In his first trip abroad during his third term as prime minister, Narendra Modi will attend the summit of the leading Western nations — the so-called Group of Seven — in Fasano, Italy. A significant improvement in the relations with the US and Europe is one of the most important legacies of Modi’s first 10 years in office. The PM will now have a chance to reconnect and reboot the relations with the leaders of the West at the meeting of the G7 which is marking its 50th anniversary this year.

The G7 summit will also showcase the growing conflict between the West on the one hand and the Sino-Russian alliance on the other. This presents major new opportunities as well as challenges to Indian diplomacy. Early next month, Modi will travel to Kazakhstan to join the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. He will look to engage with the Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Managing India’s conflict with China and its cooperation with Russia while expanding ties with the West is likely to test Indian diplomacy in the coming weeks and months amid the escalation of the conflict in Ukraine and mounting military tensions between Beijing and its neighbors in the Western Pacific. India, which has been a regular invitee to the G7 gatherings in the last few years, has a stake in developing deeper collaboration with the institutions of the so-called “collective West”. As it confronts more demanding challenges on several global fronts, it is in the interest of the West to draw India into the structures of global governance driven by the G7.

Hosted by the Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who has developed a Great political rapport with Modi and has pushed for a transformation of Italy’s ties with India, this G7 summit provides the best forum for rebooting India’s diplomacy in the PM’s third term. Within a brief period, Meloni has emerged as one of the influential leaders of Europe and her political stock has risen with the recent success of her party in the polls to the European Parliament.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomes Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the Bharat Mandapam on Saturday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcoming Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the Bharat Mandapam.

Modi’s interlocutors in the democratic West appreciate the successful conclusion of the massive Indian electoral exercise and the salience of Modi’s re-election after two terms. In a paradox, Modi’s reduced mandate has helped take the bite out of the arguments in the West about India’s democratic decay. The majesty of the Indian voter has helped highlight, once again, the strong self-corrective mechanisms in Indian democracy.

Festive offer

It is not that the West does not dance with non-democracies or authoritarian states. America’s longstanding relationships with the Pakistan army and the Chinese Communist Party provide compelling evidence to the contrary. The current Western strategic-economic and geopolitical interest in India would have endured whether Modi won (by whatever margin) or lost. But the return of competitive politics in India and the reaffirmation of its democracy and diversity lends important if intangible reinforcement of the growing structural convergence of Indian and Western interests.

Italy’s decision to focus on the G7’s engagement with Africa and the Mediterranean at the Fasano summit also creates the basis for a more imaginative regional engagement between Delhi and Rome as well as India and the G7. The connections between Mediterranean Europe and India’s extended neighborhood in Arabia and Africa have now come into Delhi’s policy focus.

Italy is also keen to restructure the relationship between the G7 and the Global South — that is also a major priority for India. Meloni has invited several leaders from the non-Western world, including the leaders of Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Modi will have a chance to touch base with many familiar leaders among them and make acquaintance with new ones.

In Italy, Modi will have a chance to meet again with Pope Francis who has been invited to join the outreach sessions of the G7 summit. This is the first time that the Pope is joining the discussions at G7. The PM met the Pope during his visit to Rome to attend the G20 summit in 2021.

The Pope is expected to intervene in the session on artificial intelligence which is high on the G7’s global governance agenda. In an important contribution to the debate on the accelerated use of artificial intelligence, the Pontiff had issued the “Rome Call for AI ethics” in 2020. India has been an active participant in the debate on the global regulation of AI.

India will also have much interest in the discussion on food and energy security, a major item on the G7 agenda in Italy. India has flagged both issues in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. As a major consumer of energy and a leading producer of wheat, India can shape the arguments in both domains. Migration is another issue at the top of Western concerns and India, as a major source of migrants, will have contributions to make. Delhi also brings a unique perspective that emphasizes curbing illegal immigration and easing the flow of talent across borders.

The discussion on issues of global governance at the G7 is likely to be overshadowed, however, by the effort to rally the West to defend Ukraine against Russia and counter the economic challenges presented by China. PM Modi is not attending the Ukraine peace conference in Switzerland that takes place soon after the G7 summit. But Delhi will find it hard to duck the consequences of the escalating conflict in Europe. It is no secret that there are faultlines between the Western chancelleries on how to deal with Russia and China. These divergences are in turn sharpened by deepening political divisions within each of the major Western states.

As great power conflict throws the world into dangerous disarray, the next few weeks will provide Modi and his advisers an opportunity to engage all the major actors, assess the competing imperatives among them, and think through Indian strategy and tactics in navigating the new dynamics. Unlike in the Cold War in the 20th century, India is now stronger and better placed to engage and shape the outcomes in the unfolding economic, political, and technological storms unleashed by great power conflict. The world, in turn, expects pro-active Indian diplomacy on the great global issues of the day.

The writer is a visiting professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, and a contributing editor on international affairs for The Indian Express