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Will India ever be a 'superpower' as it has long aspired to be? The answer lies in the following facts: The late Atal Behari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister of India, once voiced his concern that India, a country of over a billion people with world's largest functional democracy, even after over six decades of its existence, in no way was near the milestone of joining the distinguished club of superpowers.
Vajpayee argued that unless India is a regional power it cannot become a superpower and for that it needs to have good relations with Pakistan. Vajpayee of BJP is rated as the most humane, intellectual and a peace seeking leader of India. In his quest for peace and as a goodwill gesture he travelled from New Delhi to Lahore on the inaugural bus service between the two countries and paid a symbolic visit to Minar-e-Pakistan acknowledging the establishment of Pakistan as a fait accompli.
The nearest both countries came to a lasting peace agreement after Ayub Khan and Jawaharlal Nehru's understanding in early 1960s was when President Musharraf visited New Delhi in 2005 and he and Vajpayee were all set to sign off a comprehensive peace agreement only to be aborted by India at the last minute presumably on pressure of RSS or hardliners in BJP.
With that Musharraf came home empty-handed, whereas India lost a great opportunity to become a regional power and as a consequence, it moved miles away from its ambition of becoming a superpower. Above all, the people on both sides of the border lost the chance for a better world around them. It brought to surface how deep are the ethnic and religious fault lines between the mindset of two neighbours.
Instead of CPEC, it could have then been Central Asia and SAARC countries economic corridor, bringing prosperity to the whole region. India would have been in the lead and the main beneficiary.
The space vacated by India is taken over by China with its influence now spread all over Central and South East Asia, reducing India into a frustrated spectator that has been witnessing events unfolding along its borders and region to its chagrin.
Prominent Indian historian, Guha Ramachandre argued that there are 10 reasons why India will not become an 'economic superpower' despite its tremendous economic growth. He cited the following reasons:
1) & 2) Extremism, both Leftwing and Rightwing are eroding the Indian society;
3. Public institutions such as universities, the police and the judiciary are politicized;
4. Democratic openness is victim to corruption;
5. The increasing gap between rich and poor. Witness Mukesh Ambani's 27-floor house for his five-member family in Mumbai;
6. Disastrous damage to the environment. Lack of regulation or corporate responsibility means water supplies are at risk, people are breathing poisonous air. Irretrievable damage to health and resources continues and no one is accountable;
7. The apathy of the media. The media has essentially been co-opted by the government and corporations;
8. No long-term policy. The political chaos that accompanies a pluralist system makes it difficult to form stable long-term policy; and
9) & 10) Territorial instability in the northeast and the northwest of the country. Three of India's 28 states are struggling for independence.
According to Guha: "There are too many faultlines in our society to be a superpower. As a historian I say: 'We are not prepared', as an Indian citizen I say: 'We should not even attempt to'."
With the Modi government in power these perceptions are turning into reality on ground and faultlines are turning into visible cracks.
Extremism has reached a level where a Muslim is openly lynched on suspicion of transporting cow meet, a low-caste girl is burnt by a jubilant crowd for committing a minor mistake, around 1.5 million Muslims are overnight stripped of Indian nationality and so on and so forth.
Population-wise, India hosts the poorest population of the world and this number is increasing.
Public institutions, inclusive of judiciary and armed forces have compromised their independence. Media has become the mouthpiece of the government.
Kashmir and Assam are in a state of revolt. It is a matter of time when Sikhs in state of Punjab will also revolt.
The civil society of India stands divided as never before.
While the rich in India are getting richer the level of poverty is increasing with cases of suicide by farmers on the rise. The economy of India is now vulnerable and has shrunk to 5 percent with forecast of further dips. India has created tensions on its borders with Pakistan and China. India has itself squandered away the opportunity of becoming a regional power. It cannot become a superpower, ever.
(The writer former
President of Overseas Investors Chambers of Commerce and Industry)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2019