India is going to host the 8th BRICS Summit in Goa on October 15-16, 2016 as part of India’s chairmanship of BRICS this year. BRICS is the acronyms of its member nations: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, all of which are fast growing developing economies. The formation came to existence in 2009 but South Africa was taken as member in 2010. In BRICS summits, the heads of state or heads of government e.g. Presidents and Prime Ministers of the partner countries participate.
How important is BRICS for India? In the 7th summit of BRICS in Ufa, Russia last year, Prime Minister Modi announced his 10-point programme on future engagement of BRICS nations. This year in March the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj narrated the core theme for the Chairmanship as “Building Responsive, Inclusive and Collective Solutions (BRICS)”. It’s going to organize more than 50 sectorial meetings at the ministerial, official, technical, and track II levels. Among them are BRICS Film Festival, BRICS Youth Forum, Young Diplomat’s Forum, BRICS Trade Fair, Think-Tank and Academic Forums etc. This signifies how engrossed is India in BRICS process and sees value in the formation.
India’s focus will be five prong: institution building, implementation, integration, innovation, and continuity with consolidation, I4C, in short.
BRICS initiated New Development Bank (NDB) has already come into existence and started operating. It is widely believed that the NDB has been visualized in response to the hegemony of west, particularly United Statesover the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB)and answer to the growing discontent of the developing countries against these institutions. NDB has been instituted “with the objective of funding infrastructure projects in the developing countries and meet the aspirations of millions through sustainable development.” The bank will have initial authorized capital of $100 billion.
Why civil society intervention?
Despite the economic slowdown witnessed in some member-states, the formation assumes a lot of significance to its members. With the functioning of NDB, the possible impact of the bloc on its member-states is likely to increase.
The five countries together account for 43 percent of the world’s population, 46 percent of the global labour force, 30 percent of the earth’s landmass and 25 percent of the world’s share of global gross domestic product (GDP) and more importantly almost 50 percent of world’s poor live in BRICS countries.
Given the vastness of the bloc in terms of population and poverty, the civil society feels it appropriate to engage with the formation to influence its agenda. Civil society’s interest is to see that the agenda of BRICS is inclusive of the interest of the poorer and excluded sections in each of its member counties. In the backdrop of jobless growth, and the pattern growth that has led to rising inequality; civil society wants to ensure that the growth visualized by BRICS is sustainable and reckons with the adverse impact of economic growth on environment. It also is anxious to see that the NDB does not end up becoming another international financial institutions (Read IMF and WB), whose role toward the developing countries and the LDCs, so also for the larger benefit of the people has been questioned. It should ensure that the bank invents not only in infrastructure development but also in building social capital.
Engagement of civil society with BRICS
The first formal engagement of BRICS bloc with the civil society, termed as Civil BRICS, took place in Ufa, Russia during the 7th BRICS Summit. The meeting discussed about the necessity of dialogue of the civil society with the decision makers. It discussed on variety of social issues like heath care, equality, conflict management etc.
In 2013,Brazil took the initiative to hold dialogue with the civil society of Brazil for their inputs into BRICS process. This was an independent decision of Brazil. Later however the information and outcome of the meeting with civil society was shared with other BRICS member states. This was followed by the South Africa to hold several regional consultations with the civil society of South Africa in 2014.These interactions led to formalization of process of engagement of BRICS with civil society.
This year FIDC (Forum for India’s Development Cooperation), a think tank of Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) proposes to hold the 2nd Civil BRICS in New Delhi in first week of October. This is a space for interaction with the civil society with agenda like civil society partnership in implementation of SDGs; food security, nutrition and health; inequality, economic growth and job creation; multi-lateral trade and sustainable development and sustainable urbanisation and urban poverty. This is very good development.
It is also equally heartening that the Ufa declaration of BRICS (declaration on July, 2015 by 7th BRICS summit held in Ufa, Russia) discussed about poverty, income inequality, gender inequality and gaps in international tax regimes as major challenges and reiterates its commitment to act towards them. All these are fulfilling to civil society as these are the agendas which it pushes for.
However, two issues remain. One, if the NDB lives up to its promise towards environmental protections. In the name of funding the mega infrastructure projects it should not destroy environment and undemocratically usurp the land from the tribals and poor. Development has to be democratically accepted and is sustainable to preserve natural resources for the coming generations.
The other concern remains about the “Institutionalisation of Civil BRICS”. Last year in the declaration of the official BRICS, there was only a mention about the interface of civil society. No one knows what happened to the recommendations of the civil society. Amitabh Behar of Wada Na Todo Abhiyan , a conglomeration of civil society in India opines “This year the process interface with the civil society should be institutionalized and the recommendations emerging out of the Civil BRICS should be reflected in the official BRICS process.”
Come October, how seriously outcome of the Civil BRICS meeting is taken by the government, which has a step-sisterly attitude toward NGOs, remains to be seen.
Pradeep Baisakh is a Journalist based in New Delhi.