India's prospects as a great power
Chair: Prof Varun Sahani
Speaker: Prof Sumit Ganguly
Introductory remarks: Prof Varun Sahni
Great powers are states which have system shaping capability and intention. Both capability and intentions are important requisites of great power. The US was not a great power between the two World Wars because it had capability but not the intention to be a great power due to its isolationist policy.
Speaker: Prof Sumit Ganguly
India has the potential for being a great power. States should have capability to go beyond their regional order and start influencing the structure of global order. The material powers of states are very important in this regard. The world may be socially reconstructed, but the social construction of reality is based on material power. The collapse of the Apartheid regime in South Africa was not due to norms but pressures from the UN and multilateral sanctions. The material capability of the European states declined after the Second World War leading to a decline in moral will and intent of the European States to govern the world. This led to decolonization.
In India, the notion of great power was present in its foreign policy even during the pre-independence period. Nehru's desire was to transform the global order based on multilateral institutions, and which had no place for traditional power politics. But this was an idealistic vision based on moral principles and norms. Nehru was well aware that India lacked material power but he had a vision about how India could shape global power. His emphasis on peacekeeping operations, global disarmament and the principle of non-alignment were parts of his vision of shaping global order in which India played a very important role. India's prospects as a great power can be divided into three parts:
India's claims to be a great power
Limits/shortcomings in being a great power
Prospects of India to be a great power
India's claims to be a great power
There are four claims by India to being a great power
A. Continuous existence of democracy despite all odds
According to the political scientist, democracy can only be consolidated if there is a 1000 dollars per capita threshold. India is far behind this target but still is a democratic state. In the sixties, several western writers were writing about the demise of democracy in India because they saw communal violence, widespread poverty, social cleavages and problems in the working of federalism. But India is still a democratic state.
B. End of Rajkrishna's Hindu rate of growth
There has been a growth rate of 9.7% in the last quarter in India, despite high price rises of fuels like petroleum and natural gas. India could accomplish a higher growth rate with proper investments in crucial sectors.
India is among the major land and maritime powers. It has the capability to have adequate defence preparedness without bankrupting its national treasury. India is a nuclear power, irrespective of whether it is recognized by the NPT or not. Nuclear weapons are an important aspect of a country's powers; and this is proven by the fact that Great Britain has decided to spend 20 billion pounds to modernize its nuclear weapons, which shows that nuclear weapons are an important element in the currency of power.
D. India as a soft power
Bollywood is the largest producer of films in the world and holds some attraction abroad. It is even entering into the conscious American culture. Indian writers have written a number of novels. India has the ability to influence the global tastes, just as US soft power is shaping attitudes, values and beliefs in the world. Soft power has an impact in shaping global power.
Shortcomings of India
According to World Bank figures, 26% of the Indian population is below the poverty line, even after 60 years of independence. Poverty robs the basic dignity of the human being and influences the meaning of democracy. In fact, democracy has no meaning for the poor.
45% of children under the age of 5 years are suffering from malnutrition. People do not have the resources to access the food to nourish the human body. India has seen mass deaths due to famine. There were large scale deaths of Oriyas and Bengalis under British colonial rule because food was diverted to Burma. Famine has been averted in India, but malnutrition continues.
C. Human Development Index
India is ranked 126/ 177 in the Human Development Index, which is not a sign of great power status. This is despite the fact that India can launch satellites, develop nuclear weapons, and manufacture commercial aircraft. This reveals large disparities, and the major reason for this is poverty. This is linked to other statistics. In India, 15% of males and 48% of women are illiterate. There is improvement since 1947, but this remains a problem. Illiteracy creates mental prisons.
Prospects of India as a great power
A. The first question is whether Indian democracy will survive in India? In 1991, many scholars working on the issue of ethnic violence said that India would disintegrate. But that did not happen. We are now sure that democracy will survive and that India will not disintegrate.
B. The second question is whether India can deal with the problem of poverty? Can India provide for the robust health care to its population?
C. Can India rise to the challenge of extending primary education? According to a UNESCO report, 20-25% teachers in India do not bother to come regularly to schools and provide primary education to children.
D. After achieving stable economic growth, military modernization and sustainable democracy, can India start influencing its neighbors? This is a challenge for India because India's neighbours are on the verge of state failure. How can India use its material, military and diplomatic power to influence the politics of its neighbourhood in the interests of a just and peaceful global order?
Political violence is one of the hurdles for India to achieve great power status. There is violence in Jammu & Kashmir and North-East India. There is violence linked to development. The Government of India has failed to address this problem in a constructive manner. We have to establish a proper machinery to address the problem of violence. Unless we stabilize India, we cannot affect the neighbourhood.
Left extremism is a serious problem in India. There are presently 14 states in India, which are affected by this problem. There are large areas of our country which are not in the control of the state government. The issue here is the incapacity of the government to control its bureaucracy.
There is difference between real and projected power. China is behaving as a great power and the US is giving weight to it. But India does not project itself as a great power in international affairs. There are ways in which nations project themselves as a great power and India should do the same.
Power can be used in different forms. India played a dramatic role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan by way of diplomacy. But the participation of India was limited due to the alliance of the US with Pakistan.
India has an obsession with its concept of national autonomy, but has not ignored the importance of alliance to achieve great power status. India joined the ARF and acts like a partner of the US. But the prospects of a formal alliance do not exist in the near-term future.
The problem of Naxalism is much serious than imagined. This is different from other insurgencies in India.
India is already re-shaping its region. It has moved beyond SARRC towards the notion of an extended neighborhood. India realizes that Central Asia and South East Asia are part of its neighborhood like SAARC. India is participating in sub-regional agreements; so, it will have a more diverse regional policy in the coming years.
One of the important things to note here is that China has a vision about what a great power should be. China has convinced Africa that they are speaking for these countries. There is no such norm in India. It has not dealt with the question about what it would contribute to the world, if it achieved the status of a great power.
There is a difference in the nature of political power in India and China. In China, there is enormous pressure on the political leaders to perform and to produce results; otherwise they would be removed from office. There is no such pressure in India; while people select their representatives there is no pressure on the government to perform. There is a need to bridge this gap.
There is a lack of mechanisms in India. The problem that India is facing is not a problem of resources, but of delivery mechanisms. Unless this is solved, we cannot address the problems of poverty, illiteracy and extremism. With regard to Naxalism, India is dealing with an ideological foe. There should be a different strategy to deal with them. There is a vital role of military power and there can be no substitute for hard power. There has been an increase in the size of the army, naval and air force. The Indian navy has increased its cooperation with other countries, especially with the US. India has all the resources and potential for being a great power, but the problem is that India does not have a clear vision and institutional capacity.