One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
- By Anumita Raj
For close to 20 years now, India has been striving to be a major player in the global arena. Moving away from decades of non-alignment and closed markets, India has shed its socialist roots to embrace the world more firmly. And in doing so, it has received attention as a potential global superpower. As every year passes, more voices join the chorus, wondering why exactly all the buzz hasn’t translated into concrete action.
Why is India not a superpower? Certainly, it has increasing economic power. While most of the developed world has been reeling under a global recession, India has posted a strong growth in GDP over the past two years, and forecasts for the immediate future are strong. With its widening base of consumers, increased purchasing power and a newly minted middle class that is eager to spend much more than its predecessor ever did, India is the ‘go to’ destination for every global brand looking for customers. And yet, archaic laws, widespread corruption and political pressures have slowed the entry of eager foreign companies into India. In fact, with the exception of certain pro-business states like Gujarat, commerce has consistently taken a backseat to politics (be it local, state or central), even in the recent past.
On the foreign policy front, India is easily the largest South Asian power. And yet, it can not seem to parlay that type of regional dominance into international significance. In truth, India has not completely shed its position of non-alignment. Actually, it seems more like a case of having the cake and eating it too. India wants close relations with superpowers in the West, while at the same time maintaining friendly relations with recalcitrant countries like Iran. Even in its own neighbourhood, with the exception of Pakistan, India likes to play its cards close to the chest, taking positions piecemeal, depending on each new situation. Instead of taking strong stands (and due to that sometimes making strong enemies), India wants to be everyone’s friend. While that seems like a laudable goal, to have ties with both Israel and Iran at the same time, in actuality, it results in having only lukewarm relations with both. Even on the foreign aid front, while India does have an increasingly better track record of providing both financial aid and manpower in times of emergency, going so far as offering money to Pakistan after the floods in 2010, it is still a case of nearly not enough. Especially in South Asia, India should be providing much more aid, on a consistent basis, and what’s more, advertising it in a much more prominent manner.
However, nothing has hurt India in its attempt to be taken seriously as a world power, as the rancid mixture of the lowest possible mutation of political will and the highest form of corruption. There are studies galore that have depicted India as malnourished, impoverished, bigoted, as not having adequate access to medical care, as being extremely economically disparate, as being mired in an archaic caste system, and as being apathetic to its own plight. Yet, all of this can be traced back to the combination of the two problems that were presented in the beginning of this paragraph, politics and corruption. And as long as these many problems exist, and a majority of the country’s citizens share those problems, it is unlikely that India will ever be considered a superpower in the truest sense of the word.
So then, what is the future? What will be the result of India’s push-pull relationship between progress and status quo? Like the title suggests, it has been one step forward, and then two steps back. And in all probability, it will remain so, at least for the foreseeable future. In a country as vast and diverse as India, progress can only come slowly. What can be dealt with in a more concerted way, is the problem of ‘two steps back’, the problem of a backslide every time the country attempts to move forward. To this end, the first and most important step will have to be to reduce corruption in the country. A study by Transparency International in 2005 found that nearly half of all Indians had a first hand experience of paying bribes. Corruption in India does not just extend to civil servants taking bribes; it extends to all walks of life. Until this is dealt with, foreign companies will be unwilling to invest fully in India, foreign powers will be unwilling to take India seriously as an aspiring superpower, and most vitally, India’s own citizens will not believe in her power. When it is dealt with, perhaps, it will be one step forward and then another step forward and so on.