Why India will not become a superpower

  • 13 March 2012
  • From the section India
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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.