Key Takeaways from G20 2023: Insights and Analysis

As the G20 summit concluded on September 9-10 in New Delhi, India’s preparations to host the event garnered significant attention from international news outlets. Several features and analyses focused on how the Modi government utilized India’s rotational G20 presidency, which was subsequently passed on to Brazil, to court voters and launch an early campaign for the 2024 general elections.

Several media outlets also raised questions on press freedom as during the Sept 8th meeting between President Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, independent journalists were noticeably absent from the event, as they were not granted access to cover the important discussion.

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The Indian cities were filled with billboards and ads at bus stops, showcasing images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This advertising campaign was on a much larger scale than anything India had ever seen before. It was reported to have cost around Rs 10 billion ($121 million) and continued to grow. Many believed that these ads were meant to impress foreign visitors, but they were mistaken. The real purpose behind this massive advertising blitz was to finance Prime Minister Modi’s election campaign and present him as not just a great leader of India, but of the whole world.

Instead of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the government itself paid for this ad campaign. While it wasn’t uncommon for politicians in India to do similar things in the past, the sheer size of this current campaign was unimaginable.

CNBC journalist Martin Soong reported that the G20 summit was overshadowed by Modi’s activities. Critics accused him of using the summit as a way to start campaigning for the upcoming elections. The number of meetings held in the lead-up to the summit was unprecedented, with India hosting a staggering 200 of them.

Removing and Creating Homelessness

New Delhi went to great lengths and spent a lot of money to make sure that nothing negative would spoil its appearance. They wanted to get rid of things like street vendors, stray dogs, and monkeys that liked upscale areas. However, this plan faced criticism when an animal protection organization accused them of cruelly capturing around 1,000 stray dogs in early September. They also asked children who begged at traffic lights to leave.

While the authorities were busy trying to hide poverty, they unintentionally created a new problem – homelessness. The demolition drives, meant to clear out slums, led to at least 25 being destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people losing their homes. They were forced to leave without any other place to live, and they also lost their sources of income.

This contradictory situation was noted by French newspaper Le Monde, which emphasized the suffering of those affected by the demolitions. The actions taken not only destroyed buildings but also shattered the lives of ordinary people, making the homelessness situation even worse.

Media Denied Access to G20 Summit: Concerns Arise

During the G20 summit, journalists faced obstacles in covering world leaders. Despite being called “The Mother of Democracy,” the summit limited media access, causing frustration among reporters. President Joe Biden’s arrival in Vietnam marked the end of the event, which left independent journalists largely kept away from the leaders they had come to report on.

A notable incident occurred when no independent journalist was allowed to cover the meeting between President Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As a result, the only pictures available of that meeting are from official government photographers. Usually, a group of reporters and photographers from the White House are allowed to briefly cover the beginning of such meetings. This gives them a chance to ask questions to the leaders in the hope of getting answers.

At major summits like the G20, important discussions take place behind closed doors to create official statements. These statements are carefully analyzed, especially when they concern significant issues like the war in Ukraine. This year, plans for a railway and shipping connection between India, the Middle East, and Europe were also discussed.

Before the summit, the U.S. national security adviser requested access to the press pool. However, the decision to keep the media away from the Biden-Modi meeting was based on the circumstance that it took place at Modi’s residence, rather than a larger issue.

The restricted access for journalists during the G20 summit raises concerns about their ability to provide unbiased coverage and inform the public effectively.

India’s Contrasting Image

Despite India projecting itself as the bastion of democracy on the international stage, concerns have been raised about the erosion of democratic values within the country under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership. The government’s track record reflects a decline in democratic norms, evidenced by restrictions on press freedom, religious freedom, and the targeting of civil society.

Surprisingly, although G20 member nations are aware of these democratic setbacks, it is highly unlikely that they will raise this issue during the upcoming G20 leaders’ summit. Instead, countries like the UK, France, and the US are more likely to focus on strengthening strategic and economic ties with India. Amidst the complex realities on the ground, India finds itself not shunned but embraced by its counterparts.

This situation highlights the dichotomy between India’s international image and its domestic challenges. Despite concerns regarding democratic regression, G20 nations are driven by economic and strategic interests, driving them to prioritize engagement with India rather than holding it accountable for its democratic shortcomings.

Bottom Line
The G20 summit in India has shed light on the contrasting image of the country. While India presents itself as a champion of democracy on the global stage, concerns have been raised about the erosion of democratic values under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership. Press freedom, religious freedom, and civil society have all faced restrictions.

Despite awareness among G20 member nations about these democratic setbacks, it is unlikely that they will address the issue at the summit. Instead, countries like the UK, France, and the US are more likely to focus on strengthening their strategic and economic ties with India. This reflects the prioritization of economic and strategic interests over holding India accountable for its democratic shortcomings.

The dichotomy between India’s international projection and its domestic challenges is evident. G20 nations choose to embrace India rather than shun it, despite concerns about democratic regression. This situation raises questions about the true extent of India’s commitment to democracy and the ability of G20 nations to effectively address these issues.