On The Threshold of Global Power, India’s Work Begins
The ‘noughties’, have been a particularly good decade for India. The country has achieved the second highest rate of economic growth in the world and has invested many of those revenues in reducing poverty. Indian democracy has deepened in the past decade, and society itself seems in transition away from some old structures – with leaders from some of society’s lowest castes now occupying the highest political offices in several states.
At the same time Indian companies have emerged as aspiring multinationals with major acquisitions abroad and ready to take on larger challenges. And the world has recognized these achievements. Despite concerns about public governance, persistent poverty, low levels of human development indicators and rising left-wing extremism, India now sits at global High Tables, like the G20 Leaders Summit. The heads-of-state of all five permanent members of the UN Security Council visited Delhi in the last half of 2010 – most of them endorsing India’s bid to secure a permanent seat there itself. India holds a temporary seat there from 2011 to 2013.
But can India rise to the challenge of its new role in global governance? Can India even afford to be there, financially? With a nominal per capita income barely above a thousand dollars and with more than three hundred million Indians living in absolute poverty, it is still a poor country. Child malnutrition remains a major problem. India’s human development indicators are comparable to those in sub-Saharan Africa, and in some cases even worse.
Consider: India must undertake at least five major changes – starting now – simply in order to approach its Millenium Development Goal by 2015:
- India has to give up the notion that it will automatically profit from the size and youth of its population. It must invest in its population to earn that return.
- India has to understand that the economy and the private sector can only grow if government supports that growth; economic growth ‘‘despite the government’ is a myth.
- India must overcome its energy shortages to keep pace with industrial and agricultural growth.
- India must modernize its agriculture. That means increasing food productivity, which has been stuck for almost 30 years, and raising the income of farmers and other agriculture workers.
- India has to plan its urban growth.
Even as India gets its own economy in order, it must change the way it creates policies on global questions in order to be more proactive. Any global power should be influential in other major capitals. At a minimum, an aspiring power must take care to do more than just react to other countries’ policies. Some fear that the West has invited India to the Global ‘High Table’ just to counter-balance China. India needs to accept that invitation fully, and then use the High Table to advance its own interests.
To achieve this India can no longer afford to picture itself as a ‘have-not’ country and must give up the defensiveness that makes many Indians ultra-sensitive about sovereignty and prickly at perceived or actual slights from others. A foreign policy regime informed by long-term strategic objectives and conducted with the assurance of the potential third largest economy in the world, will also make India demanding of reciprocity from our smaller neighbours and other partners.
India is rising; it has not yet arisen. It now faces many possible futures. It cannot make the fatal mistake of being complacent. Its well-wishers and partners will do it the greatest favor to remind it of its tasks, which will ensure its emergence as an economic power. Combined with the ‘soft power’ it already possesses, India would then present an alternate model of development for those developing countries seeking their own economic emergence and influence.
By Rajiv Kumar
Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry