Much before the BRICS heads of nations meet in Goa today, the western media had already begun writing about its live funeral, if not epitaph. Less than a decade into its existence, this economic grouping of newly industrialised countries - that account for about half of the world population and nearly a quarter of its combined GDP - seems to be losing its relevance other than being a feel-good club.
At its eighth annual meeting in Goa, BRICS is making headlines in India, not for any economic cooperation and growth, but for geopolitics. If the seventh summit at Ufa in Russia last year was about the much celebrated BRICS Bank (New Development Bank) and contingent reserve arrangement, all that we hear about the eight summit in Goa is geopolitics: terrorism, military cooperation with Russia and isolation of Pakistan. And it's India that's mostly talking.
Most of the publicised agenda, both sourced and otherwise in the Indian media, are a far cry from the original purpose and ideals of BRICS, and the decisions of the previous summits. Like in any multilateral meeting, officials concerned will of course go through the motions. However, what makes it to the public forum in Goa is geopolitics, which in simple terms is diplomatic isolation of Pakistan and a roadshow to swagger about our mighty relationship with Russia.
Pakistan is certainly a nasty thorn in the flesh for India. It's a costly distraction that India wants to do without, but Pakistan wants parity that it can achieve only through the violent misbehaviour of a jealous vandal. But does India need to convert every diplomatic and multilateral forum into a geopolitical ring to acknowledge Pakistan's vandalism and tell them that how ridiculously small and insignificant it is? Does one need a sledgehammer to kill a fly when it can do with a swat?
India using SAARC for ridiculing Pakistan or even undermining its convening rights is the swat, BRICS is the sledgehammer. Instead of development planners and finance ministry bureaucrats, it's going to be an Ajit Doval show. At least that's what Indian media reports indicate. Apparently he and his officials will push for "a strongly worded counterterrorism statement and a declaration that will highlight isolating countries that provide shelter to terror groups and help in arming these groups". The summary of this statement is two words: isolate Pakistan. Is that what BRICS means to India?
And how does it even matter? Will Russia and China, the only BRICS countries that are of consequence to the south Asian geopolitics, will ever do anything? Certainly not. Pakistan is China's strategic asset and Russia, a self-interested voluntary ally against American strategy of using India as its Asian pivot. Brazil and South Africa are so far away and don't even have enough money or political resources for themselves.
Therefore, making BRICS a proxy opportunity to bash Pakistan is a little excessive. If India has been clever and strategic, it should have used it for strengthening the idea of BRICS, when the whole world is justifiably sceptical. Isolation of Pakistan should have been just the incidental message that India would have anyway conveyed by inviting BIMSTEK (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), that Pakistan is not a part of.
For the western media, BRICS, despite all the right credentials of size, growth and scale that its member countries together present, is a paper tiger that doesn't have teeth. The New Development Bank, the most concrete outcome of the BRICS collectivism, has paled into insignificance by China-driven Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). It also has a capital of US $ 100 billion and is meant for expanding Chinese investment in infrastructure not just in Asia, but everywhere.
The entire block of rich countries, except America and Japan, are part of it or want an entry. India too is a member, but unlike the BRICS bank, it cannot avoid the company of Pakistan. The BRICS Bank had announced its first set of loans in April 2016 that totalled less than US$ 1 billion - all going towards renewable energy, which mostly likely will be a slow process in India, Brazil and South Africa that received the bulk of it. In comparison, the Chinese portfolio of the AIIB will be much more extensive, strategic and will make a lot of geopolitical sense because the bank is meant for Chinese domination.
Narendra Modi's show of camaraderie with Putin at BRICS will certainly make good press in India, but does it need BRICS for a bilateral conversation on security and defence? What's making news about BRICS in India is not multilateral collaboration, but Russia's proposed sale of US$ 5 worth of "Triumph" air defence system that will purportedly neutralise Pakistani and Chinese missiles.
Modi government is unreasonably over-anxious to show Pakistan, and people at home, that its ties with Russia are intact, or even stronger than before, despite those military exercise with its neighbour.
Modi supporters may feel that for geopolitical theatre, all this is good. But why such an overkill? After having eloquently made its point on Pakistan at the UN General Assembly, that literally delivered a knock-out punch, ticking it off by short-circuiting its right to convene the SAARC summit, and even reportedly provoking a government-army standoff in Islamabad, what else does India want to do?
Keeping on doing the same will dilute the message. For the international community, isolation of a country with 182 million people cannot be absolute and complete, but only limited and conditional, however hard India tries.
Showing off on the BRICS platform, at least for the time being, doesn't mean much because the global media have almost written it off with disappointing growth projections for Brazil, South Africa and Russia and competing interest by China.
India could have done by less theatre and more substance. Repetition of lines to keep people in perpetual anticipation, national pride and false-hopes, not just in dealing with Pakistan, but also in improving their lives, seems to have become a habit. And it has started showing everywhere as a standard, Indira-era Indian imprint.