At G20, time to take the India model to the world

    India will formally take over as president of the G20 tomorrow (December 1). This is an exceptional responsibility at a challenging time for the global community. India’s presidency will be a historic first for the nation and the most significant international event that India has ever hosted. Given the strong geopolitical polarisations of the day, the challenges and expectations from India’s presidency will be onerous and out of the ordinary.

    At a pre-presidency briefing of G20 ambassadors held in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, there was a widely held sentiment that if any country can rise to the challenges of the day, it is India. Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi has been a valued interlocutor at the high table of global decision-making, be it the United Nations, G7, World Trade Organization, climate conversations, Quad, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation or Brics. Developing countries that have felt the adverse impact of the pandemic and the consequences of the Ukraine conflict — due to rising costs of food and energy imports — look to India’s G20 presidency to give voice to their aspirations and for solutions that can usher in greater macroeconomic and financial stability. India, by virtue of its recent experiences and achievements in providing inclusive and accelerated development to its citizens, could be well placed to provide solutions to these global challenges.

    For India, technology has always been a great equaliser, where citizens from all walks of life have used a veritable toolkit of digital public goods to access public services, make payments, and even address their collective grievances. In a world splintered by polarisation and technological Balkanisation, India will strive to ensure that the world in the coming years is a just, equitable place.

    Covid-19 presented India with extraordinary challenges. The government responded by unleashing a whole-of-government approach towards ensuring the welfare of citizens. India also embarked on a vaccine diplomacy mission that facilitated access to supply chains and raw materials, including obtaining waivers and linking its manufacturing facilities with other nations. India was at the forefront of global efforts to combat the pandemic.

    The biggest takeaway from this unprecedented collaboration was that as a global family of nations, we are larger than the sum of our parts. International collaboration is not a zero-sum game. As PM Modi said in 2014 at the UN General Assembly, “Our destinies are interlinked”. We must usher in an era that is marked by a globally integrated approach to problem-solving. The PM has emphasised that the focus of India’s G20 presidency will be on global good and world welfare.

    India is the fastest-growing large economy with sound macroeconomic fundamentals, robust public finances and strong manufacturing and export growth. It is a top foreign direct investment destination. It is the largest smartphone data consumer and global fintech adopter, demonstrating its strengths in the digital space and as a source of innovation.

    India has one of the world’s best digital public infrastructure models, including transformative structures like the Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and mobile phone trinity, UPI, CoWIN, Ayushman Bharat and FASTag.

    At the G20 summit in Bali, the PM pointed out that over 40% of the world’s real-time payment transactions took place through UPI last year. India’s digital transformation, he said, has developed digital public goods whose basic architecture has in-built democratic principles. Sadly, citizens of most developing countries do not have any kind of digital identity. India’s experience has shown that if digital architecture is made widely accessible, it can bring about socio-economic transformation. The proper use of digital technologies can become a force multiplier in the fight against poverty.

    India’s health architecture is innovative, low-cost, inclusive and globally scalable. Some of its signature initiatives include Ayushman Bharat, a large vaccine production ecosystem, CoWin, Vaccine Maitri, a capacity to produce and supply generics on a global scale, and the National Digital Health Mission. India is also a leader in promoting a holistic approach to health and well-being through ayurveda and yoga. This robust, diverse and inclusive health model has catalysed the emergence of India as a player in global health.

    The world needs new and innovative approaches to tackle today’s complex challenges. Digital technologies present us with the tools to deal with some contemporary challenges. Digital India could provide a tech model for global solutions for development and welfare as well as facilitating growth. India’s efforts to track the pandemic’s spread relied on the success of the Aarogya Setu digital platform. India’s successful vaccination programme was underpinned by the CoWIN digital platform.

    Flowing from this, it could be expected that India’s G20 presidency will focus on the use of technology for the benefit of countries and people across the globe. The principle of “data for development” will be an integral part of the overall theme of India’s tenure. Under our presidency, we will make efforts with other G20 partners to create mechanisms that strengthen the capacity of developing countries to tackle health crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic. India will take forward efforts to create a holistic, global health architecture that can respond better to future health crises.

    We need new approaches to intellectual property, innovation and co-development of health technology to ensure a more inclusive response to health crises. We must also focus on the benefits that technological progress and evidence-based policy can provide us when it comes to expanding access to health.

    At the G20, this model could be internationalised. Digital India must go global. A new tech order must combine cross-border flows of technology and investment with development and growth aspirations.

    The G20 is a grouping that accounts for nearly 85% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product, 75% of international trade and two-thirds of the world’s population. The decisions that are implemented at G20 will have an intergenerational impact across nations. With India at the helm, it is time to navigate these testing times in a holistic and inclusive manner.

    Harsh Vardhan Shringla is India’s G20 chief coordinator. He is the former foreign secretary, Government of India

    The views expressed are personal

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