Public Diplomacy

The Gentle Giant: the journey so far

August 12, 2013

Indian Weekender/By Sumantra Maitra

India’s rise as a global power is now common theme in political magazines and economic journals, think tank debates and university seminars. The "rise of the rest”, along with the inevitable simultaneous decline of the traditional West is often mentioned with awed reverence by existing global powers and business giants. But how much of that assertion is true, and how much more needs to be done? This independence day, we look back at the journey of the gentle giant, from 1947 to present, and the shifts in global order affecting and reciprocating to this geo-political phenomenon.

The modern Indian state, though one of the oldest civilisations of the planet, owes its existence to the British Raj. For good and bad, the Raj shaped our borders, and with the advent of modern industries, democracy, education and Anglo-Saxon rule of common law and English language, it forged our identity. That way, even with ever changing political alliance formations across the globe, we share a common identity with our other liberal democratic commonwealth brethren. However, that being said, modern India, being true to its Kautilyan political realism roots, charted an independent path and foreign policy. The Nehruvian socialist idealism, even though with massively rhetorical and extremely flawed domestic economic policy, never quite affected the foreign policy of the country. Being one of the founding members of Non Aligned Movement, India however showed remarkable flexibility and bipartisan spirit in dealing with all the major powers allying with US during 1962 war with China, and sided with Soviets when Uncle Sam preferred Pakistan in the last two decades of the Cold war. With shifting World economic and political scenario, India started to change accordingly, and in two stages of economic liberalization, poverty fell dramatically, from over 35 percent in 1987/88 to 29 percent in 1993/94 to 23 percent in 1999/2000.

India is now the fourth largest individual military power according to a study by GlobalFirepower, the fourth country in the World to have an active Nuclear Triad and second strike capability, one of the few elite states to have an ICBM and missile defence program, and a Mars and Moon exploration and space program. India is also a global leader in service sector, pharmaceuticals and manufacturing. Indian powerhouses like Tata, Reliance, Mittal and Wipro now in a funny ironic twist, now owns the traditional British symbols like Jaguar and Land rovers, and probably some British EPL football clubs as well in what seems like a full cycle of fate. Indian scientists, doctors and engineers now are the major workforce in every major country. And if the recent report of Paris based OECD think tank is true, India has probably surpassed Japan as the third largest Economy based on GDP, just after US and China.

However major challenges remain. For such a giant country with massive potentials, Indian policy making remains notoriously sluggish, bureaucratic and myopic. The growth of the last two decades is rapidly slowing, partly due to the inevitable boom and bust cycle of globalised market economy, and partly due to the extremely populist economic policies of all the major political parties and coalition politics. Infrastructure remains a major challenge, with terrible road network. Education in India is stagnated with extreme tech focused vocational courses, resulting in the degrading collective wisdom. Saddest part is the terrible soft power and media skills, which is evident from the country hooked into appalling, traumatizing family soap operas, to the interminable Bollywood churning of either meaningless shallow slapstick comedies or legitimizing mindless gangster flicks. Finally, 2013 is not 1947, and with the global geopolitical dynamics shifting, India will soon, in the near foreseeable future need to choose a side.

However, hope springs eternal. One needs to remember, that it is easy to criticize or mock but extremely difficult to manage a country with 1.2 billion people, a heavy legacy of sectarian and other problems and a burden of colonial and subsequently socialist economy. We still managed to come so far, and the forces of geopolitics and economics will force us to change with time, and adjust with the global order, as we always had.

(The views expressed above are the personal views of the writer)

This article can also be read at:
The Gentle Giant: the journey so far


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