TOPICS : India’s status of an ‘emerging power’

With the economic growth topping 9 per cent in 2007, an acknowledged nuclear capability, and a growing role in international relations, India has now attained the status of “emerging power.”

What still remains unclear, however, is India’s capacity to maintain this growth, to resist falling prey to the endemic instability in its neighbourhood, and to manage its diplomatic balancing act with China and the US. Equally unclear is what India will do with its power if it manages to meet all of these challenges.

“India’s biggest contribution to world affairs will be as an example rather than as a great

power,” observed Pratap Bhanu Mehta, the president and chief executive of the independent Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, at an ‘Asian Voices’ seminar in Washington, DC, recently. “With more than a billion people living in a democratic system, India is trying to lift millions of people out of poverty in an ameliorative way rather than a revolutionary way.”

Mehta predicted that India would chart a course of “moderation without principle” in its relations with the outside world. Whatever disputes might rage within India’s fragmented domestic political sphere, this modest pragmatism has generated consensus around one key element. “The basis of India’s power will be more, and more rapid, integration into the world economy,” Mehta said. “Ten years ago, there was a lot of anxiety about opening up India’s economy, not just vis-à-vis the West, but also toward China,” he explained. “Those anxieties are muted now. India now feels that it can take on China.” Washington eyes relations between Beijing and Delhi warily. In 2005, India and China formed a “strategic partnership.” More recently, they agreed to hold their first-ever joint military exercise next October. At the same time, US-India relations have experienced an upturn, particularly around the negotiation of the US-India nuclear cooperation deal.

India has also maintained a careful distance from the widening cleavage between the “West” and “radical Islam.” Its sizable Muslim population means that “India is not in a position to straightforwardly take the US view of the Middle East,” Mehta said. Satu Limaye, director of the East-West Centre, looked at India’s embrace of liberal interdependence from a different angle. Everything that it wants — whether a UN Security Council seat, recognition of its nuclear status, or continued economic growth — depends on India cutting deals with a wide variety of countries. However, to achieve its objectives, Limaye said, “The US is the most important player on all these issues.” Of the four structural variables determining how India integrates with the world economy — trade, remittances, external debt, and oil imports — the US is the critical actor for all but one, energy supply.

Also, tensions with Pakistan over Kashmir, civil war in Sri Lanka, po-verty in Bangladesh, the looming chaos in Afghanistan: how India manages these challenges on its pe-rimeter may determine the sustainability of its economic growth. — IPS