The immensity, expanse and complexity of COVID -19 exposed global interdependency, crumbling political alliances, and deep-rooted unease in geo-political relationships. Amidst the chaos and panic, what stood out clearly was that after a long time, the world faced a common threat. A dark outlook, darker for some, but nevertheless gloomy, grey skies, world over. As world trade is expected to fall by 13 per cent to 32 per cent in 2020, the precise economic and social costs of the darkness is yet to be known.
Swelling bills, has compelled governments across the world to strengthen the identity to the State setting the stage for a power negotiation. Almost all countries resorted to the first port-of-call, isolationism. The current situation has also exposed the fragility of an already fractured international cooperation mandate and the frailty of the strings that wove us together.
While the Global South drew much praise for its models of prevention, as the number of COVID-19 cases spike, many will argue that there indeed was no global south exceptionalism as it was predicted early on. May be the South was only weeks behind. Many have attributed the delay only to the actual (in)ability of many countries in the South to test their population for the virus. That given, it is now beyond doubt that the management crisis of every country of the world stands unmasked. What lays exposed is that the contemporary world order was preparing only to counter a political and military crisis. This has somewhat revealed global unpreparedness, lack of foresight, corroding the unsaid influence of the West, where power is concentrated and also has made it ever more so urgent for countries to remain diversely invested.
A new eco-political world order that will be based on sustainability, human development, gender equality and climate preservation, is now almost predictable and necessary. As suggested by an article in Business Today, the focus from institutions to ecopolitical ethos will be also be an inevitable shift in the post COVID-19 world.
As the Gandhian land of Sarvodaya and the exporter of soft power to its neighbors, it is now time for India to take the seat in the South. India’s leadership in proposing the setting up of a common electronic platform for all SAARC nations to share expertise and best practices in jointly combatting the coronavirus pandemic, is a leap in that trajectory. As most newspapers carried the news with special attention to ‘an India initiated video-conference of SAARC leaders’ the posture was effectively communicated. Drawing praise from the Australian and the British Premier, the Honorable Prime Minister’s effort to link G20 countries furthers the show of strength and establishes command. This will whoever need India to showcase ambition beyond being a USD 5 trillion economy, to being the voice that shotputs the growth discourse to beyond GDP as a metric. This will require India to dig deeper into its reserves of skills, ancient knowledge, local wisdom, and strengths.
India’s new found position should be based on her sharpened ability to not only deal with high-end security issues but reflective of the country’s actual experience of managing non-traditional, non-military security threats such as climate change, natural disasters, infectious diseases, trafficking, among others. The richness and diversity of Indian states in dealing with these effectively will be resume building in India’s lobby for the seat. This will however require more inclusive politics at the Center, politics that rewards and scales such models and exports it to the world. Given the resurgence of the State in dictating order, this model of decentralizing and inclusion will need to be intentional. This will be the true employment of the Gandhian political order of Sarvodya, encompassing Swaraj, Panchayat Raj, and Decentralization.
As a microscopic virus places the world at its lowest ebb, it is both an opportunity for India to emerge and establish herself as the Lighthouse of the South, negotiate its seat at the larger table, as home to the largest democracy. A force, a people that will be center to the world achieving its goals of being a sustainable, better, where gains made are irreversible.
(Nishtha Satyam was appointed as the Deputy Country Representative for UN Women, the entity of the United Nations that is dedicated to working towards Gender Equality and Woman’s Empowerment, in India in January 2018. She formerly managed Strategic Partnerships, Policy Impact and Public Relations for the UN Women Multi Country Office for India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka. Nishtha has also served as the Private Sector Partnerships Specialist with the Office of the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations and UNDP).