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Asia’s next Superpower

  • Categories
    International Relations: Growth & Connectivity
  • Published
    29th Sep, 2022


  • On a visit to India in 2009, the US Secretary of State’s verdict was unequivocal: ‘I consider India not just a regional power, but a global power.’ Since the turn of the century, India’s economy has surpassed those predictions, expanding fourfold in the course of a decade.
  • Over the same time, expectations that India might increasingly define its political interests to match its economic clout have in turn grown. The same is the case with its democratic heritage and potential for strategic partnership.
  • Political experts have also considered India as one of the possible emerging superpowers of the world along with China, Brazil, Russia, and the European Union. Currently, only the United States fulfills the criteria to be considered a global superpower. India's rising economy and burgeoning middle class have earned it a place alongside China as one of the world's indispensable emerging markets and offer it offers a position of superpower in Asia. But what is India’s true potential? And what can be done to unlock it? We shall be dealing with India’s performance in various sectors and understand how far we are from becoming a superpower.


  • More than sixty years ago, in the summer of 1948, the Indian nation, then newly-born, was struggling for its very survival. It was pierced from the left by the Communists and pinched from the right by Hindu extremists. And there was no dearth of problems. Eight million refugees had to be resettled; provided with land, homes, employment, and a sense of citizenship. Five hundred princely states had to be integrated, one by one, a process that involved much persuasion, and just a little coercion.
  • In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s economic growth was stunted by excessive controls and the economy’s insulation against foreign trade. India owes its current economic miracle to the reforms launched in 1991 under Manmohan Singh, then Finance Minister and now Prime Minister N.Modi. The reforms heralded the advent of India’s successful participation in the globalization process.

What is being a superpower?

  • Being a superpower can be defined as the extensive ability to exert influence on an international scale. It is the state of possessing the might, both economic and military that is superior in comparison to other countries.
  • Superpower status is achieved by combining means of technological, cultural, military, and economic strength as well as diplomatic and soft power influence.

Why India is a potential contender for being a superpower among its counterparts in Asia:

  • India is considered one of the potential superpowers of the world. This potential is attributed to several indicators, the primary ones being its demographic trends and a rapidly expanding economy and military.


Non-Aligned Movement and India:

  • The Non-Aligned Movement had become an effective means of promoting India’s diplomatic presence and the means of securing economic assistance internationally.
  • India’s proud nonalignment during the Cold War had given it a leadership role in the developing world, its 21st-century position places it at the heart of superpower geopolitics.

Role in international politics:

  • The Middle East region plays a vital role in India's economy as it supplies nearly two-thirds of India's total oil imports, bilateral trade is also flourishing in recent years, particularly with the UAE and other Arab states of the Persian Gulf. India’s institutionalized ties with Arab League have further strengthened India’s relations with Arab countries
  • Middle East quad: Middle East quad is a reflection of the understanding that the China challenge is not just a military one but a far broader matter including political and economic aspects.
  • India, the US, Israel, and the UAE is coming and it is a strong manifestation of the changes in West Asian geopolitics and the formation of another Quad-like grouping in the Middle East. India’s involvement in this new grouping reflects a shift in its foreign policy.
  • The four-nation meeting suggests India is now ready to move from bilateral relations conducted in separate silos toward an integrated regional policy.

India's Evolving Position In UN:

  • United Nations should undoubtedly, have the most significant position in establishing today's world order, the foundation of which was laid in the year 1945. Presently 193 countries are registered as members State in the UN. There are 6 main organs of the UN which include the UNSC, UNGA, and ICJ.
  • India is sitting in the 15-nation UNSC for the 2021-22 term as a non-permanent member — the eighth time that the country has had a seat on the powerful horseshoe table. India is a strong voice for the developing world in the UNSC.
  • Young Population: India enjoys the advantage of having a young population. It is estimated that, in 2020, an average person will only be 29 years old in India, which is much younger when compared with many developed countries such as the US, and EU.
  • A critical mass of English-speaking workers: At present, English-speaking workers are estimated to be beyond 70 million. Such linguistic skills are important to allow Indians to connect with the rest of the world and benefit from the opportunities in the global marketplace.

Changing nexus between Indo-ASEAN countries post covet:

  • The new phase of the Indo-ASEAN relationship began with the change in India's views towards the south-east Asian countries, this view of India is reflected in its 1991 foreign policy of Look East, which in 2018 was renewed to Act East Policy. In addition to its policy of Act East India is also concentrating more on other organizations like the Quad-Groups, SAARC nations &, etc, which satisfies more of India's security interests.


India’s Economy History:

  • When the British left India, many wondered whether the Indian subcontinent would remain as one country or divide into dozens of more-or-fewer sovereign states. India is a nation of nations. Historically, each region had developed under its own political system, being united only because of foreign imperialists. The British managed India through a system of patronage that preserved a certain amount of independence regionally.
  • British interests in India were principally economic, so they left the politics to the locals – as best they could. As a result, when India began to contemplate independence, it was far from certain that it would be a single country. Despite the legacy of fragmentation, Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, and many of India’s leaders envisioned a united India surviving the British.

Economic growth of India:

  • It is the world's fifth-largest economy by nominal GDP and the third-largest by purchasing power parity (PPP) and it is the fourth most powerful country in Asia, as per the Lowy Institute Asia Power Index 2021. India finishes in 4th place in four other measures: economic capability, military, capability, resilience, and cultural influence.

India and the Asian Scenario:

  • India is considered one of the potential superpowers of the world. This potential is attributed to several indicators, the primary ones being its demographic trends and a rapidly expanding economy and military. In 2015, India became the world's fastest-growing economy with a 5% estimated GDP rate (mid-year terms).

Free Trade and Manufacturing Superpower:

  • It is clearer that trade can only be free and fair if it is based on the values that democracies largely have in common.
  • ‘Make in India’ aims to increase the share of manufacturing in GDP from 16% to 25% by 2020 and create 100 million jobs.

Net Remittances from Indians employed overseas:

  • Net Remittances are part of the Current Account in the Balance of Payments statement published by RBI. Net remittances from Indians employed overseas have been constantly increasing year after year.
  • According to the World Bank’s Migration and Development Brief, India has become the world’s largest recipient of Remittances, receiving USD 87 billion (a gain of 4.6 % from the previous year) in 2021. The United States is the biggest source, accounting for over 20% of all Remittances.
  • The projection for 2022: Remittances are projected to grow 3% in 2022 to USD 89.6 billion, because of a drop in overall migrant stock, as a large proportion of returnees from the Arab countries await their return.

World Bank’s Migration and Development Brief: This is prepared by the Migration and Remittances Unit, Development Economics (DEC)- the premier research and data arm of the World Bank. The brief aims to provide an update on key developments in the area of migration and remittance flows and related policies over the past six months. It also provides medium-term projections of remittance flows to developing countries. The brief is produced twice a year.


Geographical Location:

  • India lies in the South Asian portion of the Indian Ocean – a zone with unprecedented potential for growth in the scale of transoceanic commerce, with many Eurasians and increasingly Afro-Asian sea-trade routes passing through or close to Indian territorial waters.

Favorable demographics:

  • Demography isn’t destiny, but having a growing population with lots of working-age people is a great place to start. On this critical dimension, India is in much stronger shape than China.

There are multiple advantages of this, including:

  • An increased Labour Force increases economic productivity.
  • Fiscal space increase afforded by the demographic dividend allows for a reallocation of funds from spending on children to infrastructure investment.
  • Women’s labor force increases, which coincides with a decline in fertility and can be a new source of growth.
  • The savings rate increase as the working age is also the optimal time for saving.
  • The Skill India Mission aims to unify skill-training initiatives across industries and states. By integrating and coordinating skilling efforts and expediting decision-making across sectors to achieve skilling at scale with speed and standards. The Mission offers beneficiaries the following benefits.


  • Indian Armed Forces: The Indian Armed Forces, India's main defense organization, consists of two main branches: the core Military of India and the Indian Paramilitary Forces. The Military of India maintains the largest active-duty force in the world as of 2020 while the Indian Paramilitary Forces, over a million strong, is the second largest paramilitary force in the world. Combined, the total armed forces of India are 2,414,700 strong, the world's third largest defense force.
  • Integrated Guided Missile Development Program: India started the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP) to be a self-reliant nation in missile development.


  • Chandrayaan 2: It is a highly complex mission, which represents a significant technological leap compared to the previous missions of ISRO. It comprised an Orbiter, Lander, and Rover to explore the unexplored South Pole of the Moon.
  • Mission Shakti: It makes India a space superpower, live satellite shot down.
  • Demonstration of free-space Quantum Key Distribution (QKD): For the first time in the country, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has successfully demonstrated free-space Quantum Communication over a distance of 300 m. only a few countries have such capabilities.
  • NavIC: NavIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation) is the name of the independent stand-alone navigation satellite system of India. This system was earlier known as IRNSS (Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System).
  • Currently, GPS (United States), GLONASS (Russian Federation), Beidou (China), and Galileo (European Union) have such capabilities.
  • National Supercomputing Mission: In 2015, the National Supercomputing Mission was launched to enhance the research capacities and capabilities in the country by connecting them to form a Supercomputing grid, with National Knowledge Network (NKN) as the backbone.
  • The Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has installed and commissioned Param Pravega, one of the most powerful supercomputers in India, under the National Supercomputing Mission (NSM).
  • Its supercomputing capacity of 3.3 petaflops (1 petaflop equals a quadrillion or 1015 operations per second).

India currently has an expanding IT industry which is considered one of the best in the world. India is already on its way to being a technology superpower.


  • India has given spiritualism, not communalism to the world: India is a country that has never followed sectarian tendencies. India has never given communalism but spirituality to the world.
  • Yoga Day: On June 21, 2022, in India and throughout the world 8th International Day of Yoga was celebrated. Indian diplomatic missions, the Ministry of External Affairs, and the Prime Minister of India himself have ramped up their social media diplomacy on yoga. Yoga is seen as one of the best examples of soft power.

International Yoga Day was declared by the UN General Assembly on 11th December 2014. Yoga is a mental, physical, and spiritual discipline or practice that has its origins in India.


Democratic superpower:

  • India has emerged as a democratic superpower, more than capable of providing leadership that the world often needs and that America, Europe, China, or any other bloc has failed to give.
  • India is a democracy that has improved its relations with other democratic nations and significantly improved its ties with the majority of the nations in the developed world.


'Global superpower' in fighting climate change:

  • India can lead the world's transformation to clean energy and become a "global superpower" in the war on climate change if it speeds up its shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
  • "India can be the business hub to achieve the UN Sustainable Development goal of ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all by 2030.
  • India's decision to take forward the International Solar Alliance in the form of 'One Sun, One World, One Grid'.


COVID-19 Management:

  • India has administered more than two billion Covid vaccination doses, becoming the second country to hit the milestone after China. This not only signifies the planning part to tackle a once-in-a-century kind of situation but also represents India's immense capabilities in helping neighbors in times of adversity.
  • Vaccine Diplomacy: Vaccine diplomacy is the branch of global health diplomacy in which a nation uses the development or delivery of vaccines to strengthen ties with other nations. It is in line with India’s neighborhood first initiative.
  • India had shipped vaccines to Maldives, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, and Seychelles under the vaccine diplomacy plan.
  • While the affluent western world, notably the US and Europe, are focused almost exclusively on their own problems, India is being appreciated for helping its neighbors and developing countries, who could not afford US and European vaccines. This further strengthens India’s standing to become the next superpower of Asia.
  • One Earth, One Health: At the G20 Summit in 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi put forward the vision of ‘One Earth, One Health’ to the world, and said that India is preparing to produce more than five billion Covid-19 vaccine doses for the world next year. This not only showcases the leadership capabilities of India but also highlights the humanitarian facets of Indian polity.
  • Vaccine Superpower: The indigenous, inactivated vaccine is developed and manufactured in Bharat Biotech's BSL-3 (Bio-Safety Level 3) high containment facility. The vaccine's success story gives us hope for the future "India is heading towards becoming a vaccine superpower.
  • In 2018, India doubled its contribution to Gavi committing USD 8 million for the 4-year period from 2018-2022. At the Global Vaccines Summit on 4th June 2020, PM Modi pledged USD 15 million for Gavi 2021-2025 program. GAVI, the vaccine alliance which co-manages
  • GAVI, officially Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (previously the GAVI Alliance, and before that the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization) is a public-private global health partnership with the goal of increasing access to immunization in poor countries.
  • COVAX is one of three pillars of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which was launched in April 2020 by the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Commission, and France in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Co-WIN, a cloud-based IT platform: is supposed to handle minute details of India’s Covid-19 immunization program, including registering beneficiaries, allocating vaccination centres, sending text messages with the name of their vaccinator to beneficiaries, and live monitoring of vials in cold storage.
  • CoWin platform was later made open source, available to any and all countries

Operation Ganga:

  • Operation Ganga is a combined civil and military effort to ensure all Indian nationals return home safely. India brought back its nationals from Romania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Moldova after they had crossed over to these countries from Ukraine via land border transit points. The world has appreciated India's proactiveness in setting aside regional enmities.

India believes in Participatory Alternatives to BRI:

  • Indebting Countries: China is using debt rather than an aid to establish a dominant position in the international development finance market. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is plunging nations into massive debt.
  • Economically and strategically the global center of gravity is shifting to Asia. Groups like ASEAN will have to collectively approach China and stop its aggression and debt trap diplomacy.
  • Alternative connectivity arrangements: India has a role to offer to its partners in the region to offer alternative connectivity arrangements to its neighbors. As India’s ability to act alone in South Asia and the larger Indian Ocean is limited. It doesn’t shy from asking for help from partners like Japan when necessary to build and upgrade its infrastructure and create an alternative to Chinese-led connectivity corridors and infrastructure projects.

Why China is facing competition from other countries?

  • China is facing intense scrutiny for its role in the pandemic, geopolitical competition, trade wars, and economic coercion.
  • China’s business practices are exposed to international value chains. The People's Republic of China has arbitrarily detained more than one million Uyghurs, using them as forced labor.

The Uyghurs are a predominantly Muslim minority Turkic ethnic group, whose origins can be traced to Central and East Asia.

  • India’s competitors [like Bangladesh, and Vietnam] are trying to attract the businesses shifting out from China.
  • These countries are highlighting their regulatory predictability, stable tax policies, and fewer trade obstacles.
  • While India remains outside the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, competitors are wooing companies seeking lower trade barriers.
  • Asian countries are pushing ahead: Vietnam just inked a trade deal with the European Union that threatens to eat into India’s exports.


India and the Quad:

  • The group has been organized to resist Chinese aggression. And Australia is the key member in this pursuit. The Quad, while not being given a military dimension yet, will be the most important grouping in the Indo-Pacific. It will have to set an economic program to help smaller countries in the region.

Counterbalancing China in the strategic Indo-Pacific region:

  • India’s Act East Policy: It which was launched as an effort to integrate India’s economy with South-East Asian nations. It has been used to make important military and strategic agreements with Vietnam, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand helping India to counter China.
  • Building Coastal Radar Networks:
  • Bangladesh – India has recently signed an agreement with Bangladesh to install 20 Coastal Surveillance Radar Systems along the coastline of Bangladesh.
  • The Maldives – India will install 10 Coastal Radar Systems in the Maldives.
  • Sri Lanka – 6 Coastal Surveillance Radars (CSR) have been installed in Sri Lanka.
  • Mauritius – 8 Coastal Surveillance Radars have been installed in Mauritius.
  • Seychelles – 1 Coastal Surveillance Radar (CSR) has been Installed in Seychelles.
  • Indian diplomatic investment in the region: Furthermore, India has invested a lot diplomatically in countries like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia. All these countries surround China in the North.
  • Signing pact with France: India and France recently signed a strategic pact opening up their naval bases to each other’s warships across the Indian Ocean. It grants the Indian navy access to important French ports including one in Djibouti, home to China’s single overseas military base.
  • Setting up the Information Fusion Centre: Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) that will share real-time maritime information with friendly nations, which will be based out of Gurgaon. All the Coastal Surveillance Radar Systems are connected to provide a comprehensive real-time picture to Indian Defence Establishment regarding the Chinese presence in the region.
  • Naval bases and airfields: India finalized an agreement for a new base in Seychelles and negotiated military access to naval facilities at Oman’s port and airfields. With expanded bases on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands at the end of the Malacca Strait, India is raising the stakes in the fight over the waters of Southeast Asia.
  • Avoiding China's lithium trap: China controls 97 percent of the world’s lithium supply at the moment. We are simply substituting China for Saudi Arabia since we do not produce our cells. In addition, the government’s 50 Gwh PLI scheme for advanced cell chemistries, is going to help.

Changing views and interests of the ASEAN countries:

  • The increasing aggression of China, towards its neighbours', be it India in the Himalayas or the ASEAN countries in the south China sea is now forcing these countries to change their strategy toward China from passive resistance to now active aggression.
  • For example, the repeated intrusion of the Chinese into the Vietnamese Exclusive Economic Zone, which lead to the death of a few Vietnamese sailors in the past few months has aggravated the whole situation to the next level and the accusation of the Chinese to have intentionally started this pandemic, doesn't make things any better for the ASEAN-China relation but on contrary to this, it has brought India and ASEAN a lot closer, due to the mutual threat for both which is China.
  • These recent incidents have created a drastic change in the views and interests of the ASEAN countries toward China. Earlier, where there we use to see the failure of ASEAN to gather uniform consensus on this matter, now we observe a sought off uniformity among them.


  • Regional Disparity: The enrolment ratios vary across Indian states, with the southern and western states faring better than their eastern counterparts. The problem in the education sector has further compounded the lack of proper teaching facilities and best practices, especially in rural areas.
  • India’s Deteriorating Environment: The rapid deterioration of India’s air, water, land, and other natural resources is hard to refute.
  • Inequalities: The still-entrenched divisions of caste structure are being compounded by the emergence of new inequalities of wealth stemming from India’s economic success.
  • Corruption: India’s democracy may have thrived in a manner that few ever expected, but its institutions face profound challenges from embedded nepotism and corruption.
  • Disastrous damage to the environment: India’s economic success continues to come with an unsustainable environmental cost. But PM Narendra Modi's announcement at COP-26 to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2070 goes a long way.
  • Huge Diversity: The Indian state has a huge diversity of languages, religions, and cultures. It isn’t built according to the classic European recipe of “one language, one religion, and a common enemy”.
  • Jobless growth: India can’t be a superpower if it can’t create jobs. If India wants to play a bigger role in its region and in the world, it will first need to fix the problem of all-time unemployment. If the increased labour force is not adequately skilled, educated, and offered gainful employment, we will face a demographic disaster.
  • Informal Economy: The informal nature of India’s economy is another barrier to the country’s ability to reap the benefits of its demographic transition and a hurdle in the path to becoming a superpower.


  • Before it can be considered a superpower, India must overcome many economic, social, and political problems and it also needs to be as influential on the international stage when compared to the United States, European Union, China, the former British Empire, and the former Soviet Union. India’s rise has certainly been impressive and warrants the attention that it has commanded. India has been one of the world’s best-performing economies for a quarter of a century, lifting millions out of poverty and becoming the world’s third-largest economy in PPP terms. India has tripled its defence expenditure over the last decade to become one of the top ten military spenders. And in stark contrast to Asia’s other billion-person emerging power, India has simultaneously cultivated an attractive global image of social and cultural dynamism.
  • India will continue to play a constructive international role in, among other things, the financial diplomacy of the G20, and it certainly has a soft-power story to tell as a model of liberal political and economic development. Perhaps even more significantly, the cultural impact of Indian cuisine, literature, films, music, and sporting events will increasingly be felt globally through and beyond India’s vast diaspora.
  • Back in 1948, doubts were also being cast about the Indian experiment with nationhood. Never before had a new nation not based its unity on a single language, religion, or common enemy. As an inclusive, plural, and non-adversarial model of nationalism, the idea of India had no precedent or imitator.
  • India was not expected to survive as a democracy nor hold together as a single nation, but it has. These manifest successes, achieved against the odds and against the logic of human history, have compelled worldwide admiration. India has emerged as a democratic superpower capable of providing the leadership that the world needs. India, which is celebrating its 75th year of independence, has to be a global leader during its 100th year and the next 25 years would be the transformational age for India

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