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India is not a superpower (and may never be) concludes new LSE study

India is not a superpower and will not become one in the foreseeable future suggests a special report published by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

The authors argue that despite India’s rising power and wealth it remains shackled by weaknesses which include corruption and poor leadership, extreme social divisions, internal security threats and religious extremism.

The report – India: the next superpower? – features essays by nine experts which examine the nation’s economy, defence, government, culture, environment and society.

India The Next Superpower Cover imageWhile they acknowledge the country’s formidable achievements in fostering democracy, growth and cultural dynamism, they generally agree that its structural weaknesses mean that it cannot yet call itself a superpower or be considered a full counterweight to the influence of China (as some in the West have hoped).

Some of the report’s authors believe that India should not even aspire to be a superpower while it has so many internal problems unresolved.

Among them is Ramachandra Guha, chair in history and international affairs at LSE IDEAS, the research centre which produced the report.

He lists seven reasons why India will not become a superpower; armed unrest from the Maoist Naxalite movement, extreme Hindu religious chauvinism, the degraded quality of leadership, a trivializing media, over-consumption of resources and incoherent policy caused by political coalitions. He concludes: “We need to repair, one by one, the institutions that have safeguarded our unity amidst diversity, and to forge the new institutions that can help us. It will be hard, patient, slow work.”

Echoing this theme, D. Rajeev Sibal analyses India’s economy to conclude that its political systems are still managing productivity and should shift instead to a regulatory role to achieve the full benefits of liberalisation. He writes: “It would be difficult to imagine India asserting its economic dominance in international markets any time soon. The rise of India as an economic superpower will only occur over a long period of time.”

Nor is India likely to become a global military power argues Iskander Rehman, because of “the uneven nature of military modernization, an apparent dearth of grand strategy and perennially dysfunctional state of bureaucratic paralysis.”

India’s potential to wield ‘soft power’, the mix of cultural and intellectual leadership which influences other nations, is considerable thinks Nicolas Blarel but its politicians and diplomats have not consistently capitalized on that potential. Similarly, the country must be ready to take a lead on big global issues to match its growing might if it is represent the interests of developing countries suggests Oliver Stuenkel in his assessment of India’s foreign policy.

And both Harish Wankhede and Mukulike Bannerjee see the inequalities of Indian society as powerful brakes on its further development even though enthusiastic participation in democratic life is widespread. Indians, suggest Bannerjee, do not have the politicians they deserve. This is underlined by recent nationwide protests against corruption, examined in a piece by Andrew Sanchez which concludes that: “The global authority the nation is likely to wield in coming years is only to be lauded if power and prosperity is distributed more evenly with India: a challenge which requires a serious engagement with the problems of state corruption.”

In the report’s final contribution, Sandeep Sengupta looks at the management of the environment in India, a growing problem in a nation which has quadrupled its GDP in recent times and seen population growth of 40 per cent in just two decades – in parallel with rapid deterioration in its air, land and water quality. Environmental pressures remain immense, though the author sees a glimmer of hope in the awareness of the Indian people to these pressures.

India: the next superpower is published by LSE IDEAS, the centre for diplomacy, international affairs and strategy, as part of its series Global Shifts.



7 March 2012