A country achieves superpower status when it is able to successfully blend economic, technological, military, and cultural strength with soft power influence and diplomacy. The term superpower was coined post the second World War and attributed to the US and the Soviet Union. These two nations were recognised as the two superpowers that exerted their influence and dominated global affairs. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, post the Cold War, only the US remained as the World's Superpower. Broadly speaking, a state or a nation that has successfully dominated the seven planes of state power, notably population, economy, geography, resources, military, national identity, and diplomacy can be deemed a Superpower.
In the words of the political theorist Sunil Khilnani, India has been ‘a substantial bridgehead of effervescent liberty on the Asian continent’. As such, it inspires hope that the largely poor, still divided, and formerly colonised countries of the Middle East and Africa can likewise push towards a more democratic political system. Meanwhile, via its collective co-existence of diverse faiths, cultures, languages, and cuisines, India is a better model for world governance than most homogenous countries like Japan, China, or the United States. Once, the heterogeneity of India was seen as its greatest flaw; now, it may justly be celebrated as its greatest strength.
India has for numerous years been regarded as an emerging or rising state. After decades of unfulfilled promises, it now seems to be inching ahead, with more rapid economic growth, new attention from the major powers, and the development of a modest nuclear arsenal. Adding these developments to India’s traditional strengths – a persistent and unique democracy and an influential culture – it is no wonder that many have predicted the emergence of India as a major Asian power or even a world-class state.
Rich in Resources
India has traditionally been quite active in international negotiations, much more than other countries at comparable levels of per capita income, and much more than other large developing countries, such as, for instance, China, which wholly isolated itself from the outside world after the communist revolution. Overall, the literature tends to conclude that despite short-term defeats, India has mostly been a relatively successful player in the international arena. In 2010, Barack Obama stated that “India is not just a rising power. India has risen.” It is not difficult to guess why the erstwhile President of the most powerful nation in the world, said this. His words stemmed from India's long held democratic credentials and her commitment towards upholding the ideals of multiculturalism, pluralism, and international peace. India has various factors that work in her favor and can propel her towards acquiring a superpower status. For one, India is geographically located in an extremely advantageous position since the Indian Ocean is a zone with tremendous potential for growth in transoceanic commerce. Moreover, people have already started realising that the indiscriminate use of fossil fuels is rapidly depleting the earth of its natural resources. Using sources of renewable energy seems the only way forward. By virtue of being located in the tropics, India can be the source towards which countries turn to satisfy their energy needs. Next, India has the world's second largest population. Approximately sixty five percent of her population is below the age of thirty-five. This endows the nation with a large workforce that plays an active role in promoting robust economic growth.
India's Military Power
India ticks several of the boxes that are considered essential to become a superpower.
First, India has one of the most powerful and third largest army in the world with eleven lakhs twenty-nine thousand (11,29,000) active troops and nine lakh sixty thousand (9,60,000) reserve troops. India's volatile borders with nuclear powers like China and Pakistan necessitates expertise in mountain warfare. Towards this end, the High-Altitude Warfare School in Gulmarg in Jammu and Kashmir is the best such training institute for mountain warfare training in the world. Countries from all over the world including the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and Germany come here for training.
India has also proven her expertise in successfully dealing with the insurgency. The Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School whose motto is ''Fight the guerilla like a guerilla'' is located in the state of Mizoram. It is the best school of its kind and sees the likes of the armies of nations like The United States of America, Uzbekistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan among others, that visit regularly for training purposes. Alongside its role in anti-terrorism operations and in maintaining law and order in disturbed areas, the Indian Army is also a part of several United Nations peacekeeping missions.
India also has the fourth largest air force in the world. The Indian Air Force which is the guardian of our skies is way ahead of most EU nations like Germany. With a formidable naval force that is not only the fifth largest in the world but also equipped with, sophisticated submarines, missile capable warships, and aircraft carriers, India is using its considerable military might win a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
With the idea of becoming self-reliant in the area of missile development, India commenced the IGMDP (Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme). This includes five missiles namely surface to air missiles Trishul and Akash, the ballistic missiles Prithvi and Agni, and Nag the anti-tank missile. India is also developing long range cruise missiles called Nirbhay along the lines of the Tomahawk missiles. Moreover, India also has an impressive nuclear arsenal. Thus far we have not allowed ourselves to be coerced into signing the nuclear non proliferation treaty.
India's Technological Power
India has been making rapid progress in the field of science and technology since Independence. For one, we are no longer dependent on satellite data from other countries like the US. Since 2015 India's remote sensing capabilities have seen tremendous development. Today we have satellite-based applications for a host of things like generation of natural resources information, crop production estimation, potential fishing zones, groundwater prospect mapping, etc. As far as nuclear technology is concerned, India is naturally rich in Thorium deposits. This resource was brilliantly utilized by our scientists as nuclear fuel instead of Uranium 238. This was a shot in the arm to India's nuclear program and set us apart from other countries that were struggling to find a replacement for Uranium. India is also, numero uno when it comes to the development of Thorium based fast breeder reactors. With twenty-two nuclear reactors in seven nuclear plants, India is a fast emerging nuclear superpower.
India's Mars Mission is the talking point of the entire world. We became the first Asian country and the fourth nation in the world to orbit Mars and that too in the least expensive manner possible. At four hundred and fifty crores (US$ 60-70M), India's Mars Orbital Mission is the most cost effective mission of its kind thus far. India is the world's second largest telecom market with a mind boggling subscriber base of 1.2 billion users. Our television industry has more than four hundred private channels. We have made commendable progress in the harnessing of wind and solar power, thus making rapid strides in the field of renewable energy sources.
Though the Pandemic has caused our economy to go into a downward spiral, many economists rate the long term growth prospect of the Indian economy as positive. The resilience of our economy can be attributed to factors such as health savings investment rates, our young population as well as our increasing integration into the global economy. One of the most remarkable things about the Indian economy is that India has one of the fastest growing service sectors in the world.
In the Primary sector, India stands only next to China when it comes to the production of food. As for the secondary sector, India is still a small player when it comes to the manufacturing sector, as compared to many other countries. The Tertiary and Quaternary sector has seen rapid expansion due to our Information Technology industry, which is considered one of the best globally. India is considered to be the leader in the services industry largely due to the availability of a highly skilled, low-cost English-speaking workforce.
Also, India has the second largest population of fluent English speakers second only to the United States of America, and the largest workforce of doctors, engineers, and other professionals all fluent in English. India's economic growth is based on the local economic sector. Hence, it is likely to surpass other cumbersome economies that rely more on foreign investment. Almost every major Multi National Corporation including Cisco, HP, Motorola, GM, etc has begun to make their Asian Headquarters and Research and Development facilities in India.
Though it is true that our transport system leaves a lot to be desired, the government is in the process of developing a modern, mass rapid transit system. Towards this end, cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, and Kochi already have a modern metro rail system in place. With the implementation of the Bullet train and other ambitious projects that will revolutionize economic growth, India is bound to become a superpower.
India's ancient history and her diverse culture along with her fascinating music, architecture, and spiritual models has made our nation a much sought after and preferred tourist destination for travelers from all corners of the globe. According to The World Travel and Tourism Council, India's tourism industry is set to grow at ten percent per annum in the coming decade. Since tourism contributes to six percent of India's Gross Domestic Product and employs approximately forty million people, it is an important factor in India's economic growth.
Moreover, India is also a leading destination for medical tourism and the number of foreign visitors is expected to increase by approximately fifteen percent annually. The reason for this is high quality treatment provided at a low cost. Private hospitals in India are seeing a rise in the number of patients from Bangladesh and the Gulf. Patients from the United States of America flock to India because the same treatment costs five to ten times more in their own country. The major selling points of India’s medical tourism industry are the high quality facilities, competent English speaking professionals, and cost-effectiveness.
India as a Soft Power
The term ‘Soft Power’ was coined by Joseph Nye in the late 1980s. It is defined as the ability of a country or a nation to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion of any kind. A country’s soft power is also its ability to make friends and influence people, or other countries, not through military might but through its most attractive and appealing assets, such as culture, education, language, and values as well as medical facilities or amenities.
Soft power has a greater role in today’s world because we live in an increasingly multi-polar society where wealth, power, and information are being increasingly widely diffused and disseminated. Due to an increase in mass international cultural contact and the changing nature of cultural relations, soft power which lies largely outside the direct control of governments has come to take on an critical role.
India's soft power appeal came to the fore at the end of the Cold War. The appeal of India's democratic values and expanding economy saw her become a part of ASEAN (Association of South East Nations). In keeping with India's image as a democracy and a responsible holder of nuclear weapons, governments from Bangladesh to the Maldives, Nepal, and Afghanistan have been seeking India's assistance for the conduct of free and fair elections, for the drafting of their constitutions, etc. India's soft power has been steadily growing due to various factors such as improvement in ease of doing business rankings, the Incredible India tourism campaign, International Yoga Day, etc. With India's rising economic profile, new soft power resources have gained relevance, such as India's role in humanitarian and disaster relief operations and as a higher education hub for developing countries in Asia and Africa.
Yoga is a focal point of India's soft power diplomacy. Yoga traces its origins to several centuries ago. The underlying principle of Yoga, is the union of body with consciousness and consciousness, with the soul. Over the years, Yoga has captured the imagination of people across the globe, mainly due to the efforts of Gurus like Paramahansa Yogananda, B.K.S Iyengar, etc. COVID-19 has seen many global leaders forego the conventional handshake and instead go for the traditional Indian greeting- ‘Namaste’. This has brought into focus Indian traditions and practices that promote and sustain mental, physical, and spiritual health. Following its successful efforts in promoting Yoga, India is betting on traditional medicine to pull off its next big coup.
The Indian administration is leaving no stone unturned to promote Ayurveda - India's medicine system dating back to 5000 years. The Ayurveda system offers holistic healthcare through a collaboration of body, mind, and spirit. The practitioners of Ayurveda use natural herbs for the preparation of medicines and concoctions that possess healing properties. The increasing popularity of Ayurveda is due to the fact that nowadays, people rely more on herbal and organic treatment procedures which are believed to have nil or minimal side-effects. Ayurveda is playing a huge role in driving the Indian economy. The large scale export of Ayurvedic drugs from India to various regions in the world is providing a huge boost to the economy. Yoga and Ayurveda have thus become two of the greatest sources of soft power in India. To this end, and as a part of its efforts to promote alternative medicine and bring it into the mainstream, the ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy) was created. A survey conducted by Market Research Future predicts that the Ayurveda market is set to increase by 2023.
Cinema has the ability and power to cut across all barriers including language, region, or even religion. India's film industry is the leading producer of feature films, beating Hollywood. The Indian film industry is becoming increasingly popular not just in Central and West Asia but also in Western countries. Indian dance has resonated with people all over the globe particularly in the context of Bollywood dance numbers, Indian dance has redefined parameters of the art form and the universal nature of dance allows for it to become a tool of cultural diplomacy.
Many artists and designers believe that India's history and future are woven in her textiles. Textile craftsmanship is thought to be one of the oldest Indian traditions that convey cultural motifs and patterns from all the cultures of the neighboring countries. India's khadi textile designs that carry the history of Indian independence and are a crucial aspect of Indian political ideology are making waves across the world.
India is certain to become a desirable, resource, and energy efficient, and entrepreneurial superpower, given her functional institutions of democracy. India also has the potential to be a shining example of how to blend rapid economic progress with the inclusion of those on the margins of society. Of no small significance is the fact that India's system of a democratically elected government has stood the test of time for more than sixty years. This certainly goes to show that democracy is a sure shot way to long term stability.
If one were to consider the economy, military, political, and soft power, then India is one of the most powerful countries in the world. According to the Sydney-based Lowy Institute's Asia Power Index for 2020, which ranks twenty six nations and territories, India is the fourth most powerful country in the Asia-Pacific region. It is, therefore, only a matter of time before India rises to claim her spot in the sun.
The Way Ahead
However, there are a few wrinkles that need to be ironed out if India is to become a superpower. Overcoming poverty and unemployment are two of the greatest challenges that lie before us. In addition to these challenges, we also need to work on the education of our women as well as the promotion of women’s empowerment. This must include strategies to put a stop to female foeticide and female infanticide as well. It is also extremely important that we, the people of India, learn to rise above differences of caste, religion, creed, and color. If we can transcend these barriers that stand in the way of progress and impede our growth as a nation and as a people, India will soon become an unstoppable force; a country to reckon with.
India’s growth has certainly been impressive and warrants the attention that it has commanded. India has been one of the world’s finest performing economies for a quarter of a century, lifting millions out of poverty and transforming into the world’s third-largest economy in PPP terms. India has tripled its defense expenditure over the last decade to become one of the top 10 military spenders. And in a contrast to Asia’s other billion person emerging power, India has simultaneously cultivated an attractive global image of social and cultural dynamism.
India’s growth in geostrategic terms is rendered all the more crucial since its power resides at the confluence of the United State’s two great hegemonic challenges: counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the management of China’s growing regional assertiveness. Barack Obama’s enthusiastic endorsement of a permanent UN security council seat for India, as part of making the US-India relationship ‘a defining partnership of the century ahead,’ speaks volumes for the global significance of how India defines its foreign policy.
Still, for all India’s accomplishment, its undoubted significance, and despite its undisputed potential, there is cause for caution in evaluating India’s claim to superpower status. India still faces major developmental challenges in the coming times. The divisions of caste structure are being compounded by the emergence of new inequalities of wealth stemming from India’s economic success. India’s democracy may have flourished in a manner that few ever expected, but its institutions face deep challenges from entrenched nepotism and corruption. India’s economic success continues to come with an environmental cost that is unmaintainable.
India can be truly robust and powerful not because of its military might and a growing number of people who are super well-off, but if the welfare of the people is looked after by the state. The Modi government has begun well by offering low-cost schemes covering accidents, life insurance, and pension and there are 120 million subscribers already. Wider coverage would spread the advantages among the poor. We should be able to curb the rising inequality and lack of concern for fellow citizens who are deprived. Offering economic security to all ought to be the prime responsibility of the state in the future.
India was not expected to survive as a democracy nor hold together as a single strong nation, but it has. These manifest successes, achieved against the odds and against the logic of human history, have compelled worldwide admiration. If calls are now being heard that India must be made a Permanent Member of the Security Council of the United Nations, then these demands are not just legitimate, but definitely overdue. It is India’s long-term record as a stable, multicultural democracy that lies behind its claims for a place at the High Table of Global Affairs.
Corruption and poverty are still prevalent in India, yet the world’s largest democracy is poised to rise to the status of a superpower. There are challenges, of course. The reforms are still in the early stages. Cultural, political, and macroeconomic factors could slow down or derail progress, government corruption could be harder to eliminate than imagined, and huge economic ambitions could crash against the harsh realities of poor infrastructure and widespread poverty. At the same time, increasing tension with its nuclear neighbor Pakistan and the rising military might of China could require India to spend heavily on defense forces, develop internal strife between Muslims and Hindus, and distract from other priorities.
Presently, our shinning India with 90 millionaires, rich and middle class of 160 million takes away the major advantages of a high growth rate. On the other hand, there is the suffering in India, living in rural areas and slums in urban areas that have a population of more than 900 million. Unless the conditions of the vast majority of the Indian population improves, it would be downrightly improper to consider India as a real economic superpower.
India is sure to continue to play a constructive international role in, among other things, the financial diplomacy of the G20, and it certainly has a soft-power story to tell as a model of liberal economic and political development.
We at Deshpee believe that the cultural impact of Indian literature, culture, music, films, and sporting events will increasingly be felt globally through and beyond India’s diaspora. The United States, specifically, has been placing India at the very heart of its strategic reorientation, and with it, the orientation of the rest of the word – towards Asia. India’s significance for others will undoubtedly create the temptation to play the superpower roe.