Bhopal: Lalit Shastri, Editor-in-Chief Newsroom24x7 on Saturday 17 September covered a wide range of issues and spoke at length about India’s emergence as a global power.
Shastri was delivering the keynote address at the Madhya Pradesh-Chattisgarh Chapter of Indian Institute of Public Administration at the State Academy of Administration in the State Capital.
Shastri began by quoting Prime Minister Narendra Modi from his speech at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit at Samarkand in Uzbekistan on Friday.
The session was chaired by ex-bureaucrat and Chairman Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh Chapter of IIPA, KK Sethi. He has held several important posts and was Chief Secretary Manipur and President Board of Revenue in Madhya Pradesh. As Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities, he had presented to the President of India, the forty-fourth Annual Report under Article 350- B (2) of the Constitution.
Shastri set the tone of his speech, by underscoring the following points:
- There is much progress in making India a manufacturing hub.
- India’s young and talented workforce makes us naturally competitive.
- India’s economy is expected to grow by 7.5 percent this year, which will be the highest among the world’s largest economies.
- A lot of focus is also being given on the proper use of technology in our people-centric development model.
- We are supporting innovation in every sector.
- Today, there are more than 70,000 Start-ups in India, more than 100 of these are unicorns.
All photos © Priyanshu Mandal, Ayush Shrivastava & Hemang Kuril
Pointing out that the COVID Pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine have disrupted the global supply chains, Shastri said that whole world is facing an unprecedented energy and food crisis and every nation is facing the challenge of economic recovery.
Stating that the world is aware that the Quadrilateral Framework is going to be a vital arena for cooperation between the US, India, Japan and Australia in the Indo-Pacific, Shastri drew attention to the Quad Summit in March last year. He said that the US President Joe Biden had used this platform to underscore the need for every nation to focus on generating domestic demand and driving sustainable global growth.
In this context, Shastri said it needs to be underscored that India’s economy over the last many years has been consumption-driven. The new Indian economy has transitioned from a supply-driven to demand-driven.
After the growth rate of -7.3 per cent in 2020–21, the economy showed signs of revival in the first two quarters of 2021–22 with growth rates of 20.1 per cent and 8.4 per cent. Obviously, this revival is largely due to reversal of lockdown of the economy. Still, what cannot be overlooked is the fact that double-digit industrial growth along with the performance in the mining, especially metallic mineral sector, has largely contributed to the overall growth.
During the Pandemic, India has taken a huge lead by recording more than 216 Cr COVID-19 vaccinations. Also, India has supplied 23.9 crore doses of coronavirus vaccine to 101 countries and UN entities in the form of grants, commercial export, or through Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) as of July 15, 2022, as per figures presented in Lok Sabha.
Significantly, at the last Quad Summit, Prime Minister Modi, had focused on the agenda of climate change, and emerging technologies and said that it makes the Quad a force for global good – He had also played the soft power card by stating that “this positive vision is an extension of India’s ancient philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which regards the world as one family“.
Shastri said that he was drawing special attention toward soft power, since it is continuously being kept in focus by Modi to reflect India’s growing power on the global stage.
According to Nicolas Blarel (2012) Power in International Relations is the ability of actor A to influence the behaviour of actor B to get the outcome one wants.
Then we have Joseph Nye, an American political scientist and former Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In his book “Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power”, he has observed that the United States is still the dominant world but at the same time he goes on to observe that the nature of power has changed. The real-and unprecedented-challenge (for America) is managing the transition to growing global interdependence.
Nye wrote – Today…the deﬁnition of power is losing its emphasis on military force…The factors of technology, education and economic growth are becoming more signiﬁcant in international power.
Later, he described the determinants of soft power as growing out of “a country’s culture; …out of our values – democracy and human rights, when we live up to them” (Nye 2004). He subsequently elaborated:
Power is the ability to alter the behaviour of others to get what you want, and there are basically three ways to do that:
- coercion (sticks) or military force,
- payment (carrots) or by offering economic incentives and
- attraction (soft power) or in other words through nation’s appeal on the basis of narrative built around culture and values. (Nye 2006).
Modi is a leader to be watched, especially from the point of view of the narrative that he has been able to build and that too so successfully, notwithstanding the Pandemic and the Ukraine crisis.
You can judge Modi’s power by this latest example. On the sidelines of the SCO – the regional security bloc Summit – Modi told the Russian President Vladimir Putin “this is not the era for war” and Putin responded by saying that he wants the Ukaraine war to end soon.
Now going back slightly, during our chairmanship of the second most powerful SCO mechanism – the Council of Heads of Government during 2020, a number of initiatives were taken including holding an exhibition of shared Buddhist heritage in SCO member states in by the National Museum, translation of 10 books of regional Indian literature into the official languages of the SCO, i.e the Russian and the Chinese. This obviously demonstrates the kind of strategic importance India gives to soft power.
We should not forget that India has built on its soft power without undermining the need to grow from strength to strength in terms of military might. It has used the strength of its armed forces to counter the enemy on two fronts – on the North and the West.
Besides using the armed forces for peacekeeping and disaster relief, which has definitely lifted the country’s image, promotion of the country’s culture also has added to its soft power.
To command soft power, it is essential that you have a military might and your defence forces are second to none. India is the fourth largest military rapidly modernizing with an ambitious naval expansion. We have inducted the French Rafale fighter jets and the Russian S- 400 air defence missile system that would enhance combat capabilities of the Indian Air Force. India also has nuclear-capable delivery force structure and strategy. While India adheres to the no first use policy, the country’s primary deterrence relationship is with Pakistan, its nuclear modernization is also an indication that it is putting increased emphasis on its future strategic relationship with China.
In November 2021, India’s then-Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat had stated in a press conference that China had become India’s biggest security threat. Additionally, nearly all of India’s new Agni missiles have ranges that indicate China could be the primary target. This posture has been reinforced after the 2017 Doklam standoff near the Bhutanese border and also following another bloody skirmish in the Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh in June 2020 that resulted in the deaths of both Chinese and Indian soldiers.
And today, we have a situation where armies of India and China at the Patrolling Point 15 in eastern Ladakh have disengaged. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar summed up the disengagement as “one problem less” on the border.
The disengagement came days ahead of the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping to Samarkand for the SCO Summit.
AI and drones
Now a few words on drones. India is now including drones into its strategies and embracing this technology to its utmost form. In a recent report published by The Hindu, India is set to finalize a proposal with the US to acquire 30 multi-mission armed predator drones at an estimated cost of ₹22,000 crore ($3 billion).
“The proposal of the Predator-B drone was initiated by the Indian Navy to foster its surveillance over the Indian Ocean. These are the first UAV designed for high-altitude surveillance and long-endurance. It became essential for Indian armed forces to procure UAVs like armed drones especially after the Jammu airbase was struck with a drone attack by suspected Pakistan-based terrorists.”
“Drones are used by governments in evaluating the present conditions of infrastructure such as electric systems, communication networks, ports, airports, railway, bridges, etc.”
“Drones also are used for collecting topographical surveys for the measurement of reserves, to create smart cities, and by construction companies to monitor the structure of their projects.”
More on Soft Power
David M Malone, is a Canadian public servant and scholar at the International Development Research Centre. He is the author of “Does the Elephant Dance? Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy”. Malone points out: “as a gross generalisation, three factors shape the foreign policy of most countries: history, geography and capability. And each of these has decisively inﬂuenced Indian foreign policy, in different ways at different times. India’s power of attraction, the foundation of any country’s “soft power”, derives from each.
Quoting Malone, Shastri went on to point out: “It is India’s newly recognised global economic signiﬁcance and potential that lends weight to the country’s international proﬁle. Its foreign policy, regional concerns and geostrategic views have remained largely unknown to the rest of the world, particularly to a headless West….But today, its international actions and positions that matter more and are perceived differently.”
Young and Talented Workforce
India’s young and talented workforce makes us naturally competitive. India’s youth is a crucial asset in Asia. “It is the power and energy of our human capital, young and old, that has been central to the Indian transformation” as stated by (Nilekani).
In south-east Asia, efforts are afoot to promote networking of universities [by] the linking of Indian higher education institutions with the ASEAN University Network, cooperating on accreditation, joint research, exchange of professors and students in information technology, biotechnology, biomedics, and the social sciences, including economics (Deware)
The Indian diaspora is a crucial actor in India’s inﬂuence in Asia and also rest of the world. South-east Asia alone accounts for an estimated 6.7 million people of Indian origin (Sridharan).
Tourism, particularly religious tourism, is a potentially greater asset in India’s relations with other nations. Buddhist tourism, already a major draw, has signiﬁcant potential to generate further arrivals, especially from Asian markets (Koldowski and Martin)
When it comes to interdependence, Shastri stated that States mould their preferences on the basis of the projections and narratives of different nations. In the present scenario we have a situation where recognising India as an economic power house with demographic dividend, the world is going for China plus one when it comes to investment and India is now the much-favoured nation.
A Deloitte survey report – “India’s FDI opportunity Through an investor’s lens” – has pointed out “India remains an attractive destination for foreign direct investments (FDI) on account of healthy prospects of economic growth and its skilled workforce.”
When it comes to cutting-edge technology, I am reminded of my friend distinguished Scientist Tapan Misra the founder head of the startup SISIR Radar. He is the principal architect of RISAT series of radar imaging satellites that are the backbone of India’s many tactical, strategic and civilian applications. He is also the lead designer of NASA ISRO dual frequency SAR (NISAR) which is scheduled to launch by 2023. He was Director Space Applications Centre (SAC) and Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) and Advisor with ISRO.
After retiring from ISRO, Tapan is now engaged with his startup SISIR Radar that is building indigenous, low cost, high resolution, innovative SAR (synthetic Aperture Radar) systems for commercial and strategic use.
Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) is a special type of flying radar which captures high resolution microwave imagery by leveraging the motion of the radar. Whereas traditional mapping cameras are slower, capture smaller area within the same time and are completely dependent on daylight and favourable weather conditions to work.
SAR is a very sophisticated technology that involves highly complex maths. Making it drone-borne, further complicates the system due to motion compensation. This makes SAR a technology much unexplored. Currently, inferior daylight-dependent camera-based drones are available in the market.
I have cited Tapan’s example as a test case only to highlight the kind of work our startups are doing. This is what Prime Minister Modi also underscored at the SCO Summit at Samarkand on Friday.
Self-Reliant India and Nation’s might
Prime Minister Narendra Modi while commissioning India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant in Kochi on 2nd September 2022 said: “INS Vikrant is not just a warship. It is a testament to the hard work, talent, influence and commitment of 21st century India”. “It is testament to our resolve to ensure the safety & security of the nation in the next 25 years”
“As India is moving rapidly towards a $5 trillion economy, our share in global trade will increase in the coming times. If the share will increase, a large part of it will inevitably be through maritime routes. In such a situation, INS Vikrant will prove to be crucial to safeguard our security and economic interests,” Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh said on this occasion.
This month, on September 2, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that India had surged past the United Kingdom to become the fifth largest economy in the world. The latest change in rankings is based on quarterly gross domestic product (GDP) numbers in current dollars for the period ending December 2021. India increased its lead over the UK in the quarter ending March, IMF data showed.
This is the second time India has beaten the UK in terms of economy, with the first one being in 2019.
“A world-beating rebound in Indian stocks this quarter has just seen their weighting rise to the second spot in the MSCI (Morgan Stanley Capital International) Emerging Markets Index, trailing only China’s,” as per the Bloomberg report.
India now trails behind the United States, China, Japan and Germany in terms of economy. A decade ago, India’s rank was 11th among the world’s largest economies, while UK used to stand firm at Number 5.
As per the IMF’s forecast, India also is set to take over the UK in dollar terms on an annual basis this year. The pound has fallen 8 per cent against the Indian rupee this year.
According to the latest data released by the National Statistical Office (NSO), during April-June 2022, the country’s gross value added (GVA), which is GDP minus net product taxes and reflects growth in supply, grew 12.7 per cent.
Shastri cited from an article in South China Morning post titled “Can India copy China’s demographic dividend and become a US$40 trillion economic powerhouse by 2047?
The article goes on to point out that
• China’s population fuelled its economic boom and in theory, India’s demographics should give it a competitive edge with inexpensive labour and large markets
• But it has to close the skills chasm gap among its young and correct the ‘reverse structural transformation’ towards subsistence employment that came about during the pandemic
Meanwhile, A new report by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) says India has a three-decade “golden period” to leverage its bulging working-age population to boost growth.
But CII also warns India must train its workers fast and create enough jobs to avoid squandering its demographic advantage.
Here a word of caution is a must – Both government and industry will have to step up education and training efforts, rewrite “obsolete” curricula and work harder to engage students and keep them in school.
India’s population will hit nearly 1.5 billion by 2030 and 1.64 billion in 2047, up from 1.4 billion now, the CII has projected.
In 2020, there were 900 million or 67 per cent of the population in the 15-64 working-age group, according to United Nations figures. Another 101 million will join by 2030 – when the proportion of working-age people is expected to peak – and a further 82 million will be added by 2050.
This represents “an exceptional strength compared to the rapidly ageing population” in Western countries and China.
The optimistic figures notwithstanding, it is necessary that India takes well- conceived steps for closing the skills gaps and creating quality jobs. What is rather alarming is that 27.2 per cent of Indians aged 15-29 are so-called “NEETS” – “not in education, employment or training” – the World Bank has said.
Growing pool of aspirational middles class
What gives more forward push to rising India is its increasing middle class and also the urban masses. For the private sector, a growing middle class and expanding urban mass means a large pool of Indians with increasing disposable incomes.
The Asian Consumer – India Consumer Closeup – a Goldman Sachs report 2016
The story of the rising Asian Consumer class is incomplete without a solid understanding of India says the The Asian Consumer – India Consumer Closeup – a Goldman Sachs Report
With a young, tech-savvy population, improved education and rapid growth, India is creating a consumer market deeply tied into mobility and connectivity. Where spending in neighbors like China is driven by an emerging Urban Middle class, we see the greatest opportunities in India in the much larger Urban Mass.
Goldman Sachs examined how India’s unique characteristics create opportunities that range from packaged snacks and restaurants to baby products, smartphones and scooters.
With 440mn millennials and 390mn Gen Z teens and children, the sheer size of India’s youth paves the way for India’s consumer story to be one of the world’s most compelling in the next 20 years.
In his concluding remarks, while appreciating India’s position as the fifth largest economy, Shastri said this is only a phase. He did not rule out the possibility of India sliding back in coming quarters. He was also extremely critical on the issue of governance and said down the line there is need to free the administrative machinery from the clutches of the political system that we have created. At the same time he laid special emphasis on transparency and said there should be a robust system of checks and balances to keep the crony capitalists out and ensure the wayward, delinquents and corrupt within the administration are fully under control. If we fail on this front, India will lose the competitive edge and also lose much valuable time in delivering the desired results when it comes to uplifting the deprived sections, providing quality education and jobs to the masses.
H.H.S.Viswanathan, Ex-diplomat, speech at IIM, Tiruchirappalli, September 04, 2019
Joseph Nye: Bound to Lead; The changing Nature of American Power
Joseph Nye: Soft Power: The means to Success in World Politics
Blarel Nicolas: India: the next Super Power? India’s Soft Power: from potential to reality?
David M Malone: “Does the Elephant Dance? Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy”
Soft Power in Indian Foreign Policy, EPW, 3 September 2011