SUPERPOWER INDIA: THE STUMBLING BLOCKS

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A superpower is a country in a dominant position, which has the capacity to hold influence or project leverage worldwide. The means to achieve this is through the combined influence of economic, military, technological, and cultural strength, as well as diplomatic and ‘soft power. Post World War II, the United States, and the Soviet Union emerged as superpowers. Once the Soviet Union dissolved in the early 90s, the United States emerged as the sole superpower of the world.

For over a decade India and China have been touted as the next superpowers. The notion of India as a “rising global power” received broader acknowledgment when then U.S. President Barack Obama, on a visit to India in 2010, said that “India is not just a rising power; India has already risen.” Was this just a rhetorical component of a U.S. strategy to counter a rising China? Obama’s statement for sure attested to the existing acknowledgment of India as a capable and responsible power. Every Indian’s chest swelled with pride, but are we doing enough. Are we just about there or we have a long way to go? Let us analyze.

DO YOU HAVE IT IN YOU

There are many expected attributes of a superpower. However, Economy, Military, and Technology are the core requirements of any superpower. We will restrict our discussion to these areas and see how India fares on these criteria.

Economy

Courtesy: knoema.com
  • Facts:
    • India is the fifth-largest economy in the world on the current price basis and third-largest on the basis of PPP valuation.
    • India is in the 145th position in terms of GDP (nominal) per capita.
    • Per capita income of India is approx 5 times lower than the world average.
    • This figure is over 50 times lower than the richest country in the world and approx 10 times greater than the poorest country in the world.
    • India is in the 33rd position in the list of Asian countries.
    • Young population(more than 50% below the age of 25).
    • Healthy savings and investment rates.
    • Increased integration into the global economy.
    • Fastest growing service sector(Net export estimate in FY20 stood at US$ 214.14 billion) and technology superpower.
    • India’s rank jumped to 22 in 2019 from 137 in 2014 on World Bank’s Ease of doing business.
    • The second-largest producer of food next to China.
  • Facts:
    • After the 1991 economic liberalization, India was one of the fastest-growing economies and achieved a 6-7% average GDP growth annually.
    • Since 2014 with the exception of 2017, India’s economy has been the world’s fastest-growing major economy, surpassing China.
    • Post-COVID Indian the economy will shrink by 5%(S&P) and 4.5%(IMF) in the current fiscal.
    • Taking advantage of Coronavirus China could be amongst the fastest growing economies, at 1% in 2020.
  • Laggards of Indian Economy:
    • Bureaucracy
    • Poor infrastructure
    • Inflexible labor laws
    • Political corruption and cronyism
    • Shunning of foreign experts and academics of Indian origin with stellar reputations, in the field of business and economics.
    • Lack of big-ticket and high impact reforms.
    • A relatively small player in the manufacturing sector.
    • Manufacturing accounts for only 16% of India’s GDP, at least 9 points below where it should be at India’s current stage of economic development. 
    • Data from the Reserve Bank of India suggests that between October to December 2019, nearly a third of the manufacturing capacity of Indian companies was lying idle.
    • The factories moving out of China have shifted their base to Bangladesh and Vietnam in case of apparels; Vietnam and Indonesia in case of leather and footwear. In fact, Indian apparel and leather firms have been relocating to Bangladesh, Vietnam, Myanmar, and even Ethiopia.

Military

  • Facts:
    • The Indian Forces consist of two main branches: Military and Paramilitary Forces.
    • The Indian Military(1,444,000 ) is the second-largest active-duty force in the world after China.
    • Indian Paramilitary Forces, over a million strong, is the second-largest paramilitary force in the world.
    • Combined, the total forces of India are 2,414,700 strong, the world’s third-largest defense force.
    • Tanks- 4,292, towed artillery- 4,060) and fighter aircraft- 538.
    • An estimated budget of 2020, $61 billion.
    • Indian Army is the world’s largest army in total numbers of armed personnel.
    • The Indian Navy is the world’s fifth-largest navy.
    • Indian Air Force is the fourth-largest air force in the world.
    • As per Global Firepower, overall fourth-most powerful armed forces in the world after the US, Russia, and China.
Courtesy: globalfirepower.com
  • Facts:
    • Modest nuclear capabilities
    • Anti-satellite (ASAT) missile technology capability.
    • Robust indigenous missile industry.
    • Robust indigenous space industry.
    • As per SIPRI, Stockholm, India ranked 19th for 2019 in the list of major arms exporters. 2018-19 exports were worth Rs 10,745 crore(.17% of global arms exports), a growth of over 700% since 2016-17 (Rs 1,521 crore).
  • Laggards of Indian Armed Forces
    • India lacks a defence industry.
    • India imports 99% of defence equipment
    • Russia, biggest arms supplier- 75%.
    • US and Western European countries(Israel, France, Britain, and Germany)- 25%
    • Indigenization, a rhetoric, no significant systemic transformation, huge cost and time overruns in domestic defence production.
    • IAF requires at least 44 fighter squadrons has only 34 fighter squadrons.
    • Most equipment belongs to a different generation, not the latest or of the best technology and in severe need for modernization.
    • Painfully slow and inefficient defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs), 41 Ordnance Factories, HAL, and Naval Dockyards.
    • Naval Dockyards:
      • Indigenous Aircraft Carrier INS Vikrant – Launched Aug 2013, likely commissioning early 2021- 8 Years
      • Chinese navy built 83 warships in 8 years.
      • Shandong’ China’s indigenous aircraft carrier – Launched in Nov 2013, Trials in April 2017, Commissioned in December 2019.
    • Ordnance Factories:
      • Workers strength 1.53 lakh – Annual turnover Rs 4000 crores.
      • Outdated technology and operations well below capacity.
      • Production of large quantities of defective gun barrels for T-72 tanks.
      • Defective manufacturing of 155 mm ammunition shells, mismatch of fuses and primers, long delays in delivery of indented howitzer ammunition with the incredibly high rejection rate.
      • February 2019, a joint venture(JV) with Russia to produce 750,000 AK-203 rifles in India. 100% indigenization in 32 months from the contract date.
      • The recently emergency purchase of 72,400 SIG916 assault rifles from USA for the Indian Army in addition to a $70-72 million contract for an equal number of rifles, signed in February 2019, shows that the Ordinance Factory production is nowhere in sight.
    • Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO):
      • Light Combat Aircraft(LCA) – 37 Years.
      • Astra Air-to-Air Missile – 16 Years.
      • Arjun Mark I Tank – 20 Years.
      • Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system – 14 Years.
      • Nag Anti Tank Missile – 30 Years.
    • Emergency Purchases:
      • 240 Israeli-made Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Spike medium-range (MR) anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) and 12 launchers.
      • armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) ammunition fired by the T-72 and T-90 main battle tanks, additional
      • Heron drones,
      • Man-Portable Air Defence System (MANPADS),
      • mines and high altitude clothing, among other things.
      • 33 fighters – 21 Fulcrum MiG-29s and 12 Sukhoi Flanker Su-30MKIs.
      • Similar panicky acquisition announcements ensued during and immediately after 1999, Kargil War with Pakistan.

Technology

The Global Innovation Index(GII) co-published by Cornell University, INSEAD, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO, a specialized agency of the United Nations) is now a leading benchmarking tool for business executives, policymakers and others seeking insight into the state of innovation around the world. Let us have a look at a few of the indicators:

GII 2019 regional innovation leaders

  • Facts:
    • India maintains its top place in the Central and Southern Asia region as the 52nd ranked the economy in 2019.
    • In 2008-9 India was ranked 41 and China 37, India kept slipping the rank and landed up at 81 position in 2015.
    • From 81 in 2015, India’s 29-place move up the GII represents the biggest jump by any major economy, however, India still ranks behind countries like Cyprus, UAE and Chile.
    • India remains 2ndamong middle-income economies in the quality of innovation. Thanks to its high-quality scientific publications and universities.
    • India maintains top ranks in a number of important indicators such as productivity growth, and exports of services related to information and communication technologies.
    • India reached the 15th spot in global companies’ R&D expenditures.
    • India also features in the GII ranking on the world’s top science and technology clusters, with Bengaluru, Mumbai, and New Delhi included in the global top 100 clusters.
Tokyo– Yokohama tops this ranking, followed by Shenzhen–Hong Kong. Figure shows the concentration of top science and technology clusters worldwide. The U.S. continues to host the largest number of clusters (26), followed by China (18, two more than in 2018), Germany (10), France (5), the U.K. (4), and Canada (4). Australia, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Switzerland all hosted three clusters each.

EDUCATION

Education is one of the fundamental building blocks for economic development. It helps economic and social factors, both important to a country’s international success. Not only does education improve a country’s economic health, but it also improves the quality of life. With more educated people there can be more doctors, more scientists, more well-suited politicians to make decisions on behalf of their citizens. All the important ingredients of a superpower, i.e. Economy, Military, and Technology would not be achievable if the country’s education system is weak.

  • Facts:
    • India’s higher education sector is one of the largest in the world with more than 51,000 institutions and universities.
    • Indian education suffers from low employability of graduates, poor quality of teaching, weak governance, insufficient funding, and complex regulatory norms.
    • Out of 1000 top universities in the world India has 21 and China has 51 universities. Out of the top 500, India has only 8 whereas China has 26.
    • First Indian university is IIT Mumbai at 172, whereas China has 2 universities in top 25.
    • India has 216.2 researchers per one million inhabitants, against 1,200 in China, 4,300 in the US, and 7,100 in South Korea.
    • India and China were spending almost a similar portion (0.6%) of their GDP on R&D in 1996 but two decades later China’s expenditure on R&D jumped by more than four-fold whereas India’s expenditure remained largely static.
    • China produces 483,595 research publications annually, the number in India is 148,832.
    • India has low citations per document. Low citation impact implies that the quality of Indian research papers is not on par with that of other countries. 
    • India filed 14,961 patent applications in 2017, while China filed 1.24 million applications in the same year.

IS THERE ANY HOPE

Nations are able to enhance their power by building up a range of demographic, economic, and military capabilities. Over the past two decades, India has demonstrated its ability to carry out underground nuclear tests and its capability to deliver nuclear warheads using intermediate ballistic missiles. However, it has not yet utilized these newly acquired capabilities to project power effectively. India’s armed forces are mostly stationed along the country’s extensive border areas with Pakistan and China. This inefficient assignment of military resources has limited India’s power projection beyond its borders. In international conflicts, India’s military has only been active in the UN missions. A global superpower should have the ability to influence the decisions of countries thousands of miles away, forcing a country to think twice before taking any step which could adversely affect it. Despite recently closing hundreds of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States still maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries. The U.S. has been giving billions of dollars of financial aid to the needful countries, helps them in development, which gives it enough leverage to manipulate the policy-making of a country. The USA is also a member of all the major decision making and governing world bodies. India would take decades to gain such a stature in the global community. So how much ever chest-thumping we may do, India’s superpower status is still a distant dream. If India wants to be a power to reckon with, all the sections of government, private players, and individuals have to fire on all cylinders for a long time to come. Few actionable areas for India to ponder upon:

  • Just repeating slogans about a $5 trillion economy will not bring it about.
  • India needs to become a manufacturing and production hub rather than just an assembly hub. It needs to be done before India’s competitive advantages in labor and cost are overtaken by new automation technologies that require fewer people to do the same work.
  • The window for attracting manufacturing work for exports is not infinite, maybe another five years.
  • The shining star of the Indian tech- software industry would also lose its sheen soon, as the software costs are going up in India.
  • The advent of Artificial Intelligence(AI) means that the same jobs are being done by fewer people, therefore India would not have the same situation as China in terms of becoming a manufacturing hub. India has to innovate.
  • Big-ticket reforms in labor laws needed before the businesses shift to other countries.
  • India has to provide excellence in the infrastructure and logistics support systems to make sure that all the costs that are burdening India at the moment are taken out.
  • Set up ancillary industries, and retain interest. Interest can be sustained if India has the right policies that are driving the right investments, creating the right environment with consistency.
  • Business cases are highly influenced by the availability of power and the capability of distribution. India has to prioritize these sectors.
  • India has the opportunity to build an effective education and health-care system, using technology at scale, and delivering the same level of quality as developed market services, but at as little as a tenth of the cost of deployment.
  • India needs to curb insurgency proactively. This would send a message of stability to the world community.
  • Social divide and communal violence should be addressed on a priority basis.
  • As a country with such high ambitions, India should focus on improving its ranking in various indexes such as Human Development Index, Happiness Index, Freedom of Press Index, etc.
  • Self-sufficiency in the Energy sector would reduce India’s dependence on the outside world. The world is desperate to remove fossil fuel and possibly reduce nuclear energy dependence. Renewable-energy or fusion power are the answers to that. India is a world leader in renewable energy. India has 25% of the world’s thorium resources. India must maintain the lead and show the way to the world.
  • India needs to be proactive in capturing the fourth industrial revolution. The advancements in AI, IoT, Data Sciences, Life Sciences, New energy resources, materials, etc are essential for any future superpower. This should be done on a priority basis.
  • India is not a permanent member of the UNSC, this reduces India’s clout. India should leave no stone unturned in achieving that goal.
  • India needs to be more vocal in airing its views on various international issues, that would send a clearcut message to other nations about India’s policies and intentions.

No one said that the road ahead is not going to be tough if India wants to achieve Superpower Status. However, the road ahead is going to be tough in anyways, even if India doesn’t strive to be a Superpower. The task in hand is very much achievable given India’s unique disposition in the world order, strong governmental resolve, and undisputed public support. German-Austrian politician and statesman Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich gives very wise advice to the present Indian government, ”When called upon to handle important matters, the statesman must tackle them vigorously. For this to happen it is necessary that the course decided upon should not only be clear in the eyes of the Cabinet but should also be made clear in the eyes of the public”.

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227 thoughts

  1. Great research work 👍👍🥇Got a lot of information!! Looking forward for more articles 😊 Also, please go and check my profile, and don’t forget to follow. 😊

  2. Very well written Sandy. Brilliant article, so well researched. India Vs Bharath, the latter has to be taken care of economically.

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. We have to fire on all cylinders to take our country to its rightful place in the world order. I suppose there could be no better time.

  3. A remarkably clear-eyed commentary on the state of the nation. To my mind, the three points below are the most basic and important actionable areas for India to concentrate upon. I believe all other points on your list would follow, given the tremendous unrealised human potential of the country.

    Social divide and communal violence should be addressed on a priority basis.
    As a country with such high ambitions, India should focus on improving its ranking in various indexes such as Human Development Index, Happiness Index, Freedom of Press Index, etc.
    Self-sufficiency in the Energy sector would reduce India’s dependence on the outside world. The world is desperate to remove fossil fuel and possibly reduce nuclear energy dependence.

    1. Thank you so much, Aviott, for stopping by and sharing your immense experience. It is always good to carry out a SWOT analysis from time to time. Unnecessary hubris and daydreaming don’t create great nations.
      India has tremendous potential. It has reached where it is today, not by chance but some people did something correctly.
      Sitting back on past laurels has caused much damage to many advanced societies.

  4. Nicely defined superpower – “project leverage worldwide” !

    By the words of Prince, “…clear in the eyes if Cabinet … also … of the public” – this is crucial for 2 reasons :

    1) present govn is upheld by the people
    2) future govn is actually born out of the same people, especially in a democracy like India.

    Very good to have enlisted the suggestions towards betterment. The article, however raised an intetesting question, which is also nicely highlighted with data points – what are the top factors of ranking the education systems of worldwide universities ? – number of publications, citations and of course patents.

    Lastly but not the least, in spite of gaining capacities, there lies another significant trait to be an ascendant – that you’ve captured here too – “more vocal on international issues”. Power is an absolute feature whereas superpower is relative that requires to address relations.

    1. Carl von Clausewitz and Prince Metternich have given amazing wisdom to the world, relevant even in the modern era.
      India has tremendous potential. People who get out of Indian crab mentality shine across the world. Almost every great US company’s top persons are Indians and redounded towards their spectacular rise. That means the status quo needs in India needs to change for good.
      Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your wonderful thoughts.

  5. Amazing research, and expert marshalling of the facts. So much here that I need to re-read, and also digest so much Information that was new to me.
    An great feat of scholarship, both fascinating and illuminating, thank you..

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