SEVEN years after its inception, the Group of 15 seems to have made little headway. The fact could not have been more apparent in the recently concluded summit at Kuala Lumpur. Regional issues took precedence over global ones, with the currency crisis dominating most of the three-day parleys. And though attempts were made to discuss the widening of the West Asian link and holding not one, but two meetings next year—in Cairo and in Jamaica—the moves scarcely made up for the lack of progress the G-15 has made since it began.
In this rudderless scenario, if anyone could have come to the G-15's rescue, it was India. But since it was Vice-President Krishna Kant, and not Prime Minister I.K Gujral, who attended the summit, that opportunity was lost. Gujral was absent even from the earlier ASEAN summit, but finance minister P. Chidambaram, with his clear and no-nonsense enunciation of the Indian position, proved a very able deputy. But given his constitutional position, Krishna Kant obviously couldn't make any definitive policy statements. And Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed's preoccupation with the currency convulsions ensured that scheduled discussions on issues like poverty alleviation programmes, cross-border terrorism and access to high technology were put on the backburner.
Says one Malaysian observer: "The G-15 has lost its way. It began with good intentions, based on the solid need to represent the emerging economic powers within the Third World to interact with the G-7 industrialised nations." Instead, the insistence on a fair geographical criterion, feels one Indonesian official, has diluted the strength of the G-15 in that its representatives fail to represent the true economic might of the Third World. Asian tiger Singapore has been squarely left out. And though there was some consternation about changing the G-15 name after Kenya was included formally, Venezuela's absence this year helped retain the magic number. Hopes were then pinned on India, South Africa and Argentina, but neither Argentina nor India have been adequately represented and South America seemed more interested in the Iberian Summit. The disenchantment, in fact, was apparent even in 1994 when the proposed summit in New Delhi was postponed due to a lack of suitable quorum.
The latest conference too confirmed opinions that the G-15 had become an annual tamasha, with fewer heads of state attending it. Originally, the G-15 meetings, like the G-7 summits, were to have been attended only by heads of government. It was that which brought about much bad blood between G-15 and India a few years back, when the then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao had to rush back without leaving a stand-in for subsequent discussions. The rule that G-15 meetings were to be in the second half of November, agreed to in principle but not enforced, has been flouted every year since it was made. Having more frequent meetings will not revitalise the summits. Especially since it has yet to establish a link with the G-7, and since leaders merely mouth words without following them with suitable action.
The G-15 clearly needs to be cold-blooded about its business, a quality that has been lacking in its efforts so far. From the lack of a quorum in New Delhi in 1994 to Venezuela staying away altogether this year, the G-15 seems to be a poor match for the G-7. But, as officials in several countries insist, all is not lost if the group can get its act together. And concentrate on global issues rather than regional ones. Only then will it become a worthwhile avenue for collective concerns to be addressed to the industrialised world.
Little of interest was discussed in the Kuala Lumpur summit because the key players stayed away. With inadequate representation, the decisions reached in this summit did not have the imprimatur of unanimity on matters affecting the industrialising nations of the Third World, nor did it, after seven years, go a step further in becoming the spokesman of their group in the world. Its ideological framework was hijacked by self-interest—including that of the host country's premier—without replacing it with another workable format.
In India's case, the prime minister was to have come with an entourage that included more than 60 reporters. But the ones who did go, reported nothing more than the narrow Indian viewpoint. And India was not alone in this. Basically, nearly every nation used the summit to strengthen local political reputations rather than looking at ways of reforming the world. That, indeed, was a pity.
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