A flood of media reports is pouring out of Durban, South Africa, where the BRICS is holding its 5th summit. Much of the western reportage is very angry, borne out of a deep sense of frustration and anguish — and some downright hostile and angry — that an infant that had to be stifled right their at birth or in the cradle is out there in the open playing and laughing, growing into adolescence and nothing probably could be done about it now.
It has become impossible to ignore the BRICS when in another two years from now, its economies will be as big as the Unite States’ and it already has become, as China Daily commented editorially today, “an indispensable force propelling the global economic recovery,” and an “organization becoming increasingly articulate in international affairs in recent years.”
But amidst all this avalanche of world media coverage, it is virtually impossible to spot India’s presence in Durban except if one were to lap up the faithful reporting by the media party accompanying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Is India’s participation in the Durban summit reduced to a media project to burnish the image of the UPA government and PM? It seems so.
Consider the following. On the sidelines of the Durban summit, BRICS countries engaged each other in big business deals. Thus, Brazil and China have signed a $30 billion currency swap agreement, an MOU on Bilateral Cooperation in Macro-Economic, Fiscal and Financial Policies.
South Africa and China have signed a raft of agreements, including the construction of a world-class oil refinery and upgrading the country’s rail and port networks. China Petropeum and Chemical Corporation [Sinopec] and South Africa’s oil company PetroSA will build a state-of-the-art oil refinery near Port Elizabeth; China Development Bank will fund the South African railway for modernization, which the latter has described as a “historic agreement” without divulging how many billions of dollars are involved. (Bloomberg reports that it is a $5 billion “financial and non-financial assistance” to support Transnet SOC Ltd, South Africa’s state-owned ports and rail operator.)
Of course, en route to Durban, China and Russia had earlier signed some massive deals of their own during the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow, but that is a story in itself.
Besides, Russia also signed a slew of agreements with South Africa, which includes, interestingly, the setting up of an accredited African facility to maintain and service all Russian helicopters sold to South Africa and other African countries (some 600 in all so far), military and civilian. The two countries have decided to push ahead the joint production of a light, multi-purpose aircraft. They also signed agreements relating to nuclear technology and on solar panel factories.
But, where is India? Where are the big guys accompanying PM? Gone looking for lions in the African safari? Playing golf? Snorkelling? We won’t know. Alas, this is no way to plan or execute a prime ministerial visit.
South Block has a whole Africa Division. Alright, PM may not want to combine the Durban trip with visits to any other countries in the region because of the Himalayan preoccupations at home with the DMK and the SP and the Trinamool and the AIDMK and the NCP and the JD(U) harassing him day and night – Xi is visiting Tanzania and Congo — but at least this visit should have been used to add some substance and content to the bilateral economic ties with South Africa.
As the country hosting the BRICS summit, South Africa is in a jolly mood while showcasing its stature, and this was as good a time as any to have pushed through at least a couple of big business deals.
India’s BRICS diplomacy is somehow unable to connect the dots, as the Chinese do with masterly drive and imagination.
And India increasingly looks the odd man within the BRICS tent. Even with regard to the BRICS development bank, Finance Minister P Chidambaram seems more keen to invite western equity participation than to get the bank going as an exclusive BRICS enterprise — when the raison d’etre of the bank is so very patently obvious.
The fundamental malaise with India’s BRICS diplomacy is that our political elites are still caught up in their ‘unipolar predicament’ while the rest of BRICS faces no such crisis of identity.
– March 27, 2013