Over a period of 48 hours, India hosted leaders of the five-nation BRICS as well as the seven-nation BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), which together represent two-thirds of humanity and more than a quarter of the world’s growth. While BIMSTEC has geographical moorings, BRICS is a unique organisation of countries that came together in 2006 not because of geography, history or wealth, but because of their promise as key “emerging economies”. While the promise has faded, their ability to grab the world’s attention and challenge the “old order” is still unmatched, as Russia, India, China, Brazil and South Africa remain leaders in their respective regions. What they say on financial systems, development initiatives, sharing of resources like water, oil, precious minerals and land, as well as battling climate change and poverty has a wide-ranging impact. It is, therefore, unfortunate that the outcome of the BRICS summit and the outreach to BIMSTEC countries has been popularly condensed into what they had to say on a single issue: terrorism, with only a few paragraphs out of the 109-para Goa Declaration dominating the discourse. The domestic context is partially responsible. Even before the Uri attack, New Delhi had embarked on a diplomatic mission to “isolate Pakistan” by raising the issue of terrorism emanating from its soil at international fora — the campaign escalated after the deaths at the Uri Army camp. As a result, India’s interventions at the G-20 summit in China, the ASEAN summits in Laos, the UN General Assembly, the Non-Aligned Movement meet in Venezuela, and elsewhere resounded with outrage with Pakistan’s continued cross-border adventurism.
Given this success, New Delhi would have done better to bring the spotlight in Goa back to its own declared goals of building economies and bringing prosperity in the region. A united message to the rich world on a more equitable distribution of global resources, deployment of the New Development Bank and climate change was in order. However, in his speech on the outcomes of the BRICS deliberations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose to anchor his remarks on concerns about cross-border terrorism that weren’t entirely reflected in the final Goa Declaration. Officials may well explain it away as a lack of consensus in the grouping, suggesting that China influenced the moderation of the eventual text. However, the single-issue focus also reflects a failure on the part of the Centre in forging a larger, more broad-based narrative to match the scale of the gathering hosted in Goa.