Raisina Dialogue 2020: ‘Navigating the Alpha Century’: Major Themes and Takeaways

Dr. Obja Borah Hazarika
January 19, 2020


The fifth edition of the Raisina Dialogue was held from 14-16 January 2020 in New Delhi. The Raisina Dialogue is India’s premier annual conference on geo-politics and geo-economics. Since its inception in 2016, it has been held by the Observer Research Foundation in collaboration with the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

The Raisina Dialogue 2020 was titled ‘Navigating the Alpha Century’ which indicates the intent of India to impress upon the delegates the need to deliberate on issues which would be pertinent and relevant to the current century, given the highly complex trends unraveling in the security, economic, political, technological, digital as well as ecological realms. In 2016 the dialogue theme was centered on connectivity and fluidity of international architecture. In 2017 it was ‘the new normal’, which was based on the concept of a multipolar world. In 2018, the theme of the dialogue was founded on the management of “disruptive transitions”, and in 2019 the questions, that arose from “new geometrics”, were the central theme under deliberation.

The dialogue held in 2020 noted that the latest dialogue aimed to discover solutions to complex issues, identify and harness opportunities, and find strategies to ensure and provide stability to the 21st century. The dialogue was well-attended as it was graced by over 700 delegates, of which over 40 percent were women from a range of countries across continents. High-level diplomats, statesmen and stateswomen from across the world graced the occasion making it one of the most desired events in India’s strategic circle which indicates the increasing importance of India and this dialogue at the global level. However, the current dialogue did not have a keynote speaker as the invited dignitary Prime Minister Scott Morrison could not attend due to the devastating bushfires in Australia. He, however, addressed the gathering through a pre-recorded video and talked about the Indo-Pacific.

The dialogue held in 2020 included deliberations on issues relevant to the trends and policy directions prevalent in the current century, including ‘the India Way’, pluralism, digital age, universal norms, among others. The key themes covered by the dialogue included- nationalist impulses challenging global institutions and collective action, the role of technologies in determining political agendas, debate on the global trading architecture, economic and military power, global development agenda, and state-individual relationship in the age of digital communities and cyberspace. These topical issues discussed during the dialogue underscore the significance of such an exercise as it provides a platform to nations to share and discover ideas and solutions to problems on these themes, which help generate awareness on policy perspectives for nations on a broad spectrum of mutually relevant matters.
Apart from acting as a platform for collaborations and cooperation across nations for the range of diverse participants including policymakers, media persons, civil society members, and business-persons, the importance of the dialogue lies in the fact that it offers other nations a glimpse into the priorities of the current trends of Indian foreign policy. Throughout the event, dialogue took place on five major subjects including ‘The Nationalist Impulsive Challenge as Global Institutions and Collective Action’, ‘The Debate on the Global Trading Architecture’, ‘Role of Technology in Data Mining’, ‘Political Economic and Military Power’, ‘The Global Development Agenda and State Individual Relationships in the Age of Digital Communities and Cyberspace.’
One of the major takeaways from the Raisina Dialogue was the mention of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. He articulated that India had made its concerns, especially its trade deficit compared to other countries, clear to the rest of the members of the RCEP on the proposed multilateral economic arrangement. Other vital aspects highlighted during the event by the Indian delegation was with regard to the meaning of the ‘India way’. There were five factors which were mentioned as intrinsic to the Indian Way which can be seen as overall guidelines to understanding the role which the country intends to assume in the international level. The ‘India Way’ was described as a way in which countries used their capacities in the “international system for global good” with positive impacts for security, connectivity, countering terrorism, and addressing challenges such as global climate change. The ‘India Way’ also included a more proactive role as a ‘decider or a shaper rather than an abstainer’, especially for India, on the issues of climate change or connectivity. It was also articulated that it would mean for India to act as a ‘just power, a fair power, to be a standard-bearer for the South.’ It also included ‘Brand India’, which intended to showcase and harness the powers unique to India, such as its Diaspora strength and the global impact of its heritage and traditions. Some of the other matters discussed in the event pertained to the accomplishments of India in the field of foreign investments and infrastructural developments. In this matter, it was highlighted that infrastructural facilities have been successfully built by India in neighboring countries such as Bangladesh where road and rail connections and connectivity projects in waterways and ports have been completed. Electricity facilities and fuel pipelines were also built in Nepal. Rail network in Sri Lanka and electricity and road projects in Afghanistan were India’s other recent infrastructural successes. Other infrastructural facilities included significant projects completed by India in African countries like Niger, Sudan, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These were outlined by the Indian External Affairs Minister to a question on the general lack of Indian accomplishments compared to other countries such as China on the matter of finishing promised infrastructural projects.

India’s attempts to hold such a dialogue where significant players at the international level have participated imply India’s growing global stance and credibility. Such an event showcases India’s growth as a power that intends to play a decisive role in setting the agenda and steering the decision-making in the 21st century. This dialogue, which largely acts as a space for India to showcase its achievements and announce its foreign policy goals and principles apart from being a facilitator to provide a common platform for deliberation among countries which might be rivals on a bilateral level, implies that India intends to craft its own journey according to its own interests, instead of being a reticent power which sits on the sidelines of history. That would be unbecoming of a country with a heritage as exemplary and potential as vast as that of India.

*** The author is currently teaching as an Assistant Professor in Dibrugarh University, Assam since 2013. Her research interests include international relations and riparian relations. ***