It’s been more than 70 years since India gained independence, the newly born Indian nation was struggling for its survival. This was a time when challenges were many but the resolute in the minds of those who fought for our independence was strong. They dreamed of an India that was united, literate and a force to reckon with. The British had left India scarred, our arms were bleeding from the partition of Bengal and Punjab, our beloved brothers, sisters and children have torn apart from their land, the land we proudly today call India, that is Bharat. The ones sitting in the British parliament never thought India would survive its diversity, the very strength of India today was looked at as a nightmare for any newly independent nation but not only did we succeed in reaffirming the ideals of diversity rather today we are standing at a pedestal from where we can only rise to become a superpower in the 21st century.
We’ve heard the word superpower in different contexts over media and academia, the word, superpower for most children across the world would mean an exceptional or extraordinary power or ability, mostly in the form of superman or superwoman, a fictional character that possesses the power to make a significant impact on the world, while keeping the very crux of the word alive, we will talk about a very specific nation, India, and its journey to be a superpower. However, we need to go back to the century that went by to understand how the idea of a superpower came about.
The rise and fall of two superpowers
Until the 20th century, the world knew only two superpowers, USA and the Soviet Union, the landmark emergence of two world superpowers stems from the end of World War II marked by the bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the USA, critics over the world suggest that the US knew that Japan was about to surrender and that it was Unnecessary to bomb the two Japanese ports. However, the USA went ahead with its decision to stop the Soviet Union from making any military and political gains in Asia and prove that America is supreme. The end of World War II led to every newly decolonised country had two options in front of it, either be friends with the US or Soviet Union. At this time, countries in Asia and Africa had got independence and most of these countries wanted to claim their sovereignty and didn’t wish to side with either of two power blocks. One would say it was the emergence of Non-aligned movement (NAM) as India’s bid to stay non aligned that can be seen as a sign of non-adherence to power systems.
India’s economic policy from 1951-1991
India’s economy at the dawn of independence was in distress. For over 200 years, India served the purpose for the good of the United Kingdom, the good that was bought on the ruins of India’s economic tradition. Post-independence, one of the major questions in the mind of policymakers was if India’s growth should be agriculture or industry-led and we went ahead with industry-led growth primarily because there was almost no presence of infrastructure sector, i.e, power, transportation and communication, there was the negligible presence of the infrastructure industries like iron and steel, cement, coal, crude oil, oil refining and electricity, lack of skilled manpower, absence of a market of industrial goods.
However, the obvious choice for India would have been to go for the agricultural sector as the prime moving force because India had natural resources from Rajasthan in the west to Odisha in the east and the fertile plains to feed the country. By organising our land ownership, irrigation and other inputs of agriculture, India could have gone for better prospects of development, once we as a nation would have achieved self-sufficiency in food grains, food security, national healthcare infrastructure, a shelter for all and universal education we could’ve realised one of biggest goals in human development. The most prosperous countries in the world today are not the most industrial in their approach towards development, they mostly have an all-round approach to human development that focuses on improving the standard of living of its citizens by ensuring excellent health care system and education.
However, learning from these prosperous Scandinavian countries we must plan our future course of action. In 1991, the government in power under late prime minister P.V Narasimha Rao led LPG reforms right after the Current account deficit wherein India was only three weeks away from welshing on its external balance of payment obligations. International Monetary fund asked India to go for the reforms in exchange for an emergency loan of 2.2 billion dollars. Reforms formally began on 1st July 1991 when RBI devaluated Indian rupee by 9% and by a further 11% on 3rd July. The economic policy reforms yielded good results, dramatically improving the quality of life in India and a new boast to the banking industry. However, like every action has equal and opposite reaction, trade liberalisation corresponded with a dramatic rise in inequality and associated social issues. The Indian GDP rose from $266 billion in 1991(inflation-adjusted) to $3 trillion in 2019 (1100% increase) while its purchasing power parity rose from $1 trillion in 1991 to $12 trillion in 2019. Now let’s move ahead and understand the challenges ahead of India in becoming a superpower.
India’s strengths in achieving its goals
India’s demographic dividend
India’s biggest strength lies in its demographic dividend. India is the youngest country in the world with 2/3rd of its population in the working-age group, the young blood in India should be channelised to achieve the goals India has set for herself. However, this aim can only be realised if our educational, manufacturing and service sectors are given a boost along with a steady medical infrastructure
The abundance of natural resources
Among India’s many other strength lies, its abundant natural resources and varied topography. Our land is endowed with a range of topographies ranging from the Himalayas in the north to the northern fertile plains, from the coal mines in Jharkhand and Odisha to gold mines in Karnataka and copper mines in Rajasthan. The fact that we’ve such a wide variety of natural resources puts us in a strong position to utilise our resources effectively while depending less on imports from our neighbours. The recent strides made by India in utilising solar, wind, thermal energy will only bring in long term dividends to India’s energy sector while cutting down our imports.
An ever-growing service sector
One of the major advantages for India lies in its service sector. The service sector accounts for 53.66% of India’s Gross value-added product (GVA) while the industrial sector is at the second spot and contributing around 31% of the Indian GDP, this means that both service and industrial sector are contributing to the Indian GDP effectively. The only matter of concern here is, even though both service and industrial sector are the highest contributors to the GDP, the maximum number of people are still in the agriculture and fishery sector.
Strides in ease of doing business
India has continuously improved her position in the ease of doing business report published by the World bank year after year. The report measures the performance of countries across 10 different dimensions ranging from how easy or difficult it is to start a business, get access to construction permits, resolving insolvency, electricity availability, credit availability among others. India maintains its 1st position among South Asian economies which was 6th in the year 2014. Our performance in ease of doing business has created enough room for foreign investment in the country that will ultimately employ the youth, nurture their skill set and increase saving which will ultimately lead to economic growth.
A growing economy
At present, the Indian economy is passing through a rough time but it is expected to recover soon. As per the latest report of ‘World economic league table 2020; India has overtaken both France and the UK to become the world’s 5th largest economy in 2019. Well, that certainly is some good news. Isn’t it?
Inadequate health and education infrastructure
Every country has its set of problems and so does India. Our problems are varied, the most important being inadequate health and educational infrastructure. Our health and education spending is hardly 3% of our GDP, i.e one of the lowest in the world. It is indeed alarming that a country of almost 3 billion people are not given appropriate health and educational infrastructure and has aspirations of being a superpower. In most modern democracies, health and education fall under the wider umbrella of duties of the state and it is indeed the responsibility of the state to make sure that an appropriate share of GDP is allocated on the two primary pillars of human development.
Bureaucracy in India has long been plagued with Red-Tape. Excessive regulation and paperwork in every department and delay in the processing of documentation to achieve the desired goal makes it an uphill task for a common man to get the work done in Indian offices, corporations and other large organisations. The foremost solution to decrease red tape is by bridging the digital divide between the have and have nots and along the process digitalise most government offices and grievance redressal mechanisms for the benefit of the citizens at large.
High interest rate
The central bank is infamous for asking Indian banks to charge high-interest rates from its customers especially when inflation is predicted to rise more than the target. However, even when inflation rates are rather in control we often see Indians under the gloomy cloud of high-interest rates, with the high interest rate, the payment of interest rate and loans become ever more expensive, this in return discourages people from borrowing and further spending. Those who have taken loans will have less disposable income at their end that will ultimately lead to less consumption.
A growing divide between the rich and the poor
The Indian economy is among one of the largest in the world. Its free-market principles post-1990 has brought significant dividends for the economy but at the same time, wealth distribution has been highly unequal. It is alarming how the richest 1% of Indian’s own 58.4% of the wealth. With the trend only going upwards every year. The irony of the situation is that even to this day, 22% of Indians are below the poverty line. What is particularly worrisome in India’s case is that economic inequality is often being added to a society that is already divided into the lines of caste, religion and gender. Income inequality when analysed and understood in terms of caste, religious and gender lines bring to us a blurry picture of shattered dreams and dual reality. This dual reality is of an India that is indeed an emerging superpower but at the same time, 22% of her population still does not know where its next meal will come from.
What needs to be done
We’ve made significant strides in the years gone by and it won’t be an understatement to give ourselves a pat on the back, but it’s time we accept the challenges ahead of us and strategise our plan of action accordingly. For starters, India needs to focus on strengthening health and education infrastructure, the healthier and educated our young ones are, the easier it is to achieve the goal of holistic development. Along with boosting our infrastructure, we must realise the principle of sustainable development. Since last 30 years world has been ever more conscious about preserving the environment, even though India has been given certain advantages because it’s a developing country, we should not undermine the importance of developing our infrastructure and our way of life on the lines of environmental ethics.
It’s been over 70 years since India achieved its independence, it was a hard battle but we won it our independence by our very conviction in self-reliance and will to hold the baton of self-rule in our very hands. What India needs to do now is work towards achieving economic growth that has its roots in human development at large. We have indeed come far, but there’s still a long way to go. Being a superpower is not merely about a number or a spot on the world map, it is battle to become a better nation for ourselves and for those who dreamt of a nation that was united in its spirit, ever-growing, ever-flourishing, in letter and spirit.
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