Over the past two decades, India has gone from a developing economy to one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Today it reigns as an emerging superpower with significant growth in nearly all areas: population, financial markets, military and more. In 1998, APJ Abdul Kalam, the soon-to-be 11th President of India predicted the country would achieve superpower status by the year 2020. So, we want to know, is that goal still realistic, and when will India become a superpower?
Well, in some areas, India has far surpassed expectations. In the early 1990s, a series of neoliberal economic policies focused on capitalistic growth rather than a long term socialist economy. This resulted in a GDP jump from about 500 billion dollars in 2002, to 2 and a quarter trillion dollars in 2017, one of the most significant increases in recent history. On the back of this dramatic growth, millions in India have been lifted out of poverty and since the early 2000s, the country has been on track to double average income. After China and the United States, India has the third most purchasing power on earth, making us a strong contender for superpower status based on economic influence alone.
Another major sign of a superpower is military might, and in this arena, India has also shown huge increases in spending and global cooperation. Over the past decade, India has tripled its defence expenditures, and as of 2016 was the fifth largest military spender in the world. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced plans to focus on arms production, as currently India imports more weapons than any other country, accounting for massive portion of its 55 billion dollars’ defence budget. As of 2017, Global Firepower ranks India as the fourth most powerful military on earth. Notably, India is one of the few nuclear-ready countries. And in fact, this military power has meant that India is able to forge strong geopolitical alliances in Asia, particularly as a US ally. The United States has ongoing counter-terrorism efforts in both Afghanistan and Pakistan both of which border India. As such India has provided the US use of its military bases, and serves as an important counterpoint in the region against China, another emerging superpower.
India is also close to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, having been repeatedly elected, and with the support of the US, the UK, Russia and France. Even China has supported a larger role for India within the United Nations recently. All of these major achievements, coupled with being the second largest population in the world and the single largest democratic nation would suggest that India is on its way to being a preeminent superpower.
But India still faces major developmental challenges. Widespread issues such as corruption in government, the use of bribery, and sweeping nepotism are significant hurdles to overcome. A 2005 study found that more than 9 out 10 Indians had at one point paid a bribe to a public official, and globally, India ranks 79th in corruption as per the Corruption Perception Index. India also still struggles with extreme income inequality, and a caste system that while improving, is still very much a social problem. Based on one’s ethnicity and family, people in India are segregated for opportunities like college admission, career, living conditions, even salary. While aspects of the country’s economy, industrialization and military are well on their way to being a superpower, as with any other country, there are still social conditions to address. But these hurdles are not intractable, and have steadily improved over the past decade.
As 2020 approaches, fewer and fewer academics and political analysts believe India has enough time left, with most estimates revising India’s timeline to superpower by 2030, following the European Union and China. The question is not whether or not India will be a superpower, but what kind of superpower it wants to be. Many economists have predicted that India’s economic growth has long to go before it drops off. Some have even suggested that India will surpass the US economy in just a few decades.
This write-up was prepared by Shaurya Gulati (2nd Year)