India at 75: A new Vision Despite Growing Pains
On Monday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to a massive crowd in front of the historic Red Fort in the city of Delhi. Speaking on the occasion of 75 years since his country’s independence, the outspoken and controversial Prime Minister laid forth his aim to make India into a developed nation within 25 years. This target is just the latest in a rapid cycle of change which has taken hold in the South Asian power over the past decades and has led them from an exotic mystery to a global power.
75 Years of Indian Independence
For many western observers, India has long been an enigmatic country. Despite its massive population and large size, India has struggled to achieve the sort of regional and global hegemony that some of its partners in the region have been able to claim. Its long-standing feud with Pakistan over a myriad of issues, ranging from political and economic issues to cultural and religious differences, has not only played a somewhat outsized role in the nation’s politics, but has also been a constant reminder of India’s painful colonial past. Once the “Jewel of the British Empire”, colonialism and its unequal power dynamics left India in a troubled and fractious state when the British administration left in 1947. After the horrors of the partition of what was formally the British Raj into Pakistan and India, India had trouble finding its true place in the world. Overshadowed by larger regional and international powers like the Soviet Union and a unified Communist China, India struggled with economic hindrances and political instability. The constitution, which formed the basis of the new state and was ratified in 1950, founded a secular, democratic state, and turned India into the world’s largest democracy. As the country’s demographics shifted from rural farms to rapidly growing metropolises, so too did the economy. Economic liberalization brought new opportunities for many in India, especially in the tech sector which has come to dominate a substantial part of India’s economy. India has reliably produced a highly-skilled workforce and its growing diaspora around the world has led to rapid changes in foreign viewpoints on India and Indian culture. Despite these rapid changes, the country has still been plagued by economic and political issues. The changes in the economy has led to a growing middle class, but also to extreme income inequality with the landscapes of many of India’s largest cities being conversely dominated by luxury high-rise apartment buildings as well as overcrowded slums. Territorial disputes with China and Pakistan in the Jammu and Kashmir regions in the far north have had clear effects on India’s geopolitical situation. Domestically, although Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is politically dominant, its populist messaging mixed with elements of Hindu nationalism has made him a controversial leader inside and outside of the country. This has led to further religious and ethnic tensions between the varying peoples and groups within India’s borders. Now at 75, India is looking towards the future and aiming to perhaps finally completely achieve the position which its area and population would seem to demand.
PM Modi Promises “Developed Nation” within 25 Years
Speaking in front of the historic Red Fort in Delhi, Prime Minister Modi promised to deliver on a vision to make India into a developed country within 25 years. As one of the world’s fastest growing economies, this vision would seem like it is on the way to being achieved. But the stubbornness of India’s deeply rooted poverty issues combined with a rapidly growing population are creating challenges for the nation’s economic vitality. The challenge of creating a developed nation were acknowledged by the Prime Minister, calling his vision a “big resolution”, but one which the country must use all their might to achieve. Currently categorized as a lower-middle income economy by the World Bank, its GDP per capita of only $2,601 ranks it 141st in the world, far behind its largest neighbor, China (64th), although slightly ahead of Pakistan. In order for India to classify as a high-income economy, it would have to achieve a GDP per capita of at least $13,205, representing a tripling of per capita income in 25 years (for reference, 25 years ago, in 1997, the Indian GDP per capita was $415 according to the World Bank, representing an increase of over 500%). Currently, the sixth largest economy in the world, the Indian economy is expected to grow by 7% year-over-year, which is the fastest rate of growth among all of the world’s major economies. Finally, the disparity between total economic power and per capita income could remain highly contrasted over the next decades. Experts say that India’s economy could be the third largest in the world by 2050, but their per capita income could remain far lower than the two countries their economy would be smaller than: the United States and China. Away from the world of economics, India has long been seen as a counterweight to Chinese influence in the region. Yet despite India’s highly nationalistic population and spending more than 2% of its GDP on military affairs, its strategical opportunities to counterbalance Chinese superiority may not be fully achieved in the next decades. The United States and Europe see India as a key strategic partner in the region and one part of a larger strategy to act against Chinese, Iranian, and Russian influence and power in Asia. Speaking on the occasion of India’s 75th anniversary since its independence, US President Joe Biden called India an “indispensable partner” for American interests in the region and urged India and the US to work together over the coming years to foster political and economic cooperation.
Over the past 75 years, India has found it hard to breakthrough on the world’s stage, but since the 1990’s, the country has undergone economic liberalization and grown its regional influence to become a possible superpower-in-waiting. Under the rigid leadership of a populist leader, India has many domestic issues to solve before it can turn its attention to being the democratic counterweight in Asia which so many in the West have laid their hopes upon.