Much has been written about India’s emerging status as a rising power, a fast-growing economy and its huge market. Much has also been written about the stark realities of poor economic conditions of those at the bottom of the social ladder, the rural-urban divide, malnutrition, economic inequality and corruption in politics and even everyday life. Yet, one may ask: what is that makes – or takes away from – India becoming a super power and what does it really mean to be a super power in world politics today?
Interestingly, as India continues to consolidate its current status of an emerging power, thus moving from the category of a third-world country to a developing economy, its definition of what it means to be a super power has remained static focusing on economic factors (growing GDP) and political conditions (active democracy), though I would argue that even based on these two India has a long way to go to become a real super power.
India has also been engaged in active nuclear diplomacy to attain the status of being a ‘responsible nuclear state with advanced nuclear technology’ as former US president George Bush and PM Manmohan Singh stated in a joint statement in 2005 prior to the 123 agreement for civil nuclear cooperation.
Apart from this, the focus has also been on building India’s brand value as a ‘soft power’. Indeed, Bollywood, art, culture, yoga and other such factors have played an important role in enhancing India’s soft power, but the question remains: Is soft power alone enough to attain the status of being a super power?
I attended a talk by a senior official from the Indian external affairs ministry who visited Oxford University and spoke about public diplomacy and India’s foreign policy. It was an informal talk organized by the Indian Society yet it provided an interesting perspective and got me thinking of what really is India’s foreign policy.
A great deal of focus at this talk was on building India’s soft power image. This is not to say that soft power is not important but it does raise important questions, one question that I raised even at this ‘informal talk’, as it was carefully termed, was what the goal of this soft power image was. There needs to be one for that to be a real ‘foreign policy goal’: whether it is the goal to move from the developing cadre to a developed one or to attain permanent membership at the UNSC or to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a cartel that was formed actually in response to India’s 1974 nuclear tests. In other words, we need well-focused outcomes and more importantly, we need to assess if what we are chasing is a mere mirage!
So coming back to the question: is India ready for a super power status? My answer is not yet. There is, I argue, a lack of clarity in the end-goals of India’s foreign policy. This is not to say that nobody talks about it but it is spoken more as an idea than practice of what this foreign policy should be and will be. In other words, what is needed is a clear-cut strategy as to what the goal is, how it will be achieved and an agenda for taking the goals forward. To emerge as a global power it is essential for our current and future leadership to acquaint itself with the basic principles of international relations to foster a well-strategized and calculated policy in dealing with other nations not just economically and politically but in simple relational terms.
Second, any kind of power also requires the ability to influence and that in turn requires a voice that is heard. Is India able to influence world politics and, importantly, does India have an opinion on important international issues? Having an opinion alone is not enough, it is important to express that opinion to the world without hesitation. While India has always followed a non-aligned policy, in today’s world politics that becomes more of an excuse to not say anything. As a global power, India will need to voice its opinion on international issues other than those that relate to it alone.
Whether it was the Libyan intervention, the uprisings and absolute abuse of power in Syria, the new leadership in North Korea or growing concerns of a nuclear Iran, the ‘global powers’ and the world will now want to hear an emerging India’s opinion.
Indeed, it is time to combine the Yoga regime with some Pilates as India moves closer to 2013 and our leadership itself must reassess and understand its foreign policy goals before it is articulated to the rest of the world.
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