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India’s G-20 Presidency: ADVOCATING A BALANCE, By Dr. D.K. Giri, 10 February 2023 Print E-mail


Round The World

New Delhi, 10 February 2023

India’s G-20 Presidency


By Dr. D.K. Giri

(Prof. International Relations, JIMMC) 

In the series of articles on G-20 under India’s presidency this year, let us talk about embracing the ‘concept of balance’ in global politics and life. In the last two articles, I discussed, “Resetting the Global Ethics” and “A Unique Indian Perspective”. Such conceptualisations purport to contribute to India’s niche in global politics, in political slogan terms, India becoming a Vishwa Guru. Interestingly, even the President of India mentioned this in her opening speech to the current session of Parliament. 

President Murmu said, “India, which once looked at others for solutions to most its problems, is today emerging as a provider of solutions for the issues faced by the world”. The concept of balance is reflected in her reference to our foreign policy, “On the one hand, we are chairing the SCO this year and on the other, being a member of the Quad, we are working for peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific”. The principle and practice of balance embed a spirit of reconciliation and accommodation between opposing views, forces and interests. They also avoid competition, confrontation and disruption. 

Elaborating it, the concept of balance in life is often associated with ancient Greek philosophy, particularly the idea of ‘the golden mean’ propounded by Aristotle. The golden mean holds that the virtuous life of an individual or any country lies in finding a balance between two extremes. For example, the virtue of courage lies between cowardice and recklessness. Similarly, the concept suggests that a person should strive to find a balance between various aspects of life, such as work, relationships, health and leisure in order to lead a fulfilling life. It can be extended from individual to institutions, communities and countries. In international politics, since a country is the primary agency for interaction, we will focus here on the balance countries need to have. 

The idea of balance is present in other philosophical traditions as well. In Taoism, Tao is seen as a balance between opposing forces. The Buddhist concept of the ‘middle path’ emphasises avoiding the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. In Hinduism, balance is embodied in the concept of Dharma, which refers to the duty and purpose of an individual in the world, and when extended to the state, it is called Rajadharma. 

In Christianity, balance is often portrayed as balancing the spiritual and worldly aspects of life. Christians are encouraged to seek balance between God and the state. This is in response to the question that arose on the rightness of paying taxes. As recorded in the Bible, Jesus said, “Give it to Caesar what belongs to Caesar (State) and to God, what belongs to God”. So, Christians cannot cut off the affairs of the world, but can never compromise their beliefs and values. Their decisions and loyalties must be influenced by what furthers the ‘common good’. 

Let us now apply the concept to a few systems and strategies across the world: Capitalism vs socialism; centralisation vs decentralisation; individualism vs collectivism; spiritualism vs materialism; east vs west; north vs south. The list, though not exhaustive, encompasses the major systems that compete and conflict. 

Capitalism and socialism have their respective strengths and weakness, each one’s strength ironically perceived as other’s weakness. Capitalism focuses on freedom of enterprise and creation of wealth through efficiency and profit etc. whereas socialism emphasises distribution, equality and justice. Both the systems are relevant to specific contexts defined by cultural, political and economic conditions prevailing in a country. The balance between the two could be found in regulating the variables like income equality, economic growth and freedom of individual and free enterprises etc. 

Countries have to take the continual calls of balance between the fundamental economic and political values. India did follow a kind of a balance, a mixed economy model. It was not successful as it downplayed the critical need of wealth creation, earning the refrain, ‘the Hindu rate of growth’ (not beyond 3 per cent). It seems to be changing now. But the change and the balance need to be diligently maintained. 

Second, the principles of centralisation and decentralisation have played out quite well in India as against the centralised autocracies in Communist countries including China, Russia, Vietnam, North Korea and unitary states like Britain and France. India has been a federal state with five levels of governance – central, state, district, taluk (block)/tehsil and village. Third, the debates between individualism and collectivism are also a universal experience. While countries in the West focus on the primacy of an individual and individual sovereignty, the countries in South inhabiting collectives as social-cultural communities concern about collective rights and interests. 

It is also true that collectivism can lead to intolerance, exclusion and tyranny, undermining individual freedom of choice and expression. At the same time, individualism can lead to self-centredness, isolation and lack of solidarity. The balance consists of recognising collectives comprising autonomous individuals. This can apply to coalitions of countries with their respective sovereignties. 

Fourth, spiritualism and materialism often clash as existential values. Without spiritualism, individuals and societies can experience psychological and social chaos and disorder and without adequate material conditions, a descent living becomes difficult. At the same time, unequal material possessions can lead to a sense of deprivation which leads to social and political strife. I encountered this dilemma in Belgium while I was researching on India-European Union trade relations. The western countries long for spiritualism as they have already achieved a certain degree of materialism, although they are still gripped by massive consumption. 

An Indian contact living in Brussels, who wrote on economic issues, asked me, “what about the amazing and unique Indian philosophy of renunciation”! I wondered about his irrational nostalgia as the priority back home was to alleviate poverty by creating and distributing more and more resources. Likewise, the global south shies away from engaging in wealth generation falling back heavily on self-reliance and spiritualism. 

India too has been caught in self-righteous narcissism. In fact, one India-friendly officer at the European Union ruefully commenting on Indian trading behaviour, said, “We like India’s practice of democracy and multiculturalism. But when they come to negotiate a textile quota, they begin and end their presentation with Gandhism and non-violence etc.” Hence the balance is critically important. 

Fifth, on North and South and likewise East and West, while the South has resources in terms of people and raw materials, North has capital and technology. Likewise, the East is rich in traditions and culture as the West is driven by technological efficiency and the notion of rationality. There needs to be a balance again between the respective interests and aspirations across the globe. 

The life does not consist of either … or. For a decent, peaceful and orderly life, unity of perspectives and strategies is required. Countries across the globe have to cut out the binary approach and adopt a balance that reconciles the opposites. India could, around G-20, debunk the formulation in Rudyard Kipling’s lines, “Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”. This balance should be a constant endeavour by countries for the sake of global stability, peace and prosperity. ---INFA

  (Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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