Thursday, March 15, 2012

Will India Become a Superpower?

A recent study by the London School of Economics inquires about India's current status in world politics. Let's just say that their findings were not flattering. It is true that India is currently not a superpower. Although India is one of the BRIC countries, China's rise is much more visible than any Indian progress being made. Does this mean that China's overshadowing automatically excludes the possibility of India's rise? I divide my analysis into arguments for and against India's rise to superpower status, followed by concluding thoughts.

Arguments for India's Rise
The first argument I would make is linguistic. India is the country with the second-largest English-speaking (as opposed to English-using) population. Since English is already established as a world language, language is one significant barrier that India will not have to overcome. Free press is another important factor for development. Freedom House ranks the Indian press as "partly free," even though it is not too far from being considered "free" under their rubric. Their press is the freest in the region, and as long as there is a trend towards civil liberties, it can only get better for India. Fertility rate is also in India's favor. To sustain a population, you need to maintain at least a 2.1. India has a fertility rate of 2.6, which is more encouraging than China's demographic disaster of 1.6. India's soft power will also play to its advantage. Indian food, cuisine, and films (i.e., Bollywood) will not only attract future business, but also make India seem less menacing than China. India also has a more individualist, entrepreneurial spirit that relies more heavily on its private sector. The biggest advantage India has [over China], however, is that it has maintained its democratic institutions since its inception. A good number of political theorists hypothesize that sound institutions lead to long-term growth. If that is the case, then India should ascend in due time.

Arguments Against India's Rise
Although it might seem that India's rise will be inevitable, the Indian government has a myriad of issues it needs to resolve. These problems are in no particular order since they are all troubling. The first I would point out is India's economic freedom. India started off as a socialist nation and made failed attempts throughout time to have a mixed economy. In spite of India's high GDP growth in percentage, what worries me is a lack of market-oriented reform that perpetuates the status quo in economic freedom ranking. Corruption is also rampant in India, so much that it actually ranks lower than China in the Corruption Perceptions Index (complete data here). Much like a lack of liberalization in the economy, corruption also hinders growth of a country. India also has to contend with a major rural poverty issue (see 2011 Global Hunger Index). I had earlier mentioned about the amount of English speakers in India. To counter that, India has the largest amount of illiterates in the world. Literacy is a sound indicator of an educated populace. Since education leads to progress, a 74% literacy rate is not exactly promising. India also has been experiencing an overall decrease in foreign direct investment (FDI). And think what happens when you mix politics with the Hindu caste system: actual class warfare.

Concluding Thoughts
Will India have rising influence in international politics? Undoubtedly. Will it arrive to superpower status? India has a lot of structural problems that it needs to resolve. Because of the magnitude of the issues, I am very skeptical as to whether they can clean up the mess and go beyond being just a regional power. However, if India were able to succeed, the institutions in place would ensure that its superpower status would be enduring.

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