At the high table: On the Raisina Dialogue  

The Raisina Dialogue lacked diversity in conversations on foreign policy 

February 26, 2024 12:20 am | Updated 11:36 am IST

At the ninth edition of the annual Raisina Dialogue, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar called India a “bridging power”, a country seeking common ground through a “multi-vector” policy, and playing the role of a “Vishwamitra” or friend of the world. Such lofty ambitions are why the conference, launched by the Ministry of External Affairs, aims to engage global leaders on the big issues and challenges in the world. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who inaugurated the event, spoke about the importance of connectivity projects such as the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor. Global governance, the inequality at the top of the UN Security Council and the need for reform were discussed. India’s rightful place at the high table of global decision-making, or as Mr. Jaishankar put it, “to be a player, rather than a playing field”, was referred to repeatedly, as was India’s success in hosting the G-20 last year. Due to the G-20 Foreign Ministers Meeting in Brazil, there was no senior ministerial presence from the P-5 or the major G-7 or BRICS-10 countries. However, the large ministerial contingent from Central and Eastern Europe, which included all Ministers of the Baltic-Nordic forum, enabled a new diplomatic outreach for the government that is seeking trade agreements and investment ties with this part of Europe that is oft-overlooked but competitive, economically.

The greater part of the conversations, however, focused on global conflicts, with the heavy presence of the European dignitaries turning the spotlight on the Russian war in Ukraine, and panels on military and naval strategy concentrating on the need to handle an aggressive China. Unfortunately, these conversations did not strive for balance, as neither Russia nor China was invited. There was minimal presence from South East Asia, Latin America, and even South Asia (excepting Nepal and Bhutan); a larger presence may have offered more variegated positions and thrown light on the pressures they face from these conflicts. Panels on democracy understandably steered clear of the vibrant debates within India on the decline of freedoms, but the lack of non-governmental civil society organisations in the discourse produced a narrow view of the challenges that democracy faces worldwide. Notably absent were conversations focusing on the Israeli war in Gaza. Such omissions not only mean a lack of diversity in conversations at India’s premier forum for foreign policy thinking but they also take something away from Mr. Jaishankar’s otherwise sound observation that the Raisina Dialogue has become the “Made in India” version of the “Global Public Square”.

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