The G-20 Conclave — Convention, Pageant Or Charade ?

The G-20 (or G-18+ Lotus) Circus has left town, or, in the more melodious words of The Seekers, the carnival is over. But where there was a tinge of regret in the Seekers’ song, for us Delhi-wallahs the feeling is one of relief, not regret. India’s capital city was shut down for almost a week, dogs and Indians banished from the roads notwithstanding our oft repeated dislike of colonial practices, and the invaluable experience acquired by the government from the long Covid lockdown put to good use. But now that the rain waters have been pumped out of Bharat Uttapam- sorry, Bharat Mandappam-, Mr. Biden has discovered that there is more free speech in Vietnam than in India, Mr. Trudeau has delivered his sucker punch on his return to Ottawa, the Qutub Minar once again looks like the architectural marvel it is rather than the multi-coloured barber’s pole our cultural czars made it out to be during this week, Amitav Kant has ascended higher (at least in his own estimation) than any sherpa on Everest, and all those thousands of flower pots have doubtless found their way to the residences of various bureaucrats as well deserved mementos of the biggest non-event in many years- now, then, is the time to ask the questions: What did this extravagant P.T.Barnum-like show achieve? Was it worth it? What did the common man in India gain from it ?

Consider first the costs; the official figure for Delhi alone is Rs. 4100 crore (Indonesia, which ranks higher than us in per capita GDP or income, spent Rs. 364 crore at Bali in 2022), tens of crores more would have been spent in holding the 200 meetings of delegates in 60 cities across India to arrive at a consensus document in which everyone basically agreed that they disagreed but agreed to let Mr. Kant find the appropriate words to state that “We disagree but Kant say so since we have supped off gold plates and silver bowls for a week.” And Mr. Kant, who hasn’t looked back since he coined the phrase “God’s Own Country” for a state ruled by a party which doesn’t believe in God, turned out to be a good Wordsmith, if not a Wordsworth. We don’t know whether he consulted Shashi Tharoor on this matter.

Residents of the NCR were ordered to stay at home, businesses and offices were shut, flyers spent more time on the roads than they did in the air, traffic piled up for miles on Mr. Gadkari’s international standard expressways, the borders were more or less sealed. All at great inconvenience and cost. Delhi traders claimed they lost more than Rs. 300 crores, tens of thousands of daily wage and gig earners lost almost a week’s wages, children were not able to go to school (though that might have been a blessing considering the toxic and irrelevant stuff that is taught in them nowadays).

The so-called 49 “beautification” drives resulted in the demolition of hundreds of “unauthorised” shanties, huts and shops over 230 acres of land (figure supplied by the junior Housing Minister in Parliament in July) and the removal of hawkers and street vendors, depriving them of not only their homes but also their sole sources of livelihood. According to a report in Down To Earth 300,000 people were evicted; the Outlook issue of September 8th reported that even the official “rain baseras” (night shelters) for the destitute and homeless were razed to the ground. The administration’s baleful eye for detail did not spare even the poor stray dogs on Delhi’s roads- they were dragged off in the most brutal and cruel manner, pups separated from their mothers, stuffed into already cramped dog pounds, starved of food and water for days, and then dumped back on the streets- all in flagrant violation of the Birth Control rules of the Animal Welfare Board. One sincerely hopes there is a special place in Hell for these officials and corporators of the MCD, one from where there is no return ticket.

And all this to what end? What did Mr. Modi and his sherpas achieve? One outcome document which is not worth the paper it is written on, considering all the good it will do to the people of the globe and India. It appears that the entire exercise and medieval extravaganza was directed at producing that meaningless “consensus” at doing nothing to address the world’s most pressing problems- the war in Ukraine, the murder of democracy in Myanmar, China’s increasing belligerence, increasing global poverty and inequality, the climate crisis, the looming dangers of Artificial Intelligence, the threats posed by monopolistic digital tech giants, the worrying retreat of democracy since the 1980s.

Oh, to be sure, the right noises were made by one and all at the conferences- world leaders and diplomats have refined hypocrisy to a fine art, and can put pen to paper or knife in the back with equal dexterity- both skills were on full display in Delhi. The ground reality, however, is that the G-20 achieved nothing of any substance. Global emissions continue to rise every year, as does the temperature. The UN Secretary General has declared that the era of global warming is over, we have now entered the era of “global boiling”. The planet will cross the 1.50* celsius barrier by 2035, much earlier than anticipated. Oceanographers have warned that the Gulf Stream will disappear by 2030, with unpredictable consequences for Europe. Barely 13% of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) agreed upon in 2015 have been achieved, and on 50% of them there has been no movement at all. Climate justice is not even on the horizon, with more and more people being pushed into climate related poverty. A UN panel has just reported that by 2040, 300 million more women will be pushed below the poverty line. Russia continues to kill hundreds of Ukranians in their residences, schools, hospitals and markets while 20 heads of states and 19 invitees debate which euphemism  will best describe, yet conceal, this genocide. The murderous junta in Myanmar carries on cheerfully, buoyed by support from Russia and China, silence from the USA and the EU, and supply of arms by India. Europe continues to buy oil and gas from Russia through proxies, even while it imposes sanctions on it; India doesn’t even bother to create a proxy. China sits on thousands of square kms of our land in Ladakh but we dare not mention it lest President Xi decides to take a look at Arunachal too, en passant.

Our own hypocrisy, dissembling and false virtue matches that of any country. We have diverted 600000 hectares (6000 square kms) of prime forests for non-forestry use in the last fifteen years, felled 16 million trees between 2001-2018, amended the Wildlife Protection Act, the Forest Conservation Act, the Coastal Regulations, and passed the Biological Diversity(Amendment) Bill- all so that Big Capital could exploit our natural resources more cheaply and quickly- even while we talk of “sustainable development” ad nauseam. Our dense forests are declining every year according to FSI reports, the Himalayas are being systematically obliterated by hydel projects, four-lane highways and tunnels; our greedy tentacles have even reached the Andaman and Nicobar island archipelago, where the government has approved a project which will result in the deforestation of 140 sq.kms of the most primitive forests in the world, the felling of 800,000 trees and perhaps the extinction eventually of one of the oldest indigenous tribes on the planet. And yet we continue to claim that we will sequester 2 billion tonnes of CO2 and reclaim 5 million hectares of degraded forests by 2030 as our contribution to fighting climate change!

The two proudly declared cornerstones of the Indian achievement- the GBA (Global Biofuel Alliance) and IMEC (India-Middle East-European Economic Corridor)- are also futuristic chimeras that, in all likelihood, may never materialise. The former takes on OPEC while the latter seeks to counter China’s BRI; since both Saudi Arabia and China are members of G-20, the resistance to the two projects will be in-built to the G-20, not auguring well for their success. Secondly, India has launched similar grandiose programmes in the past, which have got nowhere. Mr. Modi had announced an ISA (International Solar Alliance) eight years back to burnish his non-existent environmental credentials. It has got nowhere fast, having spent only USD 10 million so far against the budgeted USD 200 million. Another India brainwave was the CDRI (Coalition for Disaster Reduction Infrastructure): it appears to have died an untimely death, with no progress reported so far. When was the last time you read or heard about either ISA or CDRI ?

The world is sick of these meaningless conferences and multi-lateral organisations, we already have a surfeit of them- the United Nations, G-7, G-20, BRICS, Global Climate Conference, World Economic Forum, and what not. They serve no purpose and deliver no tangible outcomes other than a consensus to do nothing, which is the easiest thing in the world. They are vacuous talking shops, simply provide an opportunity for politicians and diplomats to posture on a public stage while their trophy wives visit charities and shop like crazy. The price for these jamborees is paid by the common citizens- in money, harassment, disruption, false promises and increased pollution (there were 1500 private jets at Davos this year, our own humble Delhi G-20 saw more private jets than could be parked in Delhi, and 50 of them had to be diverted to Jaipur and Lucknow. And these are the same mountebanks who talk of reducing carbon emissions!)

Did I hear Mr. Kant claim that the Delhi Declaration was “the strongest statement ever issued by the G-20” ?

Give us a break. To go back to The Seekers’ song: while lamenting that the carnival is over they rue that “we may never meet again.” To which I can only say- Hallelujah ! The world doesn’t need any more strutting and ostentation and hyperbole, it is desperate for tangible outcomes rather than heavily disguised electoral pageants.

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