While most advanced economies are struggling to fight rising inflation and economic slowdown, the nation of 1.4 billion is on track to become the third-largest economy in the world by the year 2030. What is the reason behind India’s success, and how can they ensure their seat at the table in the future?
The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, a cleanliness initiative introduced in the year 2014, was not just a campaign but a strategic move towards integrating a model of sustainable and eco-friendly businesses in the Indian economy. India hit two birds with one stone in ensuring health and cleanliness and increasing SME engagement by 30 per cent, which is helping churn money within the economy.
In the same year, the Make in India campaign was introduced, aimed to make India more independent. Whilst the West accused India of protectionism, India emerged as the top destination globally for foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2015, surpassing the United States and China with US$60.1 billion in FDI.
To complement this economic growth, it is essential to have a strong stance in the global landscape and geopolitics. However, India is threatened by various factors in its neighbourhood, which need to be addressed if it truly wishes to become a global power.
Under various ruling parties, India has adopted the policy of “non-alignment” – initiated by the first Prime Minister of independent India, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, during the Cold War. With Vajpayee (1998-2004) a new strategic worldview emerged, one that aimed at cultivating the hard powers of the economy, engaging with foreign states, and embracing international politics. These policies were in sharp contrast to those adopted by the opposition, the Congress party. Modi has strongly followed a similarly offensive approach: to not be tolerant of terrorism, actively engaging with the West and neighbours to counterbalance China. The stance on the foreign policy shifted from “non-alignment” to “strategic autonomy”.
The Indian retaliation has not stopped Pakistan from supporting and financing terrorism in its territory. Attacks have coincidently happened following the events of a positive development between the Indian and Pakistani governments. The ever-strengthening Pakistani army has always scuttled the initiatives of the weakened government. Therefore, a different way of engaging with Pakistan is needed.
India needs to adopt the approach of incrementalism. Indian leadership post Jawahar Lal Nehru has attempted to normalise ties with Pakistan, but has always been met with disappointment. As such, India should limit its political link as much as possible. Emphasised in ‘Power & Interdependence’, liberalism in international relations believes in cooperation through economic interdependence of countries. This will make it less likely to engage in a conflict or war.
Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the foreign affairs minister of India, highlights various opportunities for Indian diplomacy to thrive. The most important of them, in my opinion, is to get a favourable neighbourhood. India once had ‘the Asia dream’ to rise together as a region. However, the strategic challenge remains the growing influence of China through the Belt and Road Initiative, especially in Sri Lanka and Nepal.
Most recently, the newly elected president in the Maldives and his slogan: “India out”, has raised strategic trouble for India. The Maldives is an important location for both India and China to overlook activities in the Indian Ocean. It is therefore important to balance out the influence of China.
India’s main asset today is its cordial relations with the West, Japan, Australia, and other Asian countries – and their communal interest to counterbalance China. This bargaining power advantages India in its rise and these countries can play a strong role in building India’s capabilities.
To pave the way for becoming a global power, consolidating India’s economic strength also means increasing social cohesion, given political instability can weaken the confidence of international states in the country. The Manipur attacks in the northeastern part of the country have gone unaddressed and pose a threat to the Indian Prime Minister. There is a need to protect pluralism, otherwise, the ruling party risks creating a Hindu version of the neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and Myanmar, where ethnic violence has resulted in extreme turmoil and ultimate impoverishment.
On a global level, India is at the heart of superpower geopolitics and its importance cannot be denied. However, India has a long way to go to become a counterweight to China. The challenges it faces require patient work, but it will be worth it.