Shaping the BRICS Agenda for Tomorrow: A Perspective from India


BRICS Flags waving against blue clear sky

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The future of BRICS?

A group set up initially to voice the concerns of some of the fastest-growing economies in the world – BRICS has undergone a metamorphosis over the years. Set up by developing countries clocking high economic growth rates, the forum meant to give a voice to these countries has not been able to make the dent it thought it would. With only India and China achieving remarkable economic growth compared to some of the other peers, the group has found it tough to assert itself on the global stage.

A new India, one that found its feet post-liberalisation is now having more of a say at the global stage. With a new world order seeing players like China trying to be more assertive on the global stage, the West is increasingly having to look at players like India to counter Chinese growth and become the voice of the global South. Also, countries that have found themselves being let down by the West and are angry with Beijing’s arm-twisting vis-a-vis loans with huge hidden interest rates are increasingly looking at India for support.

What has also become increasingly clear is that there are no permanent friends or enemies in a polarised world and countries are now willing to be part of groups like the BRICS to get more say at the global stage.

India, like many of its counterparts in the developing world, has had its frustrations with the West and has been able to voice its thoughts using forums like BRICS. This forum works well for India. First, it allows New Delhi to keep its old friends like Russia happy and, second, continue a working relationship with countries like China, with whom it hasn't seen the best of times.

There is a growing belief in the establishment that in a multipolar and uncertain world, India has to secure its interests and cannot be overly dependent on the West for meeting these. This is why BRICS is needed.

The Russia-China influence on BRICS

Since the Ukraine war, Russia and China have been trying to gain greater clout on the international forum and have pushed for the expansion of the group to strengthen their position in the group and have a say in international issues, where Russia especially has found itself side-lined.

The recently expanded BRICS brings about a lot of opportunities for both. For Beijing it would mean that it can use the group to create opportunities for itself, considering its economy is slowing down and its relation with the West is at best frosty. The new members who have been incorporated into the group can enable Beijing to use this platform to coordinate its position on global and regional issues. 

But will it be so easy? Not really.  New member states like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE are close US security partners in West Asia. Even though they have differences with Washington, it is unlikely for them to abandon trusted US security guarantees for untested Chinese promises.

What does it mean for India? Most of the new entrees are closely aligned with China’s agenda, which may not work for India. But there are some there with whom India has good relations like the UAE. The current government is trying to push India to be a voice of the Global South, a point it made clear in the G20 meeting held in September last year. For that to happen, India will need to increase its influence in the group. This may force India to revitalise the India-Brazil-South Africa component as a sub-grouping in the BRICS among others.

Can BRICS challenge Western dominance?

The member states have always mentioned the need for greater representation in international bodies like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These institutions give unequal power to the Western countries and majorly influence policies across the world without others having a fair say.

In the past, countries like China, India and Brazil from time to time have said that these institutions should reflect the economic weight and contributions of developing economies. With newer countries being given a seat, BRICS hopes to have more of a say in world affairs and the combined strength of the new entrees with those already in the group is likely to help. But, it is unlikely to offer drastic changes now or in the near future.

It is expected that this new group would offer more of a piecemeal economic and diplomatic alternative to the Western-led global order than to replace it. This will lead to tensions with the West as these leaders would want to chart out an independent path in a world in flux.  For BRICS to remain effective, it will need to manage the different priorities of its member nations, a challenge that will not be easy to address.

 The influence 

With the inclusion of new members, BRICS+ is now the group that represents around 45% of the world’s inhabitants and the member states' economies are worth more than 28% of the world economy. The group is likely to have a major say in energy issues, by combining their interests together and creating a united negotiation that would give it a major say in the international stage.

But is it feasible? With BRICS member states putting greater emphasis on climate change and sustainable development, it would be worth seeing how the agenda is set with new members in the fray.

While similarities exist, a lot of them are also at loggerheads with each other. Egypt and Ethiopia are fighting over Nile waters, and Iran and Saudi Arabia are two regional giants. In spite of the Beijing-brokered peace process, both these countries are fiercely competing against each other in their regions. Most of these countries are regional players - influential in their parts of the world. Bringing those players on board might still offer a unique chance of political or economic developments.