India is on the path to becoming a great power, a superpower. The country has all the required components of hard and soft power to claim greatness on the world stage. The government has already set a target for the next 25 years, referred to as Amrit Kaal, to achieve its long-held dream of being a ‘World Leader,’ or a Vishwaguru, by 2047. Vishwaguru is the title India had in ancient times and the centenary year will be a fitting time to restore this glory. While opportunities for India are gargantuan, the challenges are in no way small as well. Demography, democracy, diversity, development, digital technology and diaspora — the 6Ds — that have been identified as opportunities can also turn into challenges when not used properly. A whole government approach, a whole country and a whole Indo-Pacific approach need to be integrated by taking all stakeholders, including the state governments and industry leaders, onboard to own and realise the 2047 dream.
We are now in the 75th year of India’s independence. The celebration of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav has set the tone for the next 25 years. As India will celebrate the Century of Independence in 2047, the world is taking note of India’s extraordinary example as a post-colonial nation in the developing world taking a quantum jump and inspiring the world as a multicultural, multifaith, multilingual, democratic, constitutional republic, a globalised economy and a civilisational nation, which is poised to restore its lost glory as a Vishwaguru.
India@100 in 2047 does not intend to become a super-power in the sense of the competitive colonial powers of the 19th century that plundered other countries for their growth, expansion and a false sense of imperial glory, or like the post-colonial superpowers of the 20th century that have been identified as exploitative, self-seeking and manipulative. This is not to reject the genuine intentions of global harmony that some of these countries or some of their leaders advocated intermittently. However, broadly the global governance ecosystem has been spearheaded by powerful countries, most of them former imperial powers, unrepresentative of the 21st-century realities and necessities.
India has a unique opportunity in this century to claim a great power status sooner than any other country in the developing world. India at the start of the 21st century has shown to the world that a third-world, post-colonial nation can be a democracy, however chaotic it is, while making rapid strides in economic and technological innovations. Whether with BRICS or the recently formed QUAD, India is being seen as a potential Security Council Member and as a global major power with the intent and potential to respond to global issues and problems. To take advantage of these developments, the government has set a 25-year target to achieve a responsible great power role in global affairs.
As the government readies for action, with the Vision India@2047, it is pertinent to understand what shape the government wants India to take and how best India is positioned to do so. The government wanted to achieve the mark of US$5 trillion as an economy by 2025 but COVID-19 has dented some of those predictions, if not completely derailing the ambition.
The art of wielding power
A great power is a ‘Smart Power’, with a judicious balance of hard and soft powers. Hard power refers to the ability of a country to influence other countries through its military might, economic strength and technological prowess. The capability to meet internal and external security threats can also be added to that list. Soft power (the term was coined by Prof Joseph Nye of Harvard University), in contrast, has three main pillars: political values, culture and foreign policy. All these three in combination increase the ability of a nation to influence or attract other countries. These three can have several sub-components as well, and, especially in the Indian context, they can include civilisational history, a unique philosophy for global unity, and peace, thought leadership in global governance and overall capacity to contribute to global issues and human security challenges.
In the Military, Economy and Technology (MET) sectors, India has made considerable progress but still is dependent in many crucial areas on her strategic partners for defence equipment and weapons, development intervention and advanced technology transfers. India has slowly reached a place where it is able to deal with internal and external security threats effectively. With the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative, there is a huge scope to scale up the indigenous development of weapons and equipment and technologies, thereby minimising import dependence.
In the soft-power context, India is already very well recognised as a culturally vibrant nation, with Bollywood, cricket, IT experts, yoga and Ayurveda getting global attention. India is slowly making a mark on the global sphere through contributions to other sectors as well. From contributing to the post-war reconstruction of Afghanistan after 2002 to providing vaccines and playing the role of ‘the pharmacist of the world,’ to recently extending aid and support to crisis-hit Sri Lanka, India has always been at the front seat of extending financial, technological, and educational support, despite its limited resources.
The Vision India@2047 team led by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has empowered Groups of Secretaries (GoS) to undertake a ‘gap analysis’ in the domestic national capabilities — both in the government and private sectors — vis-a-vis the best practices available at the global level across chosen sectors and identify strategic areas of intervention where the country can aim to become a world leader in the given timeframe of 25 years.
The strengths of India provide unique opportunities for the country to leverage on its way to becoming a ‘Great Power’ by 2047
As India is celebrating the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav (AKAM) and preparing a roadmap to march ahead towards its centenary celebration, it is the most opportune time to have a SWOT analysis to assess the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats for India on the path of its great power status.
India’s strength lies with its geography as it is located in the strategic space of the Indo-Pacific, the region that would shape the global affairs of the 21st century. The second strength comes from its demography, which is now the second-highest in the world and where the majority population is working-age (under the age of 35). The third strength is religious, cultural, and linguistic diversity. India is more diverse than any country in the world, more diverse than the continent of Europe as well. Four major world religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism — originated from this land, and the other four major world religions — Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Zoroastrianism — made India their home.
The fourth strength comes from its democratic roots and practices. The Constitution of India is the biggest brand ambassador of India and is a huge inspiration for many countries in the developing world of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The fifth strength comes from the economic prosperity that India is creating both within the country and around the world through its liberal and open market economic philosophy. The sixth strength comes from the huge shift in global perception of India from a land of snake charmers to a nation of software engineers. India is seen as a technology leader today in the world. The seventh strength comes from India’s ancient heritage of Vedas, Upanishads, Indian knowledge systems (IKS), yoga and ayurvedic practices that, in combination, offer global solutions like non-violence, sustainability and philosophies like Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family).
The other two important strengths come from the Indian diaspora and the hugely influential cinema industry in Hindi, popularly known as Bollywood, and south Indian language films as well.
The strengths of India provide unique opportunities for the country to leverage on its way to becoming a ‘Great Power’ by 2047. The majority young population, along with a highly aspirational middle class, presents an advantage for economic growth and space for innovation and entrepreneurship. The new National Educational Policy (NEP) 2020 is a step in the right direction where the focus is not just on job seekers but also on job creators.
India’s young and expanding workforce comes with strong English language and technology skills, making them globally employable and mobile. The MNCs and the Fortune 500 Companies are looking up to India in the post-Covid-19 era, exploring the possibility of seeking India as an alternative destination vis-a-vis China. India will have to take advantage of this unique geopolitical and geo-economic opportunity. With low-cost technology and the availability of comparatively cheaper labour, India has emerged as an attractive destination for foreign investments in R&D.
The Indian start-up ecosystem has created more unicorns in the last two years than any other country in the developing world. With the focus on Atmanirbhar Bharat & Vocal for Local, India is uniquely positioned to manage and balance its dependence on imports. These opportunities need to be capitalised on through policy-level changes and ground-level actions as well.
The weakness of the Indian ecosystem lies in the comparatively low investment in scientific and technological Research and Development (R&D). The low literacy rate of women is a major cause of concern. As we prepare to integrate technology and financial literacy into rural development, there is a huge infrastructural and mindset challenge. Farming in rural areas is largely rain-dependent and there is low technology awareness and application. More than 50 percent of people in the country have been identified to be under the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category and most of them come from vulnerable sections of our society and belong to tribal and Dalit communities. More than 25 percent population comes from SC and ST communities, requiring consistent intervention by the state in welfare, social justice, and entrepreneurship.
The Smart Cities campaign has captured the imagination of the country but we are yet to make smart villages, bringing communication and basic facilities to rural areas that are normally taken for granted in cities. Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, our former legendary President, had coined the term ‘PURA’ around 20 years ago, referring to ‘Providing urban amenities in rural areas.’ We are yet to realise the dream.
India is a huge country and will surpass China in population very soon. While the demographic dividend is a strength and gives us a unique opportunity, the lack of effective management of our human capital has the potential to turn it into a threat. Rising unemployment is a grave national security threat. This threat becomes deadly when other fault lines like regional imbalance and communal divides are combined.
India is also grappling with an unsafe neighbourhood for long and in the mid-to-long term, these challenges will remain, affecting the 2047 dreams. The relationship with Pakistan and China will continue to pose threat to India’s internal and external security along with the possibility of damaging India’s relationship with other neighbouring nations. The threat of a direct attack from Pakistan and China persists. Even though through diplomacy, the war may be avoided, the threat of small-scale battles across the border seems to continue to keep India under constant check, restraining India’s ability to focus on development and global ambitions. Even though we are emerging as a technological powerhouse, still the threats of cyber warfare remain very strong.
India has a golden opportunity to present a global model of development, democracy and diversity, comparable to no other nation in the 21st century
Climate Change will continue to impact India’s growth story until we take concrete, collaborative and consolidated action to develop climate resilience and work towards the Net Zero action plan.
Thus, an unbiased analysis of our dear nation’s opportunities and challenges reveals that India has a golden opportunity to present a global model of development, democracy and diversity, comparable to no other nation in the 21st century. However, much will depend on how we leverage our strengths and capitalise on our opportunities and at the same time work on our weaknesses to turn them into strengths and effectively manage our threats.
Kumar is a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha from the state of Odisha and a practising lawyer. He belongs to the Biju Janata Dal (BJD). Dash is currently a Senior Project Consultant at Ernst and Young (E&Y) and a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Sustainability Research & Advocacy (CSRA), BML Munjal University. The opinion shared here is personal and does not represent the views of their political affiliation or any other institution they are associated with. Usual disclaimers apply.
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