S. Jaishankar and George Soros: Politically at odds, But both Speak up for the Global South

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The term “Global South” refers to nations that had the same colonial history and were eventually left out of industrialization. However, the term is not limited to the countries in the southern hemisphere only. Coming into the 21st century, these countries are still suffering from a lack of economic development, climate change-related threats, and other human security issues. For the negative imagery they evoke, many have blamed the absence of spokespersons on behalf of the Global South on the world stage. However, the growing visibility of S. Jaishankar, the External Affairs Minister of India, has been widely considered to fill the vacancy.

At the same time, the name of an American billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros, who has been working to promote democracy, human rights, and climate awareness worldwide, came into the media spotlight. This is a good sign for the Global South. But it is also important for them to pursue a cooperative and inclusive, rather than a confrontative and exclusive approach, considering the potential benefits.

Jaishankar the voice of the Global South?

Recently, S. Jaishankar and George Soros attracted global media attention for their publicly aired differences in opinion. And it all started with George Soros’s speech during the Munich Security Conference 2023 where he questioned the condition of democracy in India. Soros said that India is a democracy, but its leader Narendra Modi is not a democratic leader whose government incited communal violence against Muslim living in the country. Moreover, he also questioned India’s close relations with both open and closed societies in reference to its membership with Quad and deepening energy cooperation with Russia.

In response, Jaishankar heavily criticized Soros by calling him “old, rich, opinionated, and dangerous” who is sitting in New York and investing resources in shaping world narratives. In the question of flawed democracy, Jaishankar emphasized that it is the 1.4 billion Indian people who still decide how the country should run. He also pointed out the danger of outside interference as the country went through colonialism. The minister accused Soros of scaremongering and creating fear psychosis among people which would seriously damage the societal fabric. More interestingly, Jaishankar termed Soros’s comments on democracy as a typical Euro-Atlantic view that does not represent the view of the Global South.

Since the appointment of Jaishankar as the foreign minister in 2019, he has changed India’s foreign policy posture as an exceptional international power. Jaishankar has motivated India to emerge as the “voice of the Global South”. The term “Global South” has been used by Jaishankar on multiple occasions. For instance, according to him, “polarization may occur elsewhere, the people who suffer most are the Global South.” He also said that “Global South feels the burden of rising (oil and gas) prices, coupled with increasing debt and rapidly deteriorating economic growth” during his meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister in Moscow.

Another result of Jaishankar’s active advocacy for the Global South is the recently held “Voices of Global South Summit” which was hosted by India. Jaishankar led the summit with participation from 120 developing countries. During the summit, Jaishankar pointed out the failure of the UN system to address the wider concerns of the Global South, as he called out the organization as “a frozen 1945-invented mechanism”. In the face of growing political polarization and interstate wars, Jaishankar affirmed on behalf of the Global South that from decolonization movements to resisting alignment, the Global South has always shown the middle path. He argued that the world should always follow the course of diplomacy, dialogue, and cooperation for the interests of the Global South. As India becomes the president of G20, it has promised to amplify the voice of the Global South using the platform.

On the issue of globalization and climate change, Jaishankar has proposed a ‘Global South sensitive’ model of globalization with three major shifts that can make globalization more beneficiary and environmentally sustainable. Those three fundamental shifts are – “a shift from self-centered globalization to human-centered globalization; a shift from being on the receiving end of technological patronage to deploying Global South-led innovations for societal transformation; and a shift from debt creating projects to a demand-driven and sustainable development cooperation.”

Soros advocate of democratic values

On the other hand, George Soros is a Hungarian-American businessman and philanthropist who founded the Open Society Foundation (OSF). He has been working to tackle the world’s most intractable problems like flawed democracy, poverty, and climate change which are very much prevalent in the global South. It was evident in his speech at the Munich Security Conference. He spoke about the danger of climate change and the ongoing war in Ukraine due to which normal people especially the people in the Global South are suffering the most. He also pointed out that human civilization may not survive because of the Ukraine war due to which other issues like fighting pandemics, climate change, and maintenance of global institutions have had to take a back seat.

Soros has shown great concern for developing states due to environmental degradation. Soros proposed that developed countries provide $100 billion to developing nations for the development of climate resilience. His relentless effort to bring justice to the fight against poverty has been widely appreciated by the countries in the Global South. Furthermore, as the Global South was experiencing severe economic conditions owing to the recession back in 2008, Soros also stood up to advocate for the opportunity for poor countries to borrow from developed countries’ quotas of international reserve assets provided by the IMF.

Soros is also renowned for his active persuasion to promote justice, democracy, human rights, and progressive politics. It was clear when he criticized India for its flaws in democratic governance and freedom of speech which created strong reactions from India. Through his OSF, Soros spend billions of dollars to improve democratic governance all over the world, especially in developing countries. For example, the OSF alone spent $135 million in Africa in 2020 to develop democratic institutions and rule of law there.

Acting together instead of at each other

Jaishankar and Soros – in different ways – are no doubt blessings for the Global South due to their active persuasion to make the marginalized voices of the Global South heard globally. Over the years, both individuals have been trying to address the problems of the Global South in the international arena. But the background and context are not the same for both of them; Jaishankar is a diplomat and politician who represents India; whereas Soros is a Hungarian-American businessman not representing any particular country. Moreover, it is more practical for Jaishankar to speak about the Global South as he is from one of the countries of the Global South. However, this is not the case with Soros which makes it difficult for him to understand the local dynamics of the Global South. As a result, Soros has more of a global tone when he talks about the problems. On the other hand, Jaishankar tries to address the issues from the Global South perspective specifically. Because of these reasons, it is always difficult to determine who speaks the best on behalf of the Global South.

In the interest of the Global South, both need to act as one collective voice to shape the global agenda for the Global South, but that may be perhaps too much to ask.

– Muhammad Estiak Hussain is a Research Intern at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in South Asia Monitor [Link]