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What Is the Future of the BRICS?

Fact is China provides the bulk of the groupings' GDP -- something which with Russia, Brazil and South Africa all facing economic woes is not going to change any time soon

While navigating my way through dozens of commentaries in the past week on the BRICS summit in Goa, one thing that struck me is that western commentators are almost in unison in running down this group of emerging powers – with the exception of Jim O’Neill, of course, who insists that things are on course just as he had predicted 15 years ago when he coined the acronym, although there is much unfinished business remaining on the platter. (China Daily)

One main argument is that the 3 out of five BRICS economies have slowed down in the past year and that signifies diminishing clout of the grouping. A second argument is that the BRICS countries have unresolved political issues or discords separating them – India and China, in particular. But the curious part is that no western commentator dares to question the raison d’etre of BRICS as an idea, which stands for a more equitable world order. The issue agitating the western mind appears to be that Russia, India and China have drawn together to form a grouping to mould the new world order, which makes BRICS a formidable adversary.

In fact, a curious piece by Wall Street Journal (by no means a sincere friend of BRICS) all but affirms that BRICS-type groupings may proliferate. It foresees at least 7 such tantalizing possibilities of emerging economies coming together (two of which also might include India as potential member.) Ironically, our pundits may regard Pakistan as a basket case, but WSJ accords it a respectable place in one such new grouping called ‘The Next 11’. Again, it hurts the Indian ego that our country is bracketed with other ‘emerging economies’ such as Bangladesh or Mexico or Turkey in the new groupings, whereas, China doesn’t figure in any of them. The WSJ thinks China belongs to a higher league in terms of being an economic superpower. (WSJ)

The WSJ has a point. To be bracketed with China’s economy under the BRICS rubric gives India (or Russia or Brazil) a habitation and name in the politics of the new world order, which intrinsically, thes ecountries may not deserve at this point in time. Let us say, BRICS enables India or Russia to punch above their weight. The creation of the BRICS bank or strategic reserve fund or a new crediting agency is simply inconceivable as an Indian or Russian initiative.

Why is the West so allergic toward BRICS? The fact of the matter is that BRICS seriously threatens the G7 within a foreseeable future as the most significant template of the international system. Its challenge today is how to be more consequential in the architecture of world politics, but its growing clout is not in dispute. This is exactly the reason why the western world feels uneasy.

BRICS poses an existential challenge to the West, because it threatens to revamp the established international political and financial order. The West realizes that its hegemony is not going to be sustainable for long. Take a country like France, for example. Its economy is in deep morass. (See an insightful piece by Telegraph, Why France must accept reform or face disaster.) Analysts bracket France with Italy as the next two economies to go the way down the drain as Greece and becoming eligible for a bailout.

Politically, too, France feels like an orphan, with Germany coasting ahead as the number one power in Europe, and the EU, which gave Paris a larger-than-life influence in world politics, in great disarray. And, yet, France still clings to its vanities as a veto-holding permanent member of the UN Security Council and exercises the prerogative to head the IMF. How long can France be a classy pretender? Such angst partly explains why a French establishment writer Christophe Jaffrelot has given the bizarre advice to us that India should dump the BRICS and join the Europeans – read France – to form a new group of ‘democracies’. (Indian Express)

The only thing Jaffrelot’s bright mind did not explain is how India stands to gain by bonding with a sinking ship like France. The sad part is that commentators like Jaffrelot have an easy time firing their nuclear missiles at the gullible Indian audience from the Indian shoulders. Alas, many Indians do not comprehend the worth of BRICS and trifle with it like the ancient monkey does with a garland of flowers, not knowing what to do with it, or why it is so fragrant.

The point is, serious powers do not live for the day. They also prepare for the future. BRICS provides a unique gateway to the future for India. The alternative is to be a sidekick of the West. Yet, some Indians seem to prefer to be the doormat, if only because it brings them into contact with the western feet. It’s a morbid obsession.

However, BRICS is not without blemishes. The group could have done far better than it is doing. Several reasons account for it. But one of the things that BRICS should do is to find a way to allow its reluctant partners to just exit. The BRICS should not prescribe ‘mandatory’ memberships. If Indian elites find it suffocating to be inside the BRICS tent, let them go. It will be a journey into the wilderness, but India must be free to exercise its choice. Hopefully, the next BRICS summit in China will do something about this paradox of reluctant memberships. (Read a lucid commentary on the BRICS’ track record and deficiencies in Global Times newspaper, BRICS need to address challenges to strengthen ties.)

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