BRICS is an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, five emerging nations that formed an alliance for economic and social development. The commonality between them is that they are all newly industrialised aiming for maximum trade and development.
Together the BRICS accounts for about 40% of the world’s population and about 30% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product), making it a critical economic engine. It’s an emerging investment market and global power bloc. And as the third largest economy in the world, it’s important for India to take its role in the BRICS seriously.
India serves a multifaceted role on the economic, political and social fronts.
India’s role in South Asian trade
The first BRICS summit was held in 2009, in the midst of global recession. Since then, India assumed the role of a trade facilitator in South Asia and Africa owing to its economic strength at that time. In fact, the forum’s analysts called India the best-performing economy in South Asia and an engine of growth in the region.
India has taken several steps to improve trade including proposals for a new inclusive BRICS portal. This is so that the next time any of the BRICS countries tweaks its import or export licences, imposes anti-dumping duties or changes the criteria for product registration, the other members are likely to learn about it instantly. It also pitched for an independent BRICS credit rating agency so that members can compare their ranking with members itself instead of other developed countries.
India also promotes intra-BRICS trade, which means urging member nations to import goods from each other instead of Europe. The idea is that intra-trade provides the flexibility of trading in currencies other than the dollar. For example, India and Brazil could trade in Rupee or Lira, whichever suits the deal. By doing this, countries can strengthen their own currency while weakening the US Dollar.
And when it comes to upping trade and industrial infrastructure, India has contributed over $10 billion to the New Development Bank (the bank of BRICS) to refurbish industrial bases in South Africa and Brazil.
Of course, trade policies and structure is not the only facilitation. The Indian Ocean, being one of the busiest maritime trade routes in the world, is an important region for BRICS. India wants control over this region for two very specific region – first, developing bases in this region would mean faster trade among member nations. And second, the bases will prevent any resources mined here, like the 100 tonnes of natural gas found in 2017, from being taken by other countries like US or Japan. Plus the region is so rumbling with pirates that it’s important to strengthen security here. India intends to join hands with South Africa (since it’s their coastline) to deepen security at shared costs.
India’s role as a growth maker for other BRICS nations
In order for BRICS to flourish, each country must first and foremost, focus on their own economic development. A strong nation will strengthen the BRICS as a whole. And India? It’s like the growth maker of the BRICS.
From 2001 to 2013, the economic output of BRICs nations rose from $3 billion to $15 billion. Investors saw India, China, and Brazil as a sure thing. But all that soon changed. In the past few years, BRICS has been facing a hard time. The increasing sanctions on Russia, China’s stock market crash in 2015, Indian markets’ bear run in 2014, and the ongoing Brazilian economic crisis, all led investments to flow back to the US.
Of all these, only the Indian market bounced back soon enough to overturn the damage. By 2018, India’s growth rate was highest among the BRICS nations and it convinced investors to reinvest in BRICS. Member nations now look up to India as an aid to faster development.
How? To begin with, India invested close to $4 billion in South Africa and started the Global Executive Development Programme to train labour force there. It helped Brazil and South Africa replicate it ‘Digitisation of Education’ initiative by providing technological aid to schools there. It also offered to host trade fairs so that members can learn and share innovation. It wants each country to be independently strong so that the burden of strengthening the BRICS doesn’t fall on one or two nations alone. And for this, it provides a brotherly hand.
India’s role as a big brother
If China is the daddy, India is the big brother.
India is seen as a strong voice at the BRICS and the UN against proposals or actions that could harm any member’s interests. It turned down China’s proposal to invite Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Mexico into the BRICS. Because India believed that focus should be on developing current members rather than inviting other weaker nation. And that bringing in these nations would pull the BRICS down as an alliance and would eventually meet the same fate as the European Union.
Further India hasn’t been very obedient to the UN either when it comes to BRICS. When Russian economy was slipping and the world sought to trade with the US, India didn’t break ties with Russia. Signing a Rs 400 billion deal with Russian defense, External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj stated that, “It is our clear stand that we abide by UN sanctions, not country-specific sanctions. India-Russia trade will continue.”
Like a brother, India means to hold hands and progress together by sharing ideas and technology in each field. In order to make BRICS members more closely integrated, it also intends to set up funds with the New Development Bank for sports training, developing clean energy plants and hosting trade fairs and film festivals.
India as a counterbalance to China
Let’s face it. China totally owns the BRICS.
China is already the premier economic influencer here, which only makes it easier for it to influence the World Bank. With such power, it can secure political clout to pass projects, which would’ve otherwise been rejected, like the development of the new Silk Road. The purpose of the World Bank is to ensure weaker countries develop faster and reduce their reliance on foreign aid. But the Silk Road refutes this purpose to make China even more economically dominant. The Road will lead to faster spread of terrorism and thwart local business in the countries it passes, due to ease of international trade. These countries will also have to bear the cost of security on the Road, to prevent thefts. This is an added expense for already weaker economies like Afghanistan and Egypt.
India realises this danger and has thus been adamant against the OBOR (one belt, one road) project. Time and again it has made it clear in international forums that the OBOR will threaten development than promote it. In 2018, it skipped China’s Silk Road forum as a gesture of disagreement. Then India and US together announced a plan to construct its own Silk Road, building a highway to Thailand and proposed another north-south corridor with Russia. All of this to counter China’s OBOR initiative.
Another such counterbalancing incident arose when starting the New Development Bank. China urged that each country’s share in the bank should depend on their economic strength. Clearly, more share meant more control for China. India rejected this claim too, demanding an equal share for all five members so that they each had a say in the BRICS summits.
India has also repeatedly used the BRICS to stall several Chinese actions that would have culminated in war. In fact, a week before the 2017 BRICS summit, China withdrew its forces from Dokhlam due to fears of pressure from other member nations. The same thing happened in 2014 too during the LAC border standoff. India used the BRICs card to maintain peace, another role that it happily serves.
India’s role as peacekeeper
India needs the BRICS to be stable for trade to flourish, which is also why; peacekeeping in trade regions like the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Indian Ocean is vital. We’ve been helping Tibetans fight for freedom and providing aid and refuge to the Rohingyas. Under ‘Operation Insaniyat’, India provided a total of 7000 tonnes of relief material to the refugees in Bangladesh. And as a part of the UN’s missions, India has sent over 100,000 troops to Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan to fight internal disruption. Why?
Because troops in Africa means favourable terms with South Africa. Helping Tibet and Myanmar means reducing China’s influence in the region. Protecting Afghanistan means more defense deals with Russia. And maritime security means faster trade for all BRICS members. India’s role in peacekeeping is three-fold – BRICS stability, stronger relations and the lesser valued, world peace.
In the end, it’s a cycle of power and money. Neither roles can be fulfilled independently. India needs political clout to be an economic influencer, it needs trade influence to counter China and it has to surpass China to assume the big daddy role.