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How BRICS beckons Modi in Brazil

July 14, 2014 14:01 IST

Narendra Modi

The BRICS summit offers Modi an excellent platform to reach out to world leaders and conduct diplomacy on the very ticklish issue of reform of the world governance structure, and to exchange notes with his peers on international, regional and bilateral issues on the margins of the meeting, says Rup Narayan Das.

The sixth BRICS summit meeting opens in Brazil on the July 15. The compact Indian delegation led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi consists of the Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the National Security Adviser A K Doval and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh.

The importance of the BRICS can be gauged from the fact that they together constitute 25.9 per cent of the world’s geographical area, 43 per cent of the global population, 18 per cent of global trade and 25 per cent of the global gross domestic product in terms of purchasing power parity.

The five countries together hold 40 per cent of the world’s currency reserves, the majority of which is in US dollar. The group as a political entity acquired resonance and its acronym after the prediction of investor banker Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs in 2001 that the emerging economies of the countries would propel the trajectory of world growth and development.

India has been the founder-member of the BRICS ever since its inception and has been playing a very important role in this multilateral grouping representing the microcosm of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The emergence of BRICS is the reflection of not only the shift of the engine of growth from Atlantic to the Asia-Pacific, although in recent times BRICS economy in general has slowed down, but also the corresponding  shift of geo-politics, and the rise of India and China.

The leaders of the BRICS bemoan that the world governance structure such as United Nations system, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund do not reflect the fundamental transformation of the world economy.

It may be mentioned in this connection that the BRICS summit held in Sanya (China) in April 2011 called for a quick achievement of the targets for the reform of the IMF agreed at the G-20 summits and reiterated that the government structure of international financial institutions should reflect the changes in the world economy, increasing the voice and representation of emerging economies and developing countries.

The developing economies of the BRICS, therefore, have been urging for strengthening the regulatory frameworks of these financial institutions and allowing them to have a greater say in the running of these institutions.

The BRICS summit offers Modi an excellent platform to reach out to world leaders and conduct diplomacy on the very ticklish issue of reform of the world governance structure, and to exchange notes with his peers on international, regional and bilateral issues on the margins of the meeting, particularly at a time when world media has already catapulted him to international fame.

The most challenging task that Modi will face at the BRICS summit, however, is how best to secure India’s rightful place in the BRICS architecture. At the G-20 Summit held in Seoul in 2010, India’s former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had pleaded that multilateral development banks have an important role to play in the recycling of global savings. The issue was further pursued at the New Delhi summit in 2011.

Considering India’s contribution to the idea of the BRICS Development Bank and India’s stature in the BRICS, Beijing should be sensitive to India’s aspirations to play its rightful role in the BRICS either by agreeing to locate the headquarters of the bank in New Delhi or by making India chair the governance structure, even if it may be rotational in nature in the true spirit of the strategic partnership between the two countries.

As far as India’s bilateral relations with the member-countries of BRICS is concerned, the bilateral meetings between Modi and BRICS leaders on the margins of the meeting, are going to assume great significance. Of particular importance is the meeting of Modi with the President Xi Jinping of China.

In the run-up to the general elections and ever since his appointment as the prime minister of the country, Beijing has been extending overtures to reach out to him, and New Delhi has also responded with equal warmth. Beijing wanted Modi to make his first visit abroad to China and there were feelers to rope in him for the sixtieth anniversary of Panchsheel, which, China observed in Beijing on June 28. New Delhi presumably found the notice too short on part of the prime minister to visit China ahead of the impending parliamentary session, and instead deputed Vice-President Hamid Ansari.

Moreover, New Delhi was wary of the fact that a visit to China in the first instance would give wrong signal to India’s strategic partners, Japan in particular, which was equally eager to host him first. In reality, the visits of such dignitaries are decided on the basis of mutual convenience and the programme schedule drawn earlier. But a lot of symbolic value is attached to the first overseas visit of a head of government or State, and as such a lot of diplomatic consideration is given before taking such a decision.

At a time when the US, Japan and China were vying to host Modi first, New Delhi sprang a surprise by declaring that neither Washington, nor Japan, nor even China, but Bhutan to be the prime minister’s first visit abroad. It was indeed a diplomatic master stroke, which endeared Bhutan to New Delhi particularly at a time when New Delhi had a lurking anxiety about growing ties between Thimphu and Beijing.

Beijing may feel happy that Modi will be closeted with President Xi Jinping, ahead of his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at least symbolically. To mollify Tokyo, New Delhi can always  say that meeting the Chinese leaders on the side-lines of the BRICS or East Asia Summit has always been the practice and the dates are just coincidence, and not by design.

Be that as it may, as it will be the first ever meeting between the two towering leaders, a lot of strategic significance is attached to the meeting and its outcome. Prime Minister Modi may raise the issue of the construction of the railway line passing through Pakistan occupied Kashmir; the two leaders are also likely to discuss the ways and means to offset the trade imbalance against India, and in that context, the Chinese proposal for setting industrial parks in India. Most significantly, Modi may like to extend his personal invitation to Xi Jinping to visit India.

Rup Narayan Das is a senior fellow with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

Rup Narayan Das