Over the past five months or so, in spite of surfacing corruption charges, a virtual paralysis of parliament and sense of political drift in the country, India has had much to cheer about. The Commonwealth games, through tainted, went off spectacularly, showcasing India to the world. The economy is on a roll, with the agricultural and industrial sectors picking up unexpected momentum. To highlight its growing stature, a slew of world leaders visited India, including the heads of all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. They all had the same message. India is not only rising, it has already risen and in its rise the world sees a more vibrant role for India in the coming decades.
There are many reasons for the new found interest in India—foremost being its economy. With a GDP of $ 3.75 trillion in purchasing power parity, it is the world’s fourth largest economy after USA, China and Japan. An annual growth rate of 9 percent- that too in the time of a global recession, means that its economy is expanding at $ 350 billion per annum; equal to Belgium’s entire GDP. With its current rate of growth, the Indian economy will touch $ 8 trillion by 2020, making it the world’s third largest economy, and will add $ 800 billion – an amount equivalent to the entire Australian economy-to its GDP every year.
The figures are impressive, but there is more. Its burgeoning population of 1.17 billion young, hard working, English (well, actually Hinglish) speaking people provides a talent pool to the world. Its 800 million strong middle class is an untapped market irresistible to the world’s major companies. Militarily too, its 1.3 million strong army, the world’s fourth largest air force and a navy with increasing reach gives it a clout that cannot be denied. The nation is now an accepted nuclear power with a proven track record of responsible non-proliferation. It is strategically located to dominate the Indian Ocean, through which 70 percent of the world’s oil flows, so vital for the region and the world. India has all the ingredients to play a major role in the coming decades, but is India really ready for the role and more significantly, what role does it see for itself?
The New World Order
If the last century was the famously proclaimed, “American Century” – this one is the Asian Century with India and China as its main players. The previous era was shaped after the hierarchy of victors of the Second World War with USA and the Soviet Union as competing super-powers and the lesser powers of UK, France and China as adjuncts. The ideological conflict of communism versus democracy shaped the contours of the new order, the open rivalry between the two super powers manifesting itself in wars through their proxies in Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Algeria and finally Afghanistan.
India has all the ingredients to play a major role in the coming decades, but is India really ready”¦?
Then the Soviet Union imploded; the Berlin Wall came down and the ideological divide which defined an earlier era disappeared. Perhaps the Soviet Union collapsed too suddenly and too swiftly. Its dramatic demise was hailed as a US victory and Ronald Reagan famously announced “The Cold War has not just ended; it has been won”. The ease and complete magnitude of the victory perhaps initiated a state of supreme confidence in the world’s sole super power which tried to impose its concept of Pax Americana on the world. It was this misplaced arrogance that led it to Kosovo, Grenada and then Iraq in 1993. Then the planes crashed into the twin towers on 9/11 and the world order was rudely shaken again.
This single act changed the complexion of the world and redrew the power equations all over again. The US plunged headlong into Afghanistan and then made the cardinal error of entering into a needless war with Iraq. Its “War against Terror” proved unwinnable both in Afghanistan and Iraq and it emerged with little to show and much loss of face. Along with the blow to its military prestige came the biggest recession since the 1930’s, which plunged the US, European and many of the Asian economies into a tailspin. In a span of just more than a decade the US plummeted from being the sole super power to a state of “terminal decline.” And as it tries desperately to hold on to its mantle of fading super-powerdom, the world power equations have slowly gravitated towards other centers, most notably China, India and Russia.
Indias right to a place on the table has been endorsed by the US, France, Russia and UK, four of its permanent members and it seems likely that even China will come on board”¦
As the US was funneling its energies in its war, China and India have surged ahead in the strength of their opening markets and burgeoning population. Simultaneously other power blocs are emerging. Russia rediscovered itself with new found oil revenues and its brutal invasion of Georgia in 2007 shows that it is willing to assert itself on the European and the World stage once again. The European Union is emerging as another power centre but will always remain an economic entity and not really a strategic one.
Brazil, South Africa, Germany and Japan are coming forward as economic and military powers, but their areas of influence are confined to their immediate neighborhood and it is unlikely that they will exert any significant leverage of global significance. Analysts have identified the key nations of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) along with Japan, South Africa and Germany whose rise is but inevitable. In this changing power equations, USA and China are the dominant players and natural rivals for world super-powerdom and it is India’s role that can tilt the scales either way.