In the early hours of 15th August 1947, a nation of 400 million was born out of decades of struggle and ethnic violence, in the aftermath of the partition that divided the Indian subcontinent. Back then, the newly born Indian nation was struggling to survive and match the principles of its creation. A question that every Indian mind had – ‘Will India Survive?’ Now, sixty-eight years down the road, that fearful query has been replaced by a far more hopeful one, namely, ‘Will Modi’s India Become a Superpower?’ A question that every Indian mind has – Can Modi’s India prove to be a counterbalance to China’s growing military might or will it coexist with other regional powers, without any resistance to increasing Chinese influence in Asia?
For Modi’s India Regional Dominance should be The Tool
One of the most important factors that help a country to qualify as a superpower is regional dominance. It comes with a significant political stronghold within the country and in the immediate neighbourhood, along with a superior military and self-sufficiency in military hardware. India successfully qualifies as a regional power with a booming economy and a modernizing military but fails to acquire a status of dominant power in Asia because it lacks a political stronghold and its military strength is dwarfed when compared to that of China. India holds significant power in South Asia but China’s military might prevent India from expanding its dominance and sphere of influence beyond its immediate neighbourhood. In order to become a dominant power, India needs to find an answer to China’s military might and to balance the growing ties between China and Pakistan, its traditional rivals.
Modi’s India and Asia’s Changing Geopolitics
Asia is all set to experience a major shift in geopolitics as the United States plans to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2016. A power vacuum in Central Asia will cause a race for regional dominance, bringing India, China, and most importantly Russia, into the game. After the disintegration of Soviet Union, Russia lost much of its unchallenged dominance in Central Asia and will leave no stone unturned to revive its dominance in Asia. India and Russia share a unique relationship of trust and mutual cooperation and this relationship will be put to a test as both the countries work together to bring Afghanistan into a check and balance. For the realization of same; India has been involved in the development of various projects of civilian infrastructure and training of Afghanistan Security Forces. Besides this, India is upgrading Chabahar port in south-eastern Iran and is constructing a road to link the Iranian port city to Afghanistan in order to gain a physical access to the country. A 2500 kilometre land border that Pakistan shares with Afghanistan is Pakistan’s major leverage over India. If India manages to start its operations through Chabahar port in Iran, it will manage to gain a much-required physical access to Afghanistan. With Pakistan’s proximity and religious ties and China’s resources and booming economy, the duo is in a better position to assume a post-NATO role in Afghanistan, but if India and Russia manage to outmatch their efforts, India’s road to regional dominance will be smoother than ever.
Policy Shift of Modi’s India- ‘Look East’ to ‘Act East’
India has had a ‘Look East’ policy ever since it decided to assume a greater role in Asian affairs and gain leverage over China, but the government in New Delhi had failed to establish strong ties with East Asian regimes in the past. The last decade brought about a change and India has achieved significant success and its influences over the eastern neighbours and its ties with the countries have gained momentum. The current government has assumed a pro-active role in South-East Asia and has shifted its policy from the obsolete ‘Look east’ policy to the ‘Act East’ policy, in order to curtail China’s influence over the region. The military ties and cooperation with ASEAN countries, most importantly, Vietnam have helped India in projecting it’s power in highly disputed South China Sea. India holds five different Oil and Natural Gas exploration blocks in Vietnam’s controlled part of South China Sea and despite warnings from China, ONGC Videsh, and PetroVietnam signed an agreement last year for exploration of new oil and gas projects in Vietnam. India has also promised to equip the Vietnamese Navy with Indian made navy vessels and India has joined force with the United States to counter Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. China’s major energy export passes through the Strait Of Malacca and South-China Sea and if India gains influence and control of this highly disputed area, it can use this as a negotiating arm for any Chinese aggression on the border with India and to China’s policy of ‘String Of Pearls’ in the Indian Ocean. For the realization of her goals, India will have to sustain it’s ‘Act East’ policy in a long term.
Internal Dynamics of Modi’s India: People-Policy-Power
According to the Indian constitution the country in a Republic, but it acts more like a federation of states with legitimate autonomy, some of which do not co-operate with the other. This highly fragmented system of governance renders the central government week, and even powerless in some cases. This prevents strong decision-making on the national level, thereby affecting the national interest. The internal dynamics of the country play a major role in determining its foreign policy. As in case of Jammu and Kashmir, the lack of political stronghold in the state and to a greater extent, in the country, prevented the Congress lead central government from taking a hard-line stand on Pakistan during 2012-13 ceasefire violation and beheading of Indian soldiers, but the right wing, or as known in the western world, the Hindu nationalist BJP has a stronghold in the state and a majority in Indian Parliament, which enabled it to take hard-line stand on Pakistan’s ceasefire violations in 2014 and 2015. Therefore, to qualify as a dominant world power, a political stronghold within the country and in the immediate neighbourhood is important. Modi’s India is on its way to gain regional dominance but without an answer to China’s growing ties with countries in Central and East Asia.
Booming Economy of Modi’s India
After the liberalization of Indian economy in 1992, followed by substantial foreign investment during the 2000s, India’s defence budget rose by 152%, from INR 15, 750 crores in 1990-91 to US$ 40.4 billion in 2015-16. Today, India is the fastest growing major economy in the world, growing at about 7.4% a year. This substantial growth has enabled the government to spend freely on the modernization of Indian military, which came to a halt in 1992 as a result of economic crisis. Increased spending on modern military equipment and civilian infrastructure have helped India in securing an indispensable position in world affairs and in turn have helped India to play a major role in world politics and in strengthening its position as a regional power.
Modi’s India and its Military Hardware and Establishment
India is the largest importer of military equipment in the world, but not by choice. India has lacked military infrastructure and arms technology ever since it’s independence in 1947 and this makes India largely dependent on Russia and western countries for its military supplies. If India depends on US and Russia for its military supplies, it will never have a better-equipped military than that of Russia and US. As a result of its poor military infrastructure and dependence on other countries for its military supplies, India lacks the strategic and technological edge that is required to be a superpower.
The art of warfare has surpassed the age of land skirmishes and has expanded to sea and air combat. As a part of fourth generation warfare, it is very important to have a combat-ready air force that can proclaim air supremacy and strike at enemy’s core along with a Blue Water Navy that can secure important trade routes and safeguard national interest beyond the land boundaries. India has a combat-ready Air Force and Navy but when compared to that of the major regional rival, China, and other major powers of the world, they are outdated. Indian Air Force and Navy are undergoing massive reconstruction and modernization. India has ordered over 200 Rafale Fighter Jets, each costing around $150-200 million. Out of the 200 fighter jets ordered, around 150 will be manufactured in India under transfer of technology agreement between Hindustan Aeronautical Limited, an Indian state-owned aviation firm and Dassault Aviation, a France-based group. Various other deals for purchase of equipment needed for modernization of IAF have been signed with US and Russia. The Indian Navy has undergone a massive modernization with induction of various naval ships and an indigenously manufactured aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya. Two other aircraft carriers are being indigenously manufactured and will be a part of the Indian Navy by 2022. A strong and well-equipped navy is essential for India if it wishes to project it’s power in the Indian Ocean and in the highly disputed the South China Sea in order to secure national interest and counter China’s influence and expansionist aims in the Indian Ocean.
A regional power with a booming economy, a modernizing military, and growing status at the international stage, Modi’s India is all set to have its share of power in the world. India’s power will grow exponentially in the next few decades, but the superpower status is not a realistic goal for this nation of 1.4 billion, dealing with widespread poverty, illiteracy, comparatively poor infrastructure and other serious issues. Modi’s India will act as a counterbalance to China’s might and aggression in Asia, but a superpower status is not viable in the near future. But nothing can be disregarded as impossible.