Why India will not become a superpower

Indian children with flags "We should judge ourselves not against the achievements, real or imagined, of other countries, but in the light of our own norms and ideals"

India will not become a superpower, says Ramachandra Guha, renowned historian and author of India after Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy.

Taking the lead in a special report by the London School of Economics, Mr Guha outlines seven reasons to support his thesis.

The challenges which will hold India back, he writes, are the Maoist insurgency, the "insidious presence" of the Hindu right wing, degradation of the "once liberal and upright" centre, the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, trivialisation of media, the sustainability of "present patterns of resource consumption" and the instability and policy incoherence caused by multi-party governments.

More importantly, Mr Guha believes that India should not even attempt to become a superpower.

"In my view, international relations cannot be made analogous to a competitive examination. The question is not who comes first or second or third, whether judged in terms of Gross National Product, number of billionaires in the Forbes or Fortune lists, number of Olympic gold medals won, size of largest aircraft carrier operated, or power of most deadly nuclear weapon owned," he writes.

"We should judge ourselves not against the achievements, real or imagined, of other countries, but in the light of our own norms and ideals... We are a unique nation, unique for refusing to reduce Indian-ness to a single language, religion, or ideology, unique in affirming and celebrating the staggering diversity found within our borders (and beyond them)."

In fact, as Mr Guha's teacher, the late historian Dharma Kumar, once said, Indians should applaud the lack of homogeneity.

"Instead of regarding India as a failed or deformed nation-state we should see it as a new political form, perhaps even as a forerunner of the future. We are in some ways where Europe wants to be, but we have a tremendous job of reform, of repairing our damaged institutions, and of inventing new ones," Ms Kumar had once written.

India, as the participants in the LSE study say, should strive to become a more inclusive and efficient society, rebuild its broken institutions and engage with the egregious problem of state corruption. Superpowerdom can wait.

Soutik Biswas, Delhi correspondent Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    In mathmatical term, probability of something happening is never Zero. So, it might be very difficult for India to become superpower, but not impossible. Yes, the reasons you gave above are very true. However, please bear in mind that India is democratic country and impacted by all the shortcomings of democracy. Vast population, poverty and corruption will always hold us back. Wait or Speculate???

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    When most of the elected parliamentarians have criminal records against them India can never become super power. If India can get rid of corruption, reduce poverty, improve healthcare for the poor, educate people, improve its infrastructure, and speed up court cases that itself is more than enough for ordinary people. I am just dreaming.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    It amazes me that Mr. Guha finds "insidious presence" of the Hindu right wing as the threat and not the Islamic terrorism that is massacring Indians for decades. I hate such pseudo-seculars! It's sad and disgraceful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Maoist Insurgency! Is it something holding back India to become a super power? No, not at all. India had Sikh insurgency in the past and it was suppressed by Indira Gandhi and now Punjab is a peaceful and economically developing state. You analysis on Hindu right wing is not correct as well. Gujarat is highly developing state after the big riot 10 years ago. Social welfare is the real draw back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    The Indian government should focus on distributive as well as productive sectors of the economy and lay emphasis on social development through decentralization of power to the local bodies.


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