The term ‘Asian century’ is a synecdoche of the ascendancy of China, India, and other countries of the region in political and economic affairs of the international system. India constitutes a predominant facet of this neologism. The greatness of Indian economy was reflected in 2022 by the Bloomberg index which established that India has surpassed Britain to become fifth biggest economy of the world.
Sitting in 2002, many international analysts opined that with less than 4 percent ‘Hindu growth rate’, India would never make it to the rich country’s club. Contrary to the speculations, the Indians had lofty dreams and aspirations to be a global power. The roots of which can be traced back to the Nehruvian vision of liberal internationalism and India as the torchbearer of assistance for the regional and international countries. Non-aligned movement is tour de force of this ambition.
While a glimpse of Nehruvian ‘Big Brother’ is visible in BJP’s economic vision, among other standpoints, the veering course is also noticeable in the ebbs and flow of economics. BJP idealizes the concept of ‘vishvaguru’ which implies India as the ‘teacher of the nations’, and a more vaulting politico-economic assertion. BJP’s engine is fuelled by an ideology which has become a buzz word in international politics. Immaculate and dexterous employment of this ideology referred as Hindutva, has awarded its acolytes with the reins of power over swatches of India.
One aspect of this ideology is the telos of Akhand Bharat epitomizing Hindus as a civilization to rule the areas, which myths holds were hitherto under the suzerainty of Hindu rulers. Nevertheless, the dream to be global player is embedded in the economic development of the state which in turn is believed to increase the diplomatic halo and political clout of the state.
The quest for a seminal and robust economic player in the international system is marked by 1990s era. The reforms introduced in 1991 consisted of both short term and long-term aims. The immediate objective was to address the acute economic pathologies pervading the domestic milieu and in the long run, the stratagem was to lay down cornerstones of a durable and sustainable economic growth.
The wheel of economic progress was set in motion and accelerated by the farsighted vision of Manmohan Singh and the subsequent governments. However, the motor hit the bottom of the slope in 2012. High levels of inflation, fiscal as well as current account deficit, policy paralysis, and an impression of widespread corruption culminated in the electoral meltdown of United Progressive Alliance (UPA). BJP under the tutelage of Narendra Modi shaped a feverish atmosphere silhouetted by high hopes of economic transformation and new era of prosperity. They promised to bring a speedier recovery of the fledgling economy and euphemism of ushering in ‘acche din (good days)’. Economic Survey of India reveals that albeit India is doing well, but the other side of the coin silhouettes a growth slowdown.
The Economic Survey of India depicts that Indian GDP growth slumped from 8.2 percent in 2016-17 to 5 percent in 2019-20 and further sputtered with the outbreak of COVID 19. The World Bank highlights that these facts ran antiparallel to the rhetoric of Modi government who was going to resuscitate the Indian economy breathing on ventilator. Henceforth, the government played a master stroke and flipped the script through Central Statistical Office (CSO) in January 2015 by adopting a different methodology to compute GDP. The reform enacted a shift ushering in 2011-2012 as the base year in lieu of 2004-05 to calculate any account aggregates. Additionally, the institute also introduced the mechanism of choosing market prices to estimate economic output contrary to hitherto factor costs. T
hough the policy is prosaic and internationally acceptable, the positives emanating from this device cleared way for any comparison with the previous governments, therefore facilitating the BJP government to adroitly evade any criticism exuding from relatively menial economic performance.
The Oxfam document ‘Survival of the Richest’ heralds to the rising inequality between the poor and rich. It unravels that circa 40.5 percent of India’s total wealth is owned by 1 percent of the populace and 50 percent of the people own only 3 percent of wealth genome. In successive ten months, the wealth of billionaires have upsurged by 35 percent. India has also been slipping in the ranks of global hunger index since 2014 and currently stands at 107 out of 121 countries. To use Marxist terms, economics as the base is color-washing the superstructure constituted of politics, judiciary, and other elements.
The ripple effect of low performance in economic and social indices on the regional level is accentuated by the Asia Power Index 2023 report published by Lowy Institute Sydney, Australia. India ranks 4 of 26 countries with an average score of 36.3 in terms of comprehensive power and influence over the region. Comprehensive power is defined through eight thematic parameters characterized by military capability, economic capability, and the ability of the state to deter threats referred as resilience, diplomatic and cultural influence, defence relations, economic partnerships, and allocation of future traditional as well as non-traditional resources.
With respect to India, the alarming fact that has generated hue and cry is that the country has flanked four positions and is lagging behind China and Japan as well. On one hand, India is demonstrating upward mobility in cultural and diplomatic influence, the country’s standing is dropping in other parameters. The lowest score is observed in economic relationships and economic capabilities and are also projecting a downward trend. Another illuminating aspect of the study is that it pigeonholes India as ‘under-achiever’. It refers to a widened gap between available resources, size of the country juxtaposed against its performance and influence in the region. The yardstick is named as Power Gap and currently India scores -2.8 in the index.
The realm of these statistics leads to the conclusion that India’s dream of El Dorado will be frustrated if it does not break loose from the web of a glamorous economic mass but waning distributed prosperity. It has to espouse inclusivity, promoting regional integration by addressing the roadblocks afflicting integration of South Asia, which will be pivotal to increase its influence in international politics.
Note: This article appeared in Eurasia, dated 09 March 2023.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.