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Delhi’s Vulnerable Hit

Dr Prakash Louis Dr Prakash Louis
18 Sep 2023

“G20 Summit 2023: Slums & Construction Sites Curtained, Dogs Captured In Delhi Ahead Of Dignitaries’ Visit”. “We have been made to vanish: Hidden by screens, Delhi’s poor feel pinch of G20 curbs”. “They are ashamed of us”. “In India, Modi makes New Delhi's poverty temporarily disappear for the G20 summit”. “India’s Poor Paid for G20 with Homes and Livelihoods Halted”. “India forges a new model of inclusive diplomacy”. “Modi cemented his leadership of the Global South, while Xi contained himself”. These are some of the titles of news items in mainline media. G 20 Summit came and went away. Now we have to wait and see what impact it has left behind on India and Indians.  

It was reported that India had set, “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” or “One Earth – One Family” as the theme for its G20 Presidency, rightly aiming to instil a sense of unanimity essential for addressing these global challenges collectively and effectively. Prime Minister Narendra Modi further envisions India’s G20 agenda to be “inclusive, ambitious, action-oriented, and decisive.” India’s successes and experiences are critical to tailoring global solutions. Further it was reported India’s G20 Presidency this year presents an exceptional opportunity for the country to spearhead a collective approach to tackle multiple, complex, and interconnected challenges, while placing, front and center, the aspirations and needs of the developing world.

The COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain disruptions, climate change, food and energy security risks, geopolitical tensions, inflation, and a looming debt crisis all contribute to economic slowdown and uncertainty in global economic growth.

It is significant to review the relevance of G20 as started by some academics: The G20, formed in 1999, is a group of 20 of the world's largest economies that meet regularly to coordinate global policy on trade, health, climate, and other issues. Previous summits have addressed the COVID-19 pandemic, 2008 financial crisis, the Iranian nuclear program, and the Syrian civil war.

The Previous G20 held in Bali’s Nusa Dua resort had as its motto “Recover Together, Recover Stronger”. Those present there focused on recovering from the pandemic as a major issue despite geopolitical tensions overshadowing the summit. The leaders engaged in discussions over three sessions: on Food and Energy security, Health Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, and Digital Transformation. In addition, to highlight the concerns over climate change issues. G20 is supposed to represent 66% of the world population, who are mostly poor and marginalised. 

Academics who are analysing the objective of G20 being held in India point to the following: India has identified a wide array of cutting-edge priorities that are being deliberated by various G20 working groups, to help address the key challenges we face and to plan for a better future. Three agendas are foremost. The first agenda relates to financing tomorrow’s cities and establishing them as the foremost engines of economic growth. While cities generate over 80% of global gross domestic product, unplanned and rapid urbanization constrain their economic potential. It is estimated that by 2050, nearly twice as many people will live in cities. To sustain their economic potential, cities need to become more liveable through upgraded infrastructure and services, such as reliable water, transport, power, waste management, and affordable housing.

The second agenda where India can lead the way is in energy transition. Enabling an orderly and just transition from carbon-intensive energy to renewable energy would not only help combat climate change, but also help bolster energy security, raise economic productivity and create jobs, improve environmental outcomes, and prune health costs. In other words, decarbonization is development.

The third agenda relates to health care. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the compelling need for a united global approach to fortify health systems to effectively address emerging health crises. India’s G20 Presidency is a medium of change towards more resilient, responsive, and sustainable health systems and to advance previously established G20 pandemic preparedness efforts. These experts went on to state that India can lend its expertise in framing successful digital health interventions such as CoWIN and National Digital Health Mission. 

Let us look at the other side of the fence. Le Monde of France on its 7th September edition pointed out that, “The Prime Minister has spared no expense to beautify the Indian capital, in an attempt to meet the standards of the G20, whose leaders are meeting on September 9 and 10. For several weeks now, a surreal atmosphere has prevailed in Delhi. Every day, the Indian capital looks slightly different from the day before. Hundreds of thousands of plants have sprouted along the roadsides, walls have been freshly painted, road tunnels adorned with murals and traffic circles decorated with new fountains and statues of lions and elephants. Lawns are freshly mowed and cleared of debris. The city, once hostile to pedestrians, is now equipped with sidewalks, even bicycle paths and street lamps. Giant foggers crisscross the roads, spraying water to settle airborne dust. In a sense, the city is unrecognizable. The city, usually chaotic and congested, is now as clean as a Swiss village. Of course, the beautification efforts don't cover the whole of this metropolis of 25 million inhabitants, which stretches for almost 50 kilometers”. 

As reported in The Guardian on 8th September, ‘the vulnerable people of India who are forced to live in the slums of Delhi were made to disappear both physically and mentally. These people felt that their dignity has been violated since they are considered to be a blot and hidden from the eyes of the delegates coming for G20.’ They also suffered by this ‘hiding’ since they are not allowed to venture out to earn their living. Some of them were shifted to the outskirts of Delhi to make shift tents without any facilities. They lost their livelihood too. This regime has driven home the message that the vulnerable do not even have the right to live, except for electoral democracy. 

It is even more deplorable to see that a regime which constantly tried to do away with the very memory and ideals of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, now was resurrected to project a picture of respecting Gandhiji. But once again, it appears from all the body language that Narendra Modi wanted only a photo session so that he can use this both domestically and internationally for electoral gain. It is deplorable also that this regime glorifies Nathuram Godse as a freedom fighter within India but for the world projects a false picture. 

A glance at the budget allotted and spent would reveal the priorities of this government. It is reported in the Mint on 12th September that the Modi government spent Rs. 4,100 crores for this event which was much higher than the budget that was made to the tune of Rs. 990. One is that the amount budgeted has not been adhered to. The second factor is where would this money be covered from? Third, why was this money spent and what is the benefit of this to the citizens of this country? Fourth, the life of the vulnerable would be further made difficult since this amount as usually done would be taken from some welfare budget like MNREGA, Special Component Plan for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribe Sub-Plan, etc. 

Political analysts are of the view that it is neither India nor Bharat it is only the need of Modi to project himself as ‘Vishwaguru’ so that he reaps electoral gains here in India and gets a face lift globally since wherever he goes there have been protests and slogans “Go Modi, Go”. It is reported that over 200 cut outs of Modi is on display in Delhi. Further, security guards are placed to protect these ‘decorations’. It is the poor who paid for the image makeover of Modi. Newsclick presented this stark reality powerfully. “Most of Delhi’s poor residents -- over 49 lakh people, according to a 2022 estimate --  work in the informal sector. They rely on daily wages to support themselves and their families. Any disruption in normal economic activities results in a substantial loss of income, making it difficult for families to meet basic needs”. 

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