Canberra, 21 June 2013


[This is an abridged version of a presentation that I gave to the University of Western Australia in Perth, on 9 May 2013.]
“India is at once a rising power with an expanding middle-class; and a poor, unequal and misgoverned country.”
India’s civilisation is one of the oldest in the world. However, ironically it has been ‘discovered’ a number of times in its long history—by the Arab traders who used its peninsular region as a sort of mid-way camp in their trade route to China; by the Persians who annexed some of the north-western provinces to their great empire; by the Mongols (known as Mughals in Indian history) who at one stage ruled the entire country; and in 1942 by the Portuguese adventurer Vasco da Gama. Even later the British ‘discovered’ India and made it into the jewel in the crown of the Empire in which the sun never set. In recent times, the United States has been in the process of ‘discovering’ India all over again, albeit in a different manner. While these repeated discoveries of India have always intrigued me, it looks as if the ancient nation is being discovered yet again as a world entity. However, there is a palpable, if subtle, difference in this seventh iteration of the Discovery of India—this time round, India will be discovered at its own terms, wherein India’s own interests will be paramount rather than the discovery catering to the whims of some foreign power.
While India has a lot to offer the world, it is also faced with pressing issues and significant challenges that stand in the way of it realising its inherent potential. To point out a few: the country is extraordinarily complex and diverse in multiple ways and therefore, does not lend itself to any kind of broad generalisation; despite cultural greatness and the longevity of the civilisation, its history has been poorly recorded and is not given the importance it deserves even though it ought to act as a foundation for establishing greatness; and it is difficult even today, after more than six decades of independence, to find coherent and articulated beliefs regarding national security and clear operating principles for the development of an Indian Grand Strategy.
India’s geographic location is a fundamental factor that influences its perceptions of strategic power and national security. Perhaps the Great Himalayan Ranges that have stood as natural guardians of the sub-continent for centuries have been instrumental in creating a false sense of security. In any case the geography of the sub-continent is conducive to the development of an insular perspective while also reinforcing the accommodation of diversity. In more recent times, the term Indo-Pacific has been coined to indicate the broader Asia-Pacific region. This could be construed as indicative of India’s enhanced importance to the region, and more importantly to its acceptability as a growing power within the region. This acceptance is based on the perception of its growth as a relatively benign development, as opposed to it becoming a cogent threat. Further, its geographic domination of the Indian Ocean makes India a key in this new concept of an Indo-Pacific region.
From an Australian perspective, there is now full recognition of India’s regional importance and its potential to grow into a global power. This recognition is reinforced by the opening of two new Australian Consulates-General in Chennai and Mumbai; the changes that were brought about in the domestic Uranium Export Policy to facilitate Australian uranium export to India; and the Prime Minister’s visit to India in late-2012.
So let me drill down a bit further and give you my take on India in the 21st century and its future place in the global community.
India in the 21 Century
There are four broad factors that must be analysed in order to arrive at the status of a nation in terms of its growth potential and ability to be an effective ‘player’ in regional and/or global affairs—the political landscape; state of the economy; the demography; and national power. These in turn will determine its place in the sun or otherwise. To balance this process, it is also necessary to examine the challenges that the nation faces in achieving its strategic objectives.
Political Landscape
For almost two decades India has been ruled by coalitions, cobbled together as a matter of convenience and egged on by the lure of power. This is particularly the case with the smaller regional parties who at times could hold the balance of power although they could never be in power at the Centre on their own. The need to appease regional allies leads to indecisiveness in governance, which could get exacerbated when the regional parties insist on pursuing their own ‘domestic’ agenda—normally contrary to the larger national interest. It has been observed a number of times that the Government comes to a complete stand-still in terms of policy decisions because of the need to placate minority junior partners in the coalition. The reverse side of this coin is that, the Central Government spends an inordinate amount of time and energy just ensuring that it stays in power through having the necessary majority in Parliament. Domestic crises consume the Government and even on national security issues there is no consensus within the ruling coalition, let alone a clear bipartisan approach supported by all parties. The on-going Chinese incursion into Ladakh is a clear example of this state of affairs.
Currently there is a distinct sense of a rudderless Government struggling to meet even the minimum day-to-day governance requirements of the nation, unable to come to grips with the realities that are facing the country—both domestically and internationally—and only focused on staying in power. This is a Government devoid of a vision, great ideas or long term concepts for the development of the nation.
State of the Economy
The Indian economy has shown enviable growth in the last two decades; a success story the likes of which has very seldom been seen in the world. Indian economy had crawled along at a low 2 to 3 per cent for more than three decades after independence and in tandem with an annual population growth of around 2 per cent, the GDP growth was derisively referred to as the ‘Hindu rate of growth’. But liberalisation in the 1990s saw the nation rapidly surging to average above 9 per cent growth in GDP. Since the dismantling of the ‘Licence Raj’ starting in 1991, the GDP has grown on an average 6.5 per cent, the drop from the earlier 9 per cent being attributed to the slowing down experienced in the past three-odd years. This slow-down is a direct result of the convoluted domestic politics that is bogged down in the give and take of coalitions and the opposition to liberalisation by some political parties. At least for now, the reform drive has stalled, and the Government has neither the strength nor the inclination to push forward concerted actions that will ensure the continuance of the earlier growth rate. Recently the GDP growth has been further downgraded to 4.9 per cent. The European economies would kill to obtain such a figure, but for India this is the slowest growth in a decade!
There is a lacklustre effort at reinstating the liberalisation process, although the twin hurdles of policy red tape and lack of infrastructure continue to hold back comprehensive growth. India is a land of boundless promise and also one of frustrated expectations. The Government needs to simplify procedures and effect clear regulations that cannot be misinterpreted, with malice or unintentionally. Regulatory constraints still thwart projects and only their permanent easing will facilitate the development and up-gradation of the decrepit infrastructure—roads, ports and power systems. Without such reforms, the cost of doing business in India is continuing to go up. A comparison of the foreign investment in China and India is a direct indicator that the robustness of the changes being instituted is insufficient—in 2012, China attracted $ 124 billion in foreign investment whereas only $ 32 billion was invested in India.
The story is not of failures alone; there are also more optimistic forecasts. At the current growth rate (estimated to be around 7 per cent) the GDP would double approximately every 8 years and a Citigroup forecast states that India will be the world’s largest economy by 2050. Indians will be the most important consumers in the world, becoming a primary driver of global growth. The Brookings Institute in Washington D.C believes that the Indian middle class will outstrip and outspend both those of the United States and China in the next couple of years. For an economy that is slowing down, these are feel-good stories and the Government seems to be making all the right noises to facilitate this forecast growth. The results of the next general elections will determine how far the reforms will be pushed. India needs to get back into the groove, sooner rather than later.
By 2020, India will be the youngest country in the world, with a median individual age of 29 years, most of whom will be urban dwellers. It is projected that by 2015, there will be 900 million people of working age and by 2021 there will be 464 million people in the age group of 15 to 34. Such a demographic balance is a double edged sword—on the one hand it can be an absolute strength if sufficient opportunities are created to exploit the potential of the work force; while on the other, the challenge of educating and skilling this massive numbers can become a daunting task. As has been repeatedly demonstrated in the past few years, social unrest is a definite fallout of the failure to capture the unending energy of educated youth. Comparison with China is an inevitable consequence of discussing India’s growth. China’s demographic profile is at its optimum now and in the next two decades its productive population will stagnate and start to decline. At the same time India is expected to overtake it in overall population. The changing demographic balance between the two nations will inevitably influence all other interactions.
The issues that India faces are not minor, although there has been tangible improvement in terms of the overall standard of living. However, a great deal more needs to be done to pull the nation out of inequality and poverty. In 2012, 20 per cent of a total population of 1.15 billion lived on less than one dollar a day. This is a large number, but a comparison shows the improvement that has been achieved. The figure for people living under one dollar per day was 36 per cent of a population of 846 million in 1991; and 26 per cent of a population of 1.02 billion in 2001. Even though enormous numbers are still poverty stricken, this is a success story. Twisting statistics in another way, it is also true that India accounts for 33 per cent of the world’s poor i.e. people living on less than $ 1.25 per day. India needs to ensure that the poorest of the poor does not get left behind in its move towards global power. The social schisms that such a situation will create may not be manageable and it is more than likely that a tipping point towards chaos could be reached if this issue is not carefully monitored and managed.
National Power
An analysis of a country’s national power must take into account its foreign policy, and  defence and security issues. In India’s case the China factor must also be analysed.
Foreign Policy
In India’s case there are two factors that directly affect its foreign policy development and implementation.
Centre-State Relations. A central influence in India’s foreign policy derivation is the prevailing circumstances in the Centre-State relationship. The nation is far from homogenous and its diversity in terms of culture, ethnicity, and therefore perceptions, does not create favourable conditions for the development of a cohesive foreign policy. In fact, political differences between the Centre and States, as well as ethnic ties of the peripheral states with the neighbouring countries have made Indian foreign policy the victim of internal arguments and dissentions. This situation has been further exacerbated by the inability or unwillingness of the Central Government to understand and manage the domestic political imperatives of the states and their cross border linkages and expectations. The case of Tamil Nadu and the Sri Lankan Tamils is an illustrative example.
Look East Policy. India declared a ‘Look East Policy’ in the late 1980s that almost collapsed in the 1990s. The main reason was the indifference of the South East Asian nations to whether or not they were engaged with India—initially because they were riding the tiger of rapid economic growth and subsequently because of their preoccupation with coping with the 1997-98 financial meltdown. In the new century there has been tangible improvement in the situation with a summit level dialogue being held between India and ASEAN in 2002 and India becoming a member of East Asia Summit in 2005. Further, ASEAN has elevated relationship with India to the level of ‘strategic partnership’ in 2012 and there have been repeated calls from ASEAN leaders for India to be more proactive in South East Asian affairs. These developments have to be seen in the backdrop of the Chinese behaviour that has disconcerted the nations of the region. Chinese assertiveness in diplomatic exchanges and their proclivity to exploit the asymmetry in trade and economy have made the smaller South East Asian nations wary of Chinese hegemony. In a sort of left-handed compliment, these nations perceive India as being large enough to influence regional security issues but not potent enough to dominate the region. Since India has so far not displayed any tendency to undermine the existing regional security architecture, its growth is seen as a benign force for stability.
This acceptance by the South East Asian nations should provide India with a sense of well-being, but it also comes with a number of challenges that must be addressed and ameliorated if this is to be taken to the next logical level. First is that India must demonstrate the ability to deliver on promises, and show its willingness to intervene as a force for good as and when necessary, without displaying any aggressiveness. In the present context, India lacks the capacity to achieve this in an unambiguous manner. However, overtly building up State capacity and demonstrating its ability to employ its national power is the only way to transform tenuous relations to more solid ground. Achieving this requires strategic thinking, building credibility and displaying the willingness to act effectively and decisively.
Defence and Security
Ever since independence in 1947, India’s Grand Strategy has been underpinned by an effort to de-emphasise the use of force. From the beginning, the effort has been to achieve the national security objectives of preserving the political unity of the nation, and ensuring its sovereignty within the bounds of a democracy that subscribed to a policy of non-alignment. While the non-aligned stance was allowed to be swayed by pragmatism in the 1970s and 80s, there is currently a longing to resurrect non-alignment as a central pillar of India’s Grand Strategy. This may indeed be a laudable goal, but an unbiased look at the Indian polity provides an insight into an ad-hoc and arbitrary policy development process. Even if there was a Grand Strategy in the minds of the first generation of Indian political leaders, the attitude of the contemporary politician to national security does not give any indication of its existence. Given that Indian politicians have always felt the need, or rather urge, to enforce civil control over the Armed Forces, it comes as a surprise that they baulk at delineating the Grand Strategic objectives and providing an overarching guidance and policy towards national security. Simply put, there is no political guidance on national security issues.
The political emphasis is on containing internal threats that are perceived to be of sufficient significance to become a national security issue. This situation, in combination with the absence of an articulated national security strategy means that the Air Force and the Navy have no discernible role to play in national security discussions and decision-making, while the Army has a limited role in what are called internal security issues, a euphemism for counterinsurgency operations. This preoccupation with internal issues is further aggravated by the lack of an efficient Federal or Central agency focused on maintaining internal law and order since the police forces are state-controlled. It is a paradox that the military forces have so far defined the threats to the nation almost independently and aligned their capability building process accordingly. Under these conditions it is not surprising that the civilian bureaucracy exerts undue influence on all military-related decisions without the senior-level persons having adequate knowledge of the intricate and nuanced matters that have to be considered. Complex and at times all-important issues are given short-shift and at times decisions delayed by decades! If there is a better recipe for disaster I am not aware of it. The surprising silver lining is that despite these obstacles, the Indian Armed Forces continue to provide the nation with a credible force projection capability.
The China Factor
Both China and India consider themselves rising powers and their geographical proximity brings in an element of competing interests to their relationship. If not carefully smoothed over, this competitiveness could lead to institutionalised antagonism. Chin’s new-found belligerence with all neighbours should perhaps be viewed as a warning signal of its intention to institute more wide-ranging actions inimical to regional stability. The latest Chinese incursion into Indian territory in Ladakh, which has already been mentioned earlier, must be viewed from this perspective. There are two fundamental threats to India’s growth towards regional status—an increasingly troubled Pakistan and an arrogant and assertive China. While in a long-term perspective China is more important, Indian security thinking is fixated on Pakistan. Coping with China does not at the present time seem to be a priority at the strategic level of decision-making. However, India will have to respond with resolve to all Chinese actions if it is to maintain its credibility as an emerging power.
Challenges to India’s Continued Growth
There are a number of factors that could slow the growth and in extremis bring it to a halt if their expansion continues unchecked. The major ones are explained briefly.
Geopolitical Instability. There is discernible restiveness in the peripheral states, especially in the North-East and in Kashmir. While the cross-border terrorism prevalent in Kashmir is being blamed on Pakistan, and indeed there is ample proof of a proxy war being mounted there, it is still the responsibility of the Indian Government to contain the turbulence. Containment actions have not so far extended to the level necessary to bring that state back into the fold of the nation. Since this state of affairs has been going on for more than 60 years of, time is not on India’s side. The states of the North-East smart under the step-motherly treatment that they have so far been subjected to from the Central Government. Insurgency is rampant and there does not seem to be any sense of urgency within the Central Government to redress these grievances. Further, the so-called Maoist movement in the central Indian areas is now well-entrenched. While balkanisation of the nation is highly unlikely, an inordinate amount of energy and resources are wasted in trying to control these ‘rebellions’. Development and growth become the primary collateral damages in these circumstances. Although this factor is strictly not geopolitical in nature, the increasingly visible religious divisions in the country and the loss of secular credentials in separate, even if sporadic, incidents should also be a warning sign of instability within the nation.
Economic Inequality. Even to a casual observer, in India the wide gap between the rich and the poor is appallingly visible. There is also evidence that this gap is inexorably increasing. If this increase continues unabated, dependent on a number of disparate factors—the common cultural ethos being the most prominent—it will reach a tipping point that has historically led to revolution and the breakdown of the social fabric. Even a large middle class will not be able to put a lid on the outburst, if it happens. Growth will be the first casualty in these circumstances.
Coalition Politics. Democracy is a great concept. However, when the practice of democracy leads to quirky coalition governments, it often leads to stagnation of policy debate and the breakdown of good governance. Repeated cycles of coalition rule tend to create an acceptance and perpetuation of poor governance. Currently India stands in this space. To add to this woe, the criminalisation of politics, through the thriving politician-criminal nexus has whittled down nation building activities. The inability of the Government to provide an institutional response even to questions of national security has been repeatedly demonstrated. The political parties—of all hues—lack the organisational skills at the operational level to develop and build civic infrastructure and there is no remedial measure being put in place.
Corruption. Connected to coalition politics and poor governance is the entrenched corruption that has now percolated across the entire nation, and to all levels of society. Corruption as a way of life has never been conducive to create opportunities for sustained growth. The endemic nature of corruption in India is such that cleaning it up would be the proverbial herculean task of cleaning the Aegean stables—never endingly unsuccessful.
Labouring Bureaucracy. The bureaucracy was blamed for the lack of growth during the ‘Licence Raj’. However, the liberalisation of the economy did not automatically reform the bureaucracy—they are still the ones who create the roadblocks to growth and are adept at enforcing multiple constraints on positive move. In sum, the bureaucracy is bloated, inefficient, self-serving and a large number of its members are corrupt. The State-run enterprises controlled by government bureaucrats are the epitome of inefficiency, with no accountability for failure being displayed. Growth becomes a word with no meaning within this circle.
Slow Industrialisation. India continues to function under the mistaken belief that it does not need to automate because of the abundant availability of cheap labour. This belief is a myth. India is actually suffering because of the inefficiency of its per-capita productivity, which is only one-third that of the developed world. Further, the labour that is available is predominantly unskilled and cannot contribute to establishing world-class industries that can produce globally competitive items. Industrial progress is being measured in terms of the import of foreign technologies, machines and engineering designs. India does not innovate or produce anything completely new. This situation does stimulate growth, but will plateau at some stage and industrial growth will stall—it is already showing signs of slowing down. Only a focus on developing engineering design capabilities will be able to address this lacuna. There is no visible or concerted attempt to redress this issue.
All is not gloom and doom. There is clear awareness of all these issues, although some of the very same issues do not permit the Government to initiate strong remedial measures. Of necessity, India has to address these challenges if it is to continue to maintain the growth rate and move forward with reform, failing which it will have to accept that its ambition of being an international power will remain unfulfilled. It will be brave national politician who will explain this to the nation at large, where the general population is impatient for growth and improving national status in the international arena.
Great Power Status
There are four basic characteristics of a nation that must be at a stable level for a nation to achieve an assured growth rate in the long term. Further, these same four elements—political stability, power projection capability, domestic growth potential, and long-term security imperatives—must be at an appreciably high level with the nation having the ability to maintain it at that level for an appreciable period of time for it to attain ‘Great Power Status’. I will briefly explain these four elements and then superimpose the Indian situation on to the same four elements to provide a clear idea of the progress of India’s great power ambition.
Political Stability. This is a complex element to assess. A benign autocratic rule or an incoherent or chaotic democratic practice will not create the atmosphere for political stability. The base for the development of national power only comes from a democracy, where the general population has a sense of ownership and nation-building is a participatory process. However, this is not always a direct path in a democratic process, which is more often than not riddled with internal divisions and preoccupation with domestic and populist issues. In this hiatus, establishing long term goals and pushing forward to achieving them often take a back seat. In extreme cases, the democratic process itself could become cause for concern from a grand strategic viewpoint. 
Power Projection Capability. There are two types of power projection—through the use of military capabilities, the hard power; and soft power, projected through one or a combination of diplomatic, economic and cultural influences. The two are not mutually exclusive and a number of inter-twined sub-elements influence both. Hard power projection needs not only demonstrated military capabilities but also the national will to employ them to further national interests. It also requires the military to have an inherent capacity to operate in concert with other elements of national power; a strong military-industrial base; and a high basic level of national education. The achievement of ‘military great power status’ is an exacting task, which even stable nations could find difficult to manage. Developing soft power to the required level needs a distinct and recognisable cultural ethos, sufficient economic depth, accepted international diplomatic status, and assured access to advanced information technology.
Domestic Growth Potential. This is essentially based on political and economic stability. Assured growth requires a national cohesiveness that creates the ability to subsume ethnic and cultural diversity; the ability to set and pursue long-term strategic goals as a nation; and an efficient strategic planning process whose veracity is unquestionable. Economic stability does not in itself ensure domestic growth, but without it growth will remain a chimera.
Long-term Security Imperatives. Assuring national security and laying out long-term imperatives are not easy tasks. Both are interrelated and influenced by amorphous factors like the politico-economic situation of the nation, and societal developments and changes. The process is further complicated by the increased complexity of defining national security and deriving long-term security objectives from it. The other factor to be considered is that meeting long-term national security imperatives require an optimum combination of the other three elements. Great power status only comes when the security imperatives can be envisioned and ensured well into the future.
India’s Great Power Ambition
I will now analyse India’s status and progress to becoming a ‘Great Power’ within the limits of the four fundamental elements that I have briefly enumerated
Political Stability
India is an established democracy and has not succumbed to authoritarian rule, even when such an attempt was made by one of the most powerful prime Minsters that the nation has seen in its independent history. Further, the division between the executive and the judiciary is still very clearly maintained, although attempts to politicise the judiciary is an on-going process. However, coalition politics tend to dilute the ability of the Government to focus on developmental needs, and more importantly, on foreign policy and national security issues. This situation is unlikely to change in the short to medium-term. An alarming development has been the fact that religious fundamentalism has become part of the political process. The nature of fundamentalism, of any kind, is that it tends to divide the social fabric at random and is almost always seen to lead to internal turmoil. Unchecked, this trend could become the Achilles heel of the Indian success story. So, India does have political stability of sorts, but does the stability reach the level that draws a nation to great power status? In the current state, the answer would have to be ‘No’. However, the nation is moving in the right direction, even if the movement is only an evolutionary process.
Power Projection Capability
India has sufficient power projection capabilities—both hard and soft—which have been built-up over the years. However, there is a visible lack of national will to use the power available and this is exacerbated by the Cabinet having to deal in a situation of consensus politics. On the other hand, it has used its military power in the past, albeit under extreme provocation, as in the case of the 1999 Kargil Conflict. Even its abundant soft power has not been properly used, mainly because of a lack of long-term policy and vision. The recent case of the Maldives terminating a contract with an Indian firm is an example of the failure to leverage its soft power. The lack of success (I hesitate to use the term failure) of diplomatic efforts and foreign policy in general is again demonstrated by its immediate neighbours accusing India of having a ‘big brother’ attitude towards them.
In the past decade there has been articulated discussions which contend that India is following the age old Mandala Theory in its foreign policy. The engagement with Afghanistan and the ‘Look East Policy’ could be seen in this perspective. India is making efforts at bringing coherence to its foreign policy and has realised that strong decisions supported by visible action is necessary for it to stay on track to becoming a regional power. It is not difficult to envisage the emergence of a more assertive India in the next decade.
Domestic Growth Potential
India has the necessary domestic growth potential, but needs to overcome some of the issues that have already been discussed. There is no doubt that the nation will continue to grow.
Long-term Security Imperatives
India still suffers from a sense of vagueness when it comes to strategic thinking. The nation’s long-term security imperatives have not been defined, or if it has been, then it is not openly available for scrutiny or general understanding. Ad-hoc decisions have so far been the norm when it comes to national security issues. On the positive side, there is increasing awareness of this lacuna and changes can be expected, even if the changes are slow and ponderous in being instituted. In this context, India’s strategic culture needs elaboration. Despite its ancient culture and long history, India remains hesitant in formulating a doctrine that includes the use of force to further its interests. This could perhaps be attributed to its long non-violent freedom struggle to gain independence as well as its status as a founding partner in the concept of non-alignment.
Traditionally India has steered clear of taking an articulated position on the fundamental aspects of power politics. So far, the development of a dedicated strategic culture has been at best an ambiguous process. In a seminal essay published by RAND Corporation in 1992 entitled ‘Indian Strategic Thought’, George Tanham observed that the nature of India’s strong cultural identity prevented the development of coherent strategic thought. He opined that the fatalistic outlook prevalent in the ethos of the nation, brought about by the age-old Hindu philosophy, made it difficult for India to develop a really long-term strategy and to be able to look ahead in time realistically. There was an article in the Economist on 5 April 2013 that astutely pointed out that there is a lack of public and private institutions in India capable of debating the strategic issues and thereby providing the nation with options of available strategic directions. In an indirect manner it was also mentioned that at times there was deliberate decisions made by those in powers to deny the nation such institutions. The reasons for such a stance are unclear, but smack of the establishment not wanting uncomfortable issues to be brought out in the public arena.
Lack of a clear grand strategic vision and direction has been a fundamental flaw in India’s growth. The question is whether or not this lapse will continue to be the stumbling block in achieving India’s long-term ambition.
Concluding Remarks
India has the capacity to face and overcome the challenges that it faces, but is hindered in doing so purely by a lack of political will. This has to change and the major political parties have to understand that such a step has to be taken as soon as possible to ensure that a challenge does not grow into a risk and then a tangible threat. Since domestic issues are consuming the entire energy of the Government, at least for the moment India’s ambition looks to be trimmed to becoming an accepted regional power. Another challenge that the nation as a whole has to overcome is its broad ethos of pacifism that has gradually transformed into a reluctance to assert its will through the employment of all elements of national power, to safeguard the nation and to further its interests. Failure to so will make India continue in a status quo situation.
The economic liberalisation of the early 1990s created world-class businesses within the country fairly rapidly and lifted millions of people out of poverty. Simultaneously, it also created unprecedented levels of corruption and environmental degradation. The lesson is stark—development at a fast pace is a Janus-faced phenomenon; at the same time innovative and destructive, exhilarating and depressive. The question that looms large is what kind of a nation does India want to become? Does it want to continue on the path of rapid growth without regard to social, cultural, and environmental consequences? Does it want to continue its quest for global power status or will it be content with an increasing regional influence? If so, how long will it be before the quest towards global power is restarted? Does it want to maintain a balance between growth and social justice even if such a balance comes at the cost of reduced international influence? The answers to this question will also provide the answer to the title of this presentation—will India be a global power in the 21st century? At stake is the very idea of India—a nebulous concept that holds this fractious nation together.
India has the potential needed to become a great power; there is no doubt about that. In fact the world seems to be impatient for it to realise its potential for greatness. But I suspect that it will want to be a great power in its own terms and not based on criteria that do not suit its politico-economic and social environment. Every nation comes to a critical cross-road in its history, especially the ones that believe in their inherent greatness and possess the perseverance to pursue a path to achieve its ambition. I believe India is currently at such a juncture. The route that it follows will be worth watching—not only because it will be reinventing the pursuit of greatness; but also because the path India takes to greatness will be one that is as yet untrodden. 

About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Political and Defence Analyst specialising in military strategy, national security, and international politics. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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