe Biden. Apart from India, Australia, South Korea and South Africa are also special invitees.

Now look carefully at the list of all the participants. India and Australia, along with G-7 members Japan and the US — this would mean that the Quad leaders will be in the same room together.

There’s more. Australia, South Korea and Japan have long been described by the US as “major Non-NATO allies (MNNA),” which means that they have close strategic relations with the US armed forces. In 2019, the US Senate had agreed that India will become a “non-NATO ally,” which is one step below MNNA but acknowledges the special defence relationship between New Delhi and Washington.

Also read: India’s Covid tragedy is a propaganda tool for Chinese State. Not even dead are spared

India and the plurilateral bodies

It seems as if a new world order is being shaped in London these days, consisting of the G-7 + European Union + Quad + MNNA++ nations. And it is the Covid pandemic that is reshaping many of these new contours.

The US, of course, is the natural leader of this coalition, although it is not the only one. All the others will drift towards the US to become more than a sum of their parts or drift away like satellites in their orbit, depending upon the need of the hour.

Jaishankar likes to call this “plurilateralism,” as distinct from “multi-lateralism,” and this is how the jargon breaks down: Each nation is its own master, free to engage with others in small groups it is comfortable with, whether in the Quad or NATO or like-minded extended G-7 groupings.

It is clear the continuing lack of trust between India and China is driving Delhi into these plurilateral bodies where the US is a key pole around which other satellites also revolve. No matter how much the US has bled from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and now the Covid-19 pandemic — it remains a very powerful force to contend with.

This also means that the bell is tolling for organisations like BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) and RICS (Russia-India-China-South Africa), because India is no longer willing to tolerate the outsize influence being wielded by China in these bodies.

The other informal pole in the new world order still being shaped by the pandemic is China, which has bounced back better than most other countries, having been able to contain the virus through strict measures. Russia will likely be seen falling on China’s side, even though all is not always smooth between Beijing and Moscow. Vladimir Putin will never acknowledge he is a junior partner to Xi Jinping, nor have the Russians committed themselves to Putin’s autocracy – he has just changed the law to allow himself to be in power till 2036 – so they can become subservient to Beijing.

Also read: India’s soul has been seared. Wounded spirits more damaging than the countless Covid deaths

The faith in India: with or without Modi

Jaishankar’s visit to London demonstrates that India continues to be feted by the world, despite the western press leaving no stone unturned in calling out Modi’s hubris in declaring the end of the pandemic a few months ago.

Why, one may ask, is this happening, especially when the Biden administration seems sensitive to publications like The New York Times, The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, which have been at the forefront criticising Modi?

First, the US government response is about India – and not about Modi. Images of India’s broken health infrastructure are being beamed live into the homes of millions of Americans, not just Indian Americans. India is recognised as a country with talent, creativity and a billion dreams, and it needs the world’s help in this crisis. It doesn’t matter who leads it, not even Modi.

Second, despite Modi’s hubris in declaring premature victory over the virus, the world, at least for the moment, recognises that Modi remains the tallest leader on the national landscape. They must relearn to deal with him.

Third, the international community realises that unless it comes to India’s aid and helps it emerge from this pandemic — a bit like what the US did with Japan after the Second World War — it will be failing an ally with the size and the potential to take on China.

For the moment, nations are willing to buy India’s explanation about its enormous population simply being overwhelmed by the rampaging virus. They also realise that if they don’t help India contain its infections, they could be the next under attack.

The Cold War ended exactly 30 years ago. Who would have thought that a pandemic would spur new international alignments?

The author is a consulting editor. Views are personal.

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