Going Global: India Might Be a Budding Superpower
Though it has its obstacles, India is becoming more influential
Columns / March 9, 2018
While all eyes are on China, many people have been talking about India as another up-and-comer on the world stage.
Both China and India have massive, 1 billion-plus populations, low labour costs, high agricultural fertility, and GDP growth rates above 7 per cent. There are, however, many obstacles keeping India from reaching China’s status.
Beijing has the luxury of telling other cities and provinces what to do and how to do it. Highly centralized control is why massive infrastructure projects get started and completed relatively quickly there. India, however, is nothing like this. Despite its Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, being well-liked by most of the Indian population—a Pew poll last year suggested 88 per cent approval—it’s often difficult for New Delhi to tell, say, Gujarat state what to do, and to expect anything to happen. The reasons for this go way back in history.
China has a fairly unified identity, with the only outliers being the ever-resistant Hong Kong and still-independent Taiwan. Mao Zedong unified the country through force during his time as Party Chairman, but this only took place after thousands of years of conflict between warring states and various dynasties who attempted to unite the country.
No such thing ever took place in India, and in some ways, India is impossible to conquer for any period of time. Before the British took control, India was a collection of kingdoms and princely states, and the Brits somewhat unified the country by making deals and political arrangements with the various factions. After they left, the country experienced considerable chaos, with many of the Hindu and Muslim populations separating into rival nations. Several issues from the partition of India are still felt today.
Furthermore, unlike China, there is no unified language in India. Yes, Chinese comes in more varieties than Mandarin and Cantonese—such as Wu, Min, Xiang, and several others—but these aren’t national languages. By contrast, India has 26 languages that the government formally recognizes, and even more than that are spoken in smaller communities.
India likely couldn’t function if it was less democratic, given how diverse its population is. The country would simply have no stability. And on top of that, India has issues with insurgent Maoists and Khalistan groups.
Still, India has become somewhat more centralized under Modi, who took power in 2014. For example, he has increased the influence that the government has over judicial appointments.
India does have a lot of advantages going for it. Around 10 per cent of the population speaks English, and like China, many people there are earning STEM educations, making the country extremely appealing for outside investment. There are also several large companies beginning to grow in India, such as Tata Motors and Infosys. The current government is taking note of this and initiating policies that push their IT advantages.
When it comes to environmental issues, India continues to struggle with pollution, but some change is taking place. Modi has made ecology a massive part of his plan for India, but due to difficulties in Indian bureaucracy, progress is slow going. Modi is also making a big push to improve quality of life. Some symptoms of this were a campaign to increase public sanitation and the effort to get more people to use mobile payments.
After China and the U.S., India has the world’s highest purchasing power parity, and The World Bank estimates that the number of Indians in poverty has halved since 1993. With India slowly becoming wealthier and more livable, its presence in the world will become increasingly important. India is not a superpower on the level of the United States or China yet, but 25 years from now, it might be a different story.