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India’s Ascent : Charting the Course to Global Prominence and the Quest for Superpower Status

India’s Ascent : Charting the Course to Global Prominence and the Quest for Superpower Status

20-03-2024
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As the balance of global power shifts from bipolar and unipolar to multipolar, with a focus moving from the West to the East, many analysts are considering the rise of the Global South. In this context, several Asian emerging powers aspire to achieve superpower status. Before delving into this discussion, it is important to first define what it means to be a “superpower” and how we can determine a country’s classification as such.

The term “superpower” conceptually refers to a country with significant influence and power on a global scale across various domains, including economic, military, political, cultural, and technological spheres. Therefore, a country can be considered a superpower if it possesses these attributes. India’s remarkable rise as a global powerhouse is evident, transitioning from a colonial subject to an independent and influential player on the world stage in a relatively short period of time. The country’s rapid economic growth, technological advancements, and diplomatic initiatives have all contributed to its emergence as a major global player.

India’s quest for a superpower

In recent years, India has actively sought a larger role in global affairs, forming strategic partnerships with major powers like the United States, and Russia. Its growing influence in international politics and economies has been undeniable to the world. India’s participation in various global organizations such as the United Nations, World Trade Organization, G-20, and BRICS reflects its pursuit of superpower status.

India’s booming economy is a key driver of its rise, making it one of the world’s fastest-growing major economies. With consistently high GDP growth rates, India has become a significant player in the global market, attracting foreign investment and trade. Its thriving tech industry has further enhanced its reputation as an innovation and entrepreneurship hub. India’s human assets and progress in utilizing its human capital worldwide have also been a major source of remittance. Moreover, New Delhi’s long-standing political, economic, and defense influence in the region and globally is undeniable. Its pivotal role in South Asia’s regional initiatives and cooperation is indispensable. Besides, India’s military modernization and growing defense capabilities have cemented its position as a key player in regional security.

While superpowers are known for their leadership in scientific research, technological innovation, and education, India’s substantial contributions to scientific research and information technology, particularly in software development, IT services, and business process outsourcing, have been noteworthy. Additionally, India’s space agency, ISRO, has achieved significant milestones in space exploration, including successful missions to Mars and the Moon.

Superpowers exert a strong cultural influence through media, entertainment, language, and other forms of soft power. India’s cultural influence extends across the Asia Pacific and beyond, and Hinduism plays key roles. Indian cinema, especially Bollywood, has gained popularity in various parts of the world, further enhancing its cultural impact. Moreover, India is a predominantly Hindu-populated country, and many neighboring states share this religious affiliation, which also plays vital roles in sharing the same thoughts and culture.

Furthermore, India’s diplomatic efforts, including the Act East Policy, South Asia Policy, and the Indo-Pacific strategy, reflect its dedication to shaping the geopolitical landscape in its favor.

What India still lacks to acquire a superpower status

India’s quest for superpower status is rife with challenges. The nation grapples with a myriad of internal, regional, and global issues, including poverty, inequality, and infrastructure development, all of which are essential for sustaining its growth trajectory. Furthermore, India faces formidable competition from other emerging powers, notably China, whose ascent as a global superpower presents a significant obstacle to India’s ambitions.

On the domestic front, India contends with numerous challenges stemming from political, cultural, and ideological disparities, leading to substantial discrepancies between provinces across the country. According to rights organization Oxfam International, wealth distribution is glaringly unequal, with the richest 1% owning more than 40% of the country’s total wealth. Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar stated, “The country’s marginalized—Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, women, and informal sector workers—continue to endure hardship in a system that perpetuates the prosperity of the wealthiest.” Income inequality has markedly increased across Indian society, with approximately 15 percent of the population still living below the poverty line and more than 17 percent lacking access to sanitation facilities. Politically, India, the world’s largest democracy, is experiencing heightened polarization due to divergent political ideologies among the political elite, according to experts. The V-Dem report of 2023 identified India as one of the most significant autocracies in the past decade. Additionally, minority groups, particularly Muslims, have faced severe harassment and violence while practicing their faith, as highlighted in the USCIRF report of 2023.

Regionally, India has held a significant advantage for years due to its substantial capacity compared to most countries in the region. In terms of size, India comprises approximately 75 percent of the total area, with the remaining seven countries making up about 25 percent. India, which dominates the region’s economy, accounts for about 72% of the population and 80% of South Asia’s GDP. Additionally, India possesses the largest share of natural resources in the region and boasts a significant industrial and technological base compared to other South Asian states. Furthermore, India has strong ties with other Asian countries, surpassing all other regional powers except China. However, despite India’s material superiority in the region, its regional power faces a threat from China’s dominant presence, particularly through connectivity investments. As stated by Wagner (2016),

“India is often perceived as a regional power, but a closer look reveals that it is in a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis China in South Asia. The first reason is that Indian governments never had the political, economic, and military capacities to pursue their regional power ambitions with their neighbors in the long run. South Asian countries could always play the China card in order to evade India’s influence. Second, India’s new South Asia policy with the focus on trade and connectivity has improved regional cooperation since 1991. But China remains an economically more attractive and politically more reliable partner for India’s neighbors.”  

Additionally, other economically powerful regional states, such as Japan, have been actively working to strengthen bilateral relations with Asian countries, particularly with South Asian nations like Bangladesh. It is also noteworthy that the former superpowers, the USA and Russia, have re-evaluated their foreign strategies in the Indo-Pacific region, focusing on individual countries rather than viewing the region solely through the lens of India and Pakistan.

Several studies indicate that India has faced challenges in easing tensions with Pakistan, promoting regional integration and cooperation, prioritizing the strengthening of SAARC, meeting the financial needs of its neighbors, and understanding the political intentions of the people in other South Asian countries. Consequently, China and other regional and global powers have taken advantage of these shortcomings to counter or diminish India’s dominant position in the region.

Given that the economy is a key factor in achieving superpower status, it is important to examine the overall economies of China and India and assess how Beijing’s strategies and policies have outperformed New Delhi’s in the South Asia region. Over a five-year period, China’s bilateral trade with India’s immediate and nearby neighbors has surpassed India’s by more than double, raising concerns among Indian leaders and policymakers and hindering their aspirations to become a superpower in the near future.



In the light of the aforementioned data, it is evident that China holds a significant advantage over India and has been successful in establishing a strong presence among India’s neighboring countries. Similarly, an examination of military activities between the two nations over the past five years reveals that China’s military budget exceeds that of India by more than three times.
On a global scale, India has played crucial roles in shaping various international affairs, encompassing economics, politics, and security, in recent years. The country is a member of several influential global organizations such as the G-20 and BRICS, and is striving to expand its economic influence in the global economy. However, it faces substantial competition from other emerging economies and established powers. India also grapples with challenges related to climate change, environmental issues, human rights, social concerns, and intricate diplomatic relations, which hinder its pursuit of becoming a major global power.

Findings  

India’s ascent as a major global player is undeniable. The country’s growing influence in international affairs, combined with its economic and technological advancements, has set the stage for India to chart a course towards global prominence. Here are some key contributions of India towards its pursuit of superpower status in the global arena: 
* India’s economic growth and technological advancements are on the rise.
* India holds a significant position in regional and international affairs, with New Delhi playing a crucial role in South Asia.
* India is a member of numerous influential associations and organizations, alongside developed countries.
* India has established substantial access to global markets, contributing to its growing influence on the global stage.
* India’s vast manpower has positioned it as a significant global power among other nations.
India’s quest for superpower status is not without its challenges. There are several factors that thwart New Delhi achieving superpower status. Some of these include:
* Internal challenges: political turmoil, politicization of influential institutions, polarization, religious violence (including the issues in Jammu and Kashmir), poverty, inequality, and corruption.
* Regional hurdles: the rivalry between India, China, and Pakistan; limited regional integration and cooperation; weaker institutions; slower implementation of Indian Act South and East Asia Policies (in comparison to China); and support from specific political parties in neighboring smaller countries instead of understanding the sentiments of the general population in those states.
* Global issues: ongoing wars and conflicts worldwide (such as Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Palestine), India’s roles in these conflicts, regionalism in various parts of the world, and financial crises.
In conclusion, it is undeniable that India has made significant progress in nearly every regional and international forum. The Asian powerhouse has established itself as a prominent global player. However, New Delhi still has a long way to go in achieving its goal of superpower status.
The author of this article is a PhD candidate and an expert in Bangladesh Foreign Policy, Geopolitics, South Asian Regional and International Politics

Notes :
1. Richest 1 percent in India own more than 40 per cent of total wealth: Oxfam. Frontline News Desk, Jan, 16, 2023. Latest access on December 28, 2023. 
2. National Multidimensional Poverty Index- A Progress Review 2023. UNDP, July 18, 2023. Latest access on December 28, 2023. 
3. Jain, A., Kumar, A., Kim, R., and Subramanian, S.V. (2023). Prevalence of zero-sanitation in India: Patterns of change across the states and Union Territories, 1993-2021. Journal of Global Health. Vol. 13. 


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