WE have been reading banner headlines in newspapers and watching animated discussions on television channels exultantly proclaiming India Rising, India Shining and India emerging as a super power. In this vaudeville show the plight of millions of famished Indians, constituting anything between 37 to 55 per cent of total population is being ignored. And suicides of thousands of starving farmers have made no difference to the day dreaming media chatterati!
On one hand, India is being tom-tomed as a trillion dollar economy, hoping to become a two trillion dollars economy, fairly soon, as prophesied by the country’s Finance Minister. On the other hand, the 2010 Human Development Report, recently released by the Oxford Human Development Initiative, reveals that according to the new international Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI) 2010, formulated by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, nearly 645 million people, i.e., 55 per cent of India’s population is poor in terms of ten quantifiable markers of economic development. Among the ten markers listed in the Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI) are nutrition, child mortality, child enrolment in schools (education), years of schooling, electricity, drinking water, flooring, sanitation, cooking fuel and assets (i.e. the overall standard of living). The MPI measures both the incidence of poverty and its intensity and a person is defined as poor if he or she is considered to be ‘deprived’ in terms of at least three of the 10 markers. A careful analysis in terms of MPI 2010 reveals that at least eight States of India have more poor people than the 26 poorest nations of the Dark Continent. It may be pointed out that even Suresh Tendulkar Committee Report released in December, 2009, had estimated that nearly 37.2 per cent Indians live below the poverty line. In any case, the MPI has highlighted the fact that the incidence of poverty and deprivation is far more widespread than the meagre 27.5 per cent poverty figure being clumsily propagated by the Planning Commission and other official agencies.
Frankly, there are far too many exaggerated stories and prophecies about India likely to emerge as a superpower and then position itself as a counterbalancing force against China in South Asia. The India Rising story caught fancy of the media and corporate India in 2003 when a study conducted by Goldman Sachs projected that in next 50 years India will be the one of the fastest growing economies across the world primarily because its work force will not age as fast as manpower of other countries and its per capita income would rise 35 times.
Soft Power is Not a Superpower
Frankly speaking, there are two Indias, one the high profile urban India dotted with swankish malls and hotels, and the other India which is Bharat, inhabited by the hoi polloi, where poverty and hunger reign supreme. It is being claimed that the number of millionaires and billionaires in the country is rising fast. But mere increase in the number of billionaires and High Networth Individuals (HNIs) will not make India a super power, unless the grinding poverty in rural areas is eradicated, unless every illiterate Indian is made literate. We might, however, hope to become a ‘soft’ power due to the ongoing brisk pace of development. But there is a world of difference between a soft power and a superpower. The road transforming a soft power to a superpower is long and bumpy.
Collapse of Governance
Apart from widespread hunger and poverty, before singing the ‘India superpower’ tune it is necessary to look at the mind-boggling problems facing the Indian nation. Failure of the Central Government to stem the tide of incessant jihadi onslaught on the Indian nation and the Maoists insurgency aiming at creating a ‘Red Corridor’ from Pashupatinath to Tirupati have made India a besieged nation. We can afford to ignore the growing depradations of jihadis and the Maoists only at our peril. Can India become a superpower without tackling the twin menace of jihadi attacks and Maoist killings ? My answer is no, never.
True, during the last 15 years there has been a spectacular increase in the GDP and in recent years India has become the second fastest growing economy, racing just behind China. But is mere growth in GDP enough to make India a super power? No one can deny that our work culture and standards of probity are far below the international standards. The multiple chinks in India’s superpower story are visible all over the country. A mere look at Delhi, our national capital, reveals the chaotic and hopelessly messy state of preparations for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games scheduled to be held in October this year. Additionally, serious allegations of corruption and bribery in awarding contracts for the construction work and the Central Vigilance Commission is looking into at least 16 cases of brazen corruption. In sharp contrast to our monumental inefficiency in building the requisite infrastructure for Commonwealth Games, China had completed all preparations for the Olympics 2008 one year in advance. Even after spending Rs. 30,000 crore for the forthcoming international sports event our government has not been able to build the gleaming infrastructure even remotely comparable to Beijing, or Shanghai. China’s economic growth is turbo-powered by deeply focussed governance, ruthless efficiency and commitment to development, powered by the testosterone of national pride. In our country the inefficiency of government agencies is monumental and it is impossible to disagree with the observation of the well known intellectual, Gurcharan Das : “The government sleeps at night and the economy grows”. The growth in India’s GDP is largely due to the enterprise of corporate India. Unfortunately the government continues to be laggard.
We may have replicated Silicon Valleys in Bangalore and Hyderabad, yet the fact remains that our country is home to more than 35 percent of world’s poor who live on less than two dollars per day. Poor governance reflected in our dilapidated road, unkempt airports slothful bureaucracy and rampant corruption inform us that India cannot be a superpower for many decades, unless we learn the art of good governance.
Roadmap for Superpower Status
To understand the modalities of emerging as a superpower we must carefully study the narrative of the successful superpowers like America, China, even the tiny state of Israel and try to learn from them the mantra of becoming a superpower.
Briefly, for attaining the status of a superpower, India will have to fulfill the following multiple criteria.
First and foremost, the Indian state should be able to protect the life of every citizen. That basic requirement we have miserably failed to achieve. The marauding jihadis, Maoists and even common criminals are able to operate throughout the length and breadth of the country with impunity and kill Indian citizens almost at will. The most glaring example of poor governance is the plight of more than four lakh Kashmiri Hindus, uprooted by secessionists, whom no government, not even the BJP led political dispensation which ruled for six years, was able to rehabilitate in the Kashmir valley. It will be difficult, nay impossible, to live down the international ignominy of Mumbai massacre of 26/11 when ten Pakistan-sponsored fidayeens mercilessly killed 180 innocents and were hold to ransom our one billion strong nation. A nation which cannot protect the lives and property of its citizens must not dream of becoming a superpower ! The latest spurt in secessionist insurgency in Kashmir valley and unremitting stone pelting on security forces conclusively prove that India is nowhere close to attaining the superpower status.
The second requirement for claiming the title of superpower will be the ability of the government to protect our shrinking borders. Let us face the fact that post independence, India’s borders have been shrinking. Apart from losing parts of Jammu & Kashmir to Pakistan in 1947, seven districts of Assam and several districts of West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have been overrun by Bangladeshi infiltrators. Recently in April this years the All Naga Students Association of Manipur (ANSM), acting in cahoots with Naga insurgents, was able to blockade the sensitive State of Manipur for 63 days by shutting out movement of vehicles on two national highways, NH-39 and NH-53, while central government looked on helplessly. Yet the India Rising tune continues to be sung with gusto by our media and middle class chatterati.
The third strategic requirement, and a very important one, is that before aspiring to be a superpower, India must become a military superpower. Unless we become a military superpower no one, no neighbour, no nation in the world, will acknowledge our superpower claim. For becoming a military superpower there is a pressing need to ramp up the overall strength of our armed forces and modernize them at breakneck speed so that India is able to face the likely challenge of battling on two fronts with our hostile neighbours on either flank According to military strategists, on a rough count it will take anything like 10 to 20 years for India to acquire the military muscle which might position India as a military superpower.
Lastly, there is an urgent requirement of re-awakening the national pride in our civilisational ethos among our somnolent masses for motivating them to work honestly and diligently for taking India to greater heights. In this respect we have a lot to learn from China and Israel, the two nations where national pride has been used as a successful medium for economic development and strategic empowerment of military might. It is time to learn how China has been able to promote national pride by reviving interest in the teachings of Confucius and what made the irreligious communist regime establish a Confucius Foundation to boost national pride. The experience of China has demonstrated that national pride can be generated only by reviving our past heritage and civilisational glory and wisdom. Unlike China, the ruling political dispensation of India is not interested in promoting the Indic civilisational values which alone can give boost to national pride.
In a nutshell, to become a superpower we will have to reinvent our work ethos, drastically modify our inefficient mode of governance to protect lives of our citizens and aim at becoming a military superpower.
(The writer is a retired DGP and has written a number of books on national security)