“Ascending India”

Prof. Chintamani Mahapatra
February 10, 2019


India as a regional power in the Indo-Pacific and a global player on the world stage is on the ascendance. More significantly, its rise is welcomed around the globe with solitary exceptions in some of the neighbouring countries.  While Pakistan seems jealous and China uneasy, India’s growth can benefit trade and business communities across the globe. Moreover, India’s history is testimony to the fact that this country poses no threat to any country.

If only Pakistanis and Chinese change their perceptions, India’s ascendance can certainly lead to Pakistan’s rise and Chinese profit. By giving up its false notion of an Indian threat, Pakistan can focus on its economic development and China, being a leader in trade and commerce, will benefit enormously from the Indian market.

In the month of March 2018, the major theme of News18 Conclave, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi, among several ministers, leaders, CEOs from within India and abroad, was invited to speak, was “Rising India.”  In December 2018, the 58th annual meet of Indian Political Science Association in Meerut University had kept as its theme—“Aspiring India.” The School of International Studies of Jawaharlal Nehru University in January 2019 hosted the All India International and Area Studies Convention where the theme was “Ascending India: Reflections on Regional and Global Dimensions.”

In the very inaugural session of the annual convention, there was a debate about the relevance of the theme itself. But a series of conferences, seminars, conclaves, media discussions and other events clearly indicate that whether India is rising or not, if rising how much it has risen, what is India’s place in the global order are  part of the contemporary discourses in international relations.

There are scholars in India and abroad who have strongly argued that India is a rising power and others who have serious questions about India’s standing in the world. Academics from various parts of India and a few from abroad assembled in the School of International Studies to debate and discuss India’s standing in the contemporary global order, challenges it is facing and the future of India’s role in the world in addition to several other themes.

Whether India is a major power, regional power, global player or an inconsequential actor in global affairs are a matter of perception and logic. There can be agreements and disagreements. But none can dispute the fact India has been an ascending power. The story of India since 1947 when it achieved political independence from Britain is a story of ascendance. And, India’s role in international affairs has also been in an ascending order. Of course, there have been periods of ups and downs, yet, overall, India’s achievements in a little over seventy years’ as an independent country have been a remarkable tale of ascendance.

In the midst of India’s freedom struggle, Jawaharlal Nehru had visualized that independent India would be a major player in Asian affairs. When he became the first Prime Minister of independent India, he made India an important leader of the group of newly independent countries. Nehru’s leadership in the non-aligned movement consisting of  hundred plus countries from Asia, Africa and South America is undeniable. Indira Gandhi’s role in making India the superpower of South Asia after the crushing defeat of Pakistan in the 1971 war and Pokharan nuclear test is undeniable. Narashimha Rao can be credited with freeing India from the license raj and opening Indian market to international goods and opening the global markets for Indian companies to compete with. It was Atal Behari Vajpayee who made India a nuclear weapon power in 1998. Man Mohan Singh’s role was instrumental in making a nuclear deal with the United States of America that ultimately removed India from the target list of non-proliferation regimes and made it members of a few such regimes. Narendra Modi will go down in history as the Prime Minister who reached out to countries and peoples none of his predecessors could contemplate and reconnected with countries that were neglected for decades.

India at one time was recipient of food aid. Today, it is not only self-sufficient in food production but also is on the list of top five producers of food grains, fruits and livestock in the world. India that became a victim of foreign aggression within months of gaining independence and lost huge areas of its territory due to Chinese invasion in 1962 is now prepared enough to confront any potential enemy and protect the territorial integrity of the country.

Commentators, who derogated the rate of economic growth in India as Hindu rate of growth, today refer it as fastest growing major economy in the world. Not long ago India had to ask for IMF loan to address its foreign exchange crisis, but today has sound foreign exchange reserves. Multinational companies that either left India or stayed away from India in the past are all interested in investing in India.

India’s non-aligned strategy in the past constrained it from forging sound cooperative ties with many countries, but today India is having multi-alignment with all major powers and maintains embassies in a vast number of countries in all the continents. India’s voice is stronger than ever in international discourses on global governance issues.

If this is not the story of ascendance, what else can be? This does not mean that India does not face challenges. In fact, economic, strategic and diplomatic challenges before India are mammoth. Issues, such as income inequality, poverty eradication, and equitable growth in different regions of the country, quality education to the masses and need to enhance the technological prowess of the country confront India on its face. However, India need not be worried about slow growth, so long as the country does not remain standstill.