No G77: India Cancels Ministerial Presence at Summit of Largest Bloc of Global South

Since the start of its presidency of the G20, India has positioned itself as the 'voice of the Global South'. But now it has cited the special parliament session as reason why the external affairs minister cannot travel.

New Delhi: India, while claiming to have emerged as the voice of the Global South during its G20 presidency, has decided to scale down its participation at the summit of the largest alliance of developing countries by cancelling the visit of the external affairs minister to Cuba next week.

From September 15 to 16, the Cuban capital of Havana will host a rare summit of the ‘G-77 plus China’ grouping, for which invitations had been sent out to heads of states of members and their ministers.

Formed in 1964, the group has increased its size over the years and currently has 134 developing nations as members. 

The group’s importance is especially noted in the United Nations, where it is the largest bloc of countries with a rotating presidency. India had been the first president of the G-77 in New York. China is not a member of the group, but often aligns politically with the group, so official statements at various multilateral platforms are often labelled ‘G-77 plus China’. 

Since it is a loose association, summits at a high political level, such as that in Havana – that will see participation at the level of heads of state and government and foreign ministers – is a rare occurrence.

The Indian external affairs minister was earlier confirmed to be leading the delegation to Cuba. 

But, with a couple of weeks left, his visit has been cancelled. The official reason is the special session of parliament that has been convened by the government from September 18, for which the presence of all government ministers has been made mandatory.

If it had taken place, it would have been Jaishankar’s first visit to Cuba since taking over as foreign minister.

The announcement of the special session seems to have come as a surprise as Jaishankar too had publicly announced that he would be travelling to Cuba. In a speech at the CII India-LAC conclave on August 3, Jaishankar was speaking about his travels to the region and revealed, “So, I expect next month to be in Cuba”.

This was reported by the state Cuban news agency, Prensa Latina, which noted that the Indian minister was expected to participate in the ‘Group of 77 plus China’ summit on September 15 and 16.

It is learnt that the Indian delegation would now be led by MEA secretary (west) Sanjay Varma.

The Indian foreign minister’s high-level presence at the Cuba summit could have pushed forward New Delhi’s claim to that it is the ‘voice’ of the Global South, especially since the gathering in Cuba comes within a week of India hosting the G20 summit.

Since the start of its presidency in G20, India has positioned its term as that which will bring this ‘voice’ of the south to the table for shaping global economic and monetary policies. “Our G20 priorities will be shaped in consultation with not just our G20 partners but also our fellow-travellers in the global south, whose voice often goes unheard,” wrote PM Modi on December 1, 2022

As the Washington-based Council for Foreign Relations observed, the Indian PM “sees the G20 presidency as an opportunity to showcase India’s credentials as a bridge between Global South countries and the West”.

To buttress this point, India even held a virtual ‘Voice of Global South’ meeting in January where ministers and officials from around the world were asked to present their priorities that could be used as inputs for the G20 agenda.

In an article published in various international papers on September 7, PM Modi also wrote about the importance given by India to developing countries. “In December 2022, when we took over the presidency from Indonesia, I wrote that a mindset shift must be catalysed by the G20. This was especially needed in the context of mainstreaming the marginalised aspirations of developing countries, the Global South and Africa,” he wrote.

Modi also described the ‘Voice of Global South’ summit as “one of the foremost initiatives under our presidency”. He also further boasted that his presidency will see the “largest ever participation from African countries” and that it witnessed the push for inclusion of African Union as a permanent member of G20.