India’s Quest for Global Powerdom to Continue  

Dr Shujaat Ali Quadri

Away from their rivalry, both the new Modi government, in its humbled avatar after election setback, and the charged up Opposition will find confluence in India’s quest for global powerdom. PM Modi has sought, and lavishly flaunted, a target to make India world’s third largest economy by 2027, and a fully developed country by 2047.

PM Modi will be undeterred in making his passion project of making India a global power a success. The Congress-led opposition will only prod him to make this plan grander and surer, though with few edits in the tone and its promotion at home.

India is already a middle power, on course to route its way to top echelons with gradual flexing of diplomacy, striking balance between superpowers and even playing a risk-ridden hard-power cameo abroad. It is facing ramifications of all of its posturing with stoic panache.

Honestly to his credit, under PM, India has emerged as an active international player that has registered its presence in every major global grouping and region. Despite being the world’s most populous country, India has become the world’s fifth largest economy, and it is growing at the fastest pace.

India’s technological sector has become so strong that now 83% of tech companies in the US are headed by Indians. Indian techies overwhelm the workforce in Europe. Indians run the Gulf and man every key top position there. Meanwhile, with its successful lunar mission, India has stamped itself as a space power as well.
Whenever PM Modi took India a notch above in world hierarchy, Indians, the Indian opposition included, backed him. He was only pilloried only for his hubris and self-projection.

According to Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Wilson Centre, Modi has already done much to advance India’s global rise. The country gained its membership in an array of global forums, from a new quad arrangement with the US, the UAE, and Israel to the prestigious Missile Technology Control Regime. Modi has solidified India’s status as a net security provider, increasing arms sales to Indo-Pacific partners and projecting naval power in the Middle East to protect and assist ships targeted by missiles and piracy.

Besides, India last year hosted an ambitious G20 summit and herded all major power of the bloc to advocate interests of struggling economies. Modi will continue to champion the cause of the Global South, perhaps with even more shrillness.

Multi-polarity and Balance
While exhorting the cause of developing the world and stitching alliances and forging forums with world powers, India crafted a fine balance to bolster its position as a middle power. Though not every move of India has been perceived with admiration. It nevertheless has pursued and stuck to its policies, irrespective of pressure from global power blocs.

India has navigated great power rivalry by doubling down on its core foreign policy principle of strategic autonomy, balancing ties with competing powers and avoiding alliances to maximize flexibility.
India under Modi had to face two tough recent tests. New Delhi has maintained close ties with Moscow, its longtime partner, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which India has declined to condemn, while managing to keep relations warm with the US. India has bought vast quantities of Russian oil, and that money has been used by Putin to fund his war in Ukraine. This move has aggravated the US, which has reportedly pressured PM Modi to stop the purchases.

It has been backing Israel’s war in Gaza, justifying it as a necessary counterterrorism move, even as its strong ties with the Palestinians and Arab capitals remain intact. India has also backed the move at the United Nations for pressing halt to the Gaza conflict, and dispatched aid for those affected by the war.
From this balancing act, India derives a unique form of global influence: It defies the polarisation of power politics, straddling competing camps and positioning itself as a bridge and potential mediator.

Challenges of Global Clout
PM Modi enjoys impeccable fame as a world leader. His very name evokes a picture of his country. Both bouquets and brickbats have been hurled at him. It will continue, but few would dispute the fact that he has built a global clout for himself and his country. This clout has brought plaudits and raised alarms in the international system as well.

As India has called for multilateral systems and organisations to tackle problems of the developing section of the world, it has been seen as a challenge to the hegemony of the US-West combine that sees dilution of their global influence.

Plus, as the world is undergoing rapid churn, any future policy will demand excessive acumen and foresight to avoid conflicts and prosper on the economic front. The first challenge here will be to fix economic order at home.

The new Modi government will have to hardwire India’s economy for longer term stability and sustainability. Youth unemployment right now ranges from 44 to 54% for those in their 20s — staggering figures in a country where half the population is under 30. India needs more jobs and more skilled workers to accommodate fast-growing sectors and truly transform its economy into a global juggernaut.

India must also get a handle on its China challenge. It’s struggled mightily to deter its main strategic competitor. Chinese forces periodically stage border incursions and have built villages and roads on land India claims as its own. A clash between India and China in June 2020 over a long-simmering Himalayan border dispute had resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers.

China is rapidly developing the capacity to project power in the Indian Ocean — from its western reaches, home to China’s only overseas military base, to areas to the east near the Andaman Sea, where India has territorial assets. An aspiring great power can’t afford to be bogged down by its biggest rival so close to home.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, unlike Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden, did not extend formal congratulatory wishes to PM Modi.
India’s arch-rival Pakistan has mellowed down towards India since the new government of Shehbaz Sharif came to power earlier this year. Sharif has not only congratulated Modi on his new innings, his ministers have on occasions emitted signals to restart trade with India.

But India can’t afford to be trustful of Islamabad as Beijing continues to wield its overpowering influence.
Overall, Modi’s core challenges in the years ahead will be ensuring regional stability by avoiding war with China and Pakistan and continuing India’s economic rise through vital domestic reforms.
PM Modi will surely embark on these missions carefully in his third term to cement his foreign policy legacy, and even the opposition will not torpedo his path.

(The Author is the Chairman of the MSO of India)

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