The year 2023 began with a momentous feat – India assuming the presidency of the world’s most powerful and coveted grouping G20, which will continue till December 2023. India took the mantle from Indonesia, which hosted the last G20 summit in Bali. India’s presidency of G20 is momentous for a multitude of reasons, but the most important is, perhaps, India being the voice of the ‘global south’ for a long time. The Global South terminology has been around since the days of the cold war period when bipolar alliance politics was the standard mode of international activity. However, the spread and the stupendous success of globalisation have thrown an interesting question – is the concept of the global south even relevant today?
Global South historically refers to the post-colonial, developing, or underdeveloped countries, which had won their independence from the colonial powers and were striving to develop themselves on their own terms, rather than follow any particular developmental paradigm. The Global South concept has been typically associated with the notion of non-alignment, in the process it harks back to the days of the early days of non-alignment that was pioneered by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his compatriots in other developing countries such as Indonesia, former Yugoslavia etc.
Global South’s concept is based on the notion that the developed countries of the West, particularly the western European countries, colonised the nation-states of Asia, Africa & Latin America and were responsible for their historically handicapped position and their current economic pauperisation. The concept has a moralistic underpinning in that the West, therefore, owes them either reparations or resources to help them grow, with neo-colonising them in accordance with the whims and fancies of the modernisation theory.
A new idea of the global south is that since the West was the first to industrialise through the industrial revolution in the 18th century, they are responsible for climate change and damaging the environment beyond repair. Therefore, it is the West that must do the heavy lifting in terms of protection of the environment. A key provision is the technology transfer for the development of green energy and the common but differentiated responsibility principle outlined in the Paris Accord of 20151.
The concept of the Global South remained in vogue largely till the 1980s, but once communism in Eastern Europe collapsed in 1989, followed by the disappearance of the Soviet Union in history in 1991, the concept was largely forgotten. Realists argue that the concept of global south2 is far more irrelevant than the Third World idea.
They argue that there never existed any global south, the world was divided, during and after the period of the cold war into ideological lines, the so-called global south themselves were a part of this ideological iron curtain, even those who professed their so-called non-aligned stance.
They argue that the economic logic of being global south is irrelevant because, in the aftermath of the cold war period, capitalism reigned supreme and the different countries of the world oriented themselves to free market economies, so there isn’t any global south.
Notwithstanding the controversy, there isn’t any doubt that the notion of the global south will continue to remain relevant. India’s success story from a country where poverty was the norm in 1947 to become the fifth largest economy in the world and at the height of the pandemic, India sending help3 in the form of vaccines, anti-pandemic medical kits and other equipment to the developing world is a testimony to India’s leadership of the global south and the relevance of the global south.
Further, the global imbalance in the distribution of economic resources and the vociferous calls to renegotiate the terms of the agreement highlight the importance that the concept of the global south carries, this is felt by C Raja Mohan4 who argues that India must continue to be the champion of the global south bloc’s causes and aspirations.
Therefore, the concept of the global south is highly important to remind the global haves that they owe historical responsibility to the other underprivileged sections of humanity to help them grow and attain the standards of living that are prevalent in their countries.
–The writer is currently working as a Research Associate at Defence Research and Studies (dras.in) and is a columnist. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda