G20 : Economic Cooperation ahead

C-20: Preventing the Erosion of Civil Society Independence


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: C-20, U-20 and other such engagement forums within G-20 framework

Mains level: C-20 politicization, Civil Society Independence and way forward


Central Idea

  • The civil society process of G-20, known as C-20, which is meant to provide a platform for independent voices and hold governments accountable, has been co-opted by the ruling party in India. Critiques argue that under the guise of civil society representation, C-20 has become a tool to further a politico-religious vision and legitimize neoliberal economic policies. This distortion of C-20 raises concerns about its credibility and ability to serve as a counter-balance to undue business influence.

What is C-20?

  • C-20 refers to the civil society process of the Group of Twenty (G-20) summit.
  • The C-20 process provides a platform for civil society organizations to engage with G-20 member governments, discuss relevant issues, and advocate for policy changes.
  • It aims to ensure that the voices and concerns of civil society are taken into account in the decision-making processes of G-20.
  • C-20 focuses on economic, social, and cultural issues, and its participants include non-governmental organizations, grassroots movements, and other civil society actors.

Facts for prelims

What is U20?

  • A city diplomacy initiative called the “Urban 20” (U20) was launched in December 2017 within G20 ecosystem.
  • It was meant to collectively raise critical urban issues of G20 cities during the G20 negotiations.
  • U20 specifically focuses on climate change, sustainable development, and socio-economic issues in connection with the Sustainable Development Goals.

What is SAI20?

  • SAI20 stands for Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) of G20 countries.
  • It is a forum where SAIs from G20 countries can engage with each other to share their experiences and expertise in auditing public policies and governance practices.
  • The group meets annually to discuss important issues related to public auditing and to develop joint initiatives to promote good governance and accountability in their respective countries.

What are the concerns about C-20 ‘s credibility?

  • Politicization: The C-20 process in India has been co-opted by the party in power, using it as a platform to further its own politico-religious vision. This raises questions about the independence and neutrality of the civil society process.
  • Lack of diversity: The composition of C-20 has raised concerns about the overwhelming presence of members from a single religion, which goes against the principle of inclusiveness. The dominance of a particular religious group undermines the diversity and representation of civil society voices.
  • Censorship and suppression: There have been instances of censorship and attempts to control the narrative within C-20. Participants have been asked to refrain from making political statements about G-20 and C-20, limiting their ability to critically address policies and actions that may be detrimental to biodiversity and community interests.
  • Limited influence: The C-20 process, along with other engagement forums of G-20, has not been allowed to play an independent role in holding governments accountable or countering undue business influence. The influence of civil society in shaping G-20 decisions and policies remains limited.
  • Lack of transparency: The selection and decision-making processes within C-20 have been criticized for lacking transparency. The way the C-20 architecture is set up, with its Secretariat housed in a civil society organization linked to a particular political ideology, raises concerns about the independence and fairness of the process.

Impact of using international engagement forums for political gains?

  • Undermining credibility: When international engagement forums, such as the G-20 and its civil society process, are used for political and electoral gains, it undermines their credibility and purpose. These platforms are meant for meaningful dialogue, collaboration, and decision-making on global issues, and politicizing them for short-term domestic interests erodes their legitimacy.
  • Diminishing trust and cooperation: Political exploitation of international engagement forums can lead to a breakdown of trust and cooperation among participating countries and civil society organizations. It creates an atmosphere of suspicion and undermines the spirit of mutual respect and collaboration that these forums are intended to foster.
  • Weakening global governance: The instrumentalization of international engagement forums for political gains can weaken global governance mechanisms. It hampers the ability of these forums to address pressing global challenges effectively and make informed decisions based on the common good, as decisions may be driven by narrow political considerations rather than sound policy-making.
  • Impact on international reputation: The misuse of international engagement forums can have a negative impact on a country’s international reputation. It may be seen as a breach of trust and an attempt to manipulate global platforms for domestic political purposes, damaging the country’s standing in the international community.
  • Impeding progress on global issues: When international engagement forums are exploited for political and electoral gains, the focus shifts from addressing global issues to advancing narrow domestic agendas. This can hinder progress on crucial matters such as climate change, sustainable development, poverty alleviation, and human rights, which require international collaboration and concerted efforts.
  • Alienating civil society: The politicization of international engagement forums can alienate civil society organizations and undermine their trust in the process. When civil society voices are co-opted or marginalized for political gains, it weakens their role as independent actors, reduces their influence, and stifles their ability to contribute meaningfully to global policy discussions.
  • Loss of long-term benefits: Prioritizing short-term political and electoral gains over the long-term benefits of meaningful international engagement can lead to missed opportunities for economic, social, and diplomatic advancements. It undermines the potential for constructive dialogue, knowledge sharing, and collaboration that can yield positive outcomes for the country and the global community.

Way ahead: Addressing the concerns over C-20

  • Enhance transparency and inclusiveness: There should be greater transparency in the selection processes of C-20 members and the decision-making mechanisms. Efforts should be made to ensure diverse representation from different religions, ideologies, and sectors, fostering inclusivity and avoiding the dominance of any particular group.
  • Safeguard independence: Measures should be taken to ensure the independence of C-20 from government influence. The Secretariat and coordination should be entrusted to neutral and independent organizations or institutions that have a proven track record of upholding the principles of civil society engagement.
  • Strengthen civil society networks: Civil society organizations should strengthen their networks, collaborations, and solidarity to amplify their voices and advocate for meaningful engagement in the C-20 process. This can involve building alliances with other organizations, sharing information and resources, and collectively advocating for the principles of inclusiveness and accountability.
  • Promote critical dialogue: Open and constructive dialogue should be encouraged within C-20, allowing for diverse perspectives and critical analysis of G-20 policies and actions. Participants should have the freedom to raise concerns, offer alternative viewpoints, and contribute to the discourse without fear of censorship or reprisal.
  • Advocate for policy coherence: Civil society organizations should actively engage in advocacy and policy dialogue with both the government and international bodies like the G-20. They should highlight the need for policy coherence that integrates social, environmental, and economic dimensions, ensuring that biodiversity conservation, sustainability, and the rights of marginalized communities are prioritized.
  • Strengthen public awareness: Efforts should be made to increase public awareness about the G-20 and its civil society process, including C-20. This can involve disseminating information, organizing awareness campaigns, and facilitating public participation in discussions and decision-making processes.
  • International solidarity: Civil society organizations in India should foster collaborations and exchanges with international civil society networks and organizations working on similar issues. Sharing experiences, strategies, and best practices can strengthen the collective voice of civil society globally and exert pressure for more accountable and inclusive processes.


  • The co-optation of C-20 by the ruling party in India has undermined its credibility as an independent civil society platform. Civil society organizations participating in C-20 must reflect on whether they will legitimize this distortion or challenge it, as their decisions will shape the future of this crucial platform for global dialogue and accountability.

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Also read:

G20: India at Urban20 (U20)


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