image caption: Gurmukh Singh OBE

G 20 Summit Boosted Indian Global Position Little Else Achieved

  • UK-India Trade Deal would be a historic achievement but at what cost in terms of human rights compromises by PM Rishi Sunak?

On Thursday August 31 2023, Dr S Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister of India, gave an informative talk about G20 Presidency of India at Hindu College, Delhi. He spoke at length about the progress made by India in many fields to earn the global influence the country enjoys today. The moon project success has put India in the league of nations reaching for the stars! India has talent and the world is sitting up and taking note.

While Ukraine, not invited to the Summit, watched on with apprehension, UK and other NATO countries were compelled to compromise their position regarding the Ukraine War. According to one editorial, the watered-down G20 statement on Ukraine is sign of India&rsquos growing influence in the West and especially with the US and the UK. Compromises have been made and there are likely to be more to come if UK is to secure a bilateral trade deal with India.

According one observer, like Biden, Sunak also faces renewed questions about his courting of an authoritarian leader whose attachment to open government and key principles such as free speech and a free press appears shaky at best. Modi strongman style, Hindu majoritarian bias and disregard for human rights in Kashmir and Manipur are an embarrassment for any democratic country that wants to do business with India.

For Narendra Modi this was a great pre-2024 election boost as he projected India as the voice of the global south. He warned that the world was suffering a crisis of trust. Yet, sadly, as pointed out by a commentator, his own use of the summit to boost his election chances proved the point!

UK PM Rishi Sunak arrived in Delhi for the summit, to a well-deserved warm reception. He was referred to as the son-in-law of India, returning triumphantly to his in-laws as the Indian origin PM of UK. He reminded us of a school boy coming home, gleefully waving his top award won at school. He repeatedly feels the need to assert that he is a proud Hindu. No British Prime Minister has ever felt the compulsion to announce his or her religion before. Maybe now, the first non-white Indian origin Prime Minster feels the need to remind the voters and the world of his great achievement. Nevertheless, this sort of repeated assertion can be counter productive before an election year.

He has given assurances that his government is working with the Indian government through joint groups, sharing intelligence to come down hard on Khalistani extremists. He said that no form of extremism or violence is acceptable in the UK. However, a similar assurance regarding the growing threat of Hindutva extremism abroad was diplomatically left unsaid but would have assured law-abiding UK citizens, including British Sikhs. More so after the Bloom Report rejected by British Sikhs.

He could have mentioned that he would be seeking similar assurances from India, for example, regarding Sikh and other prisoners held in Indian jails for prolonged periods without trial. Western leaders have to come to terms with ground realities about corrupt politicians in developing countries. Corruption and human rights abuses have to be addressed through world trade agreements and procurement policies.

Most observers have concluded that the G-20 Summit has failed to bridge global fault-lines.

Gurmukh Singh OBE

Principal Civil Servant retd (UK)