With the US ceding its global leadership role under Trump, the incoming Biden administration will face an uphill task putting his house in order. In the midst of this, Modi’s proactive leadership on climate change, vaccine diplomacy offers hope of an alternative, collective leadership emerging in the new world order.
The ugly and chaotic scenes – of US President Donald Trump’s supporters laying siege on the US Capitol, the unprecedented violence in the sanctum sanctorum of US democracy and the shameless incitement by a sitting US chief executive – on January 6 bear an eery resemblance to a historical event that took place almost to the day 2,070 years ago.
That day, on January 10, 49 BC, an ambitious Roman politician, Julius Caesar, crossed the River Rubicon and set in motion a chain of events that brought the great Roman republic to an end a little more than three decades later.
Since that day, the term “crossing the Rubicon” has come to mean a point of no return. Hopefully, the US has not yet reached that point in its embrace of democracy and the leadership of the free world, but the outgoing President’s brazen attempts to delegitimise and illegally overturn the will of the US people, as expressed in the recently concluded Presidential elections, will almost certainly undermine the new Joe Biden administration’s attempts to uphold the values of freedom and democracy in a world order that is increasingly coming under challenge from a rising autocratic hegemon.
From UN reforms, to the way the World Health Organization (WHO) is run, to the Paris Climate Accord, to trade deals with allies and rivals alike, to the nuclear deal with Iran and more – Trump took a wrecking ball to all of them, leaving the existing world order in a much more precarious place than it was four years ago when he took up residence at the White House.
So much so that even staunch Trump loyalists and political allies are fed up. Senate Majority Leader and ranking Republican Mitch McConnell, considered a close associate of the US President till now, condemned Trump on the floor of the House in no uncertain terms. Attempts by the President to overturn the will of the people, he said, “would damage our republic forever”.
Lindsey Graham, Senator from South Carolina, who played golf with the President as recently as Christmas Day, said in disgust: ““All I can say is, count me out. Enough is enough.”
Thankfully, the insurrection was short lived, but it did seem to reinforce the notion in many minds that something is seriously wrong with democracy in the US – and that its liberal democratic values could be in terminal decline.
President-elect Joe Biden faces a monumental task of reuniting a deeply divided America and restoring the US’s leadership of the free world. The wounds opened by Trump will take time to heal.
Expectedly, world leaders reacted in shock at this attack on the world’s oldest democracy. The time may have come for a collective of democracies to provide a shared leadership and new vision for the emerging world order as authoritarian regimes around the world gloat over this incident and use it to showcase the “superiority” of their system over the liberal democratic order.
This is where India, under the proactive leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi can carve out a bigger global role for itself.
The world is facing major challenges – on fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, combating climate change, countering terrorism, dealing with the rise of China, putting in place an alternative supply chain that reduces the world’s dependence on one country, trade, the outreach to Africa and a lot more.
Modi has shown the world the way on each of these issues. His management of the Covid pandemic in India has been exemplary; his vaccine diplomacy and the offer to share Indian expertise in this field with the world has given hope to citizens of neighbouring nations such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and others as well as countries in Africa and South America. Contrast this to the hoarding of vaccines by many developed countries and it becomes clear which country is leading the global fight against this invisible but deadly enemy.
Then, on climate change, India is likely to be the only large country that will not only meet, but also exceed its targets under the Paris Climate Accord. The International Solar Alliance (ISA) and the ambitious renewable energy targets India has set for itself have established the country as a global leader in this field.
Modi has also ensured that India is a frontline state on each of the other major issues confronting the world.
In his play Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare wrote: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune.” Management gurus tell us that every challenge also brings many opportunities in its wake.
The troubled state of the world at this juncture and the crying need for a globally acceptable leader could be that “tide” that can provides Modi the opportunity to position India as one of the leaders of the emerging global order.
The world is waiting and watching.