I recently attended the Raisina Dialogue in Delhi, one of the world’s leading conferences on geopolitics and geoeconomics, organised by the Observer Research Foundation under its president Samir Saran. This year’s participants were of exceptionally high calibre, given that it coincided with the G20 Foreign Minister meeting, which took place in the same venue, New Delhi’s iconic Taj Palace Hotel.
Several foreign ministers stayed on and appeared on conference panels, such as the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Russia’s Sergei Lavrov, Mélanie Joly from Canada and Josep Borrell, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. And, of course, India’s own Foreign Minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
Here are my three key takeaways from the conference.
The country’s political and business elite is acutely aware of its new heft as the soon-to-be largest country in the world. Solid economic growth (predicted to be the highest this year among major economies) and a pivotal geostrategic role in the Indo-Pacific make India a new heavyweight on the international scene. A steady influx of visiting heads of government and senior ministers in the past couple of months was a testimony to that. The fact that India chairs the G20 this year only adds to this impression. When arriving in Delhi, it’s impossible to ignore it. The entire city is plastered with G20 posters.
There was a lot of talk about the divide between “the West and the Rest” or between developed countries and those in the “Global South”. While things are more complex and not black and white, it was notable that many countries outside established and developed democracies see things differently. Either they do not care much about the war and the outcome (other than being annoyed by secondary effects, such as surging food prices), or they even think Russia may have a point.
This was obvious in a special session featuring Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. What struck me was not the half hour of unhinged propaganda and blatant lies but the fact that a significant part of the audience was sympathetic towards him, applauding some of his comments (such as when he decried alleged Western hypocrisy) and laughing about his quips.
Although hardly anyone from China attended, China was present in almost all conversations in one way or another. India and China are long-time adversaries and the rising tensions between China and the West were much discussed. A session on the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between the United States, Australia, India and Japan, commonly known as the Quad, featured the foreign ministers of all four countries. Plenty of top-level military officers appeared on panels, including the Australian Chief of Defense Force General Angus J. Campbell, his Indian counterpart General Anil Chauhan and Admiral John C. Aquilino, the Commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command.
Contrary to the war in Ukraine, when it comes to China, Western countries and India are much more aligned, which could lead to the conclusion that the relationship is like a Facebook status – “it’s complicated”.
The motto of this year’s Raisina Dialogue was “Provocation, Uncertainty, Turbulence – A Lighthouse in the Tempest?” Although the organisers wisely added a question mark, one thing is clear: India’s importance in the world will continue to rise, and with it, the significance of a dialogue such as the Raisina Dialogue. Congratulations to Samir Saran and his team. I gained a lot of new insights and will certainly be back!