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It seems nothing can stop the rise of India. India supplies the world with a robust knowledge-based economy, challenges US economic dominance, and acts as an important counterweight to China. Its controversial US-backed nuclear program has given it a primary place on the global energy front as well as granted its military new pull abroad. India’s telecommunication, information technology, and service sector have played a strong role in redefining global trade and communication routes. Graduates from India’s universities and those now returning from abroad generate substantial wealth for the country. A newly minted middle class fuels India’s blistering economy, furnishing it with the fifth-largest purchasing power in the world. This, in hand with its diplomatic legitimacy abroad, seems the perfect storm for unfettered national growth.
Yet India is a country in contradiction. Sagging infrastructure, a shortage of Internet connections in rural areas, and large disparities in education threaten its stability. While India’s educated urbanites see their salaries quadruple, much of India’s poor live in poverty worse than that found in sub-Saharan Africa. Undereducation fuels fundamental factions rooted deep within rural and urban states alike. Environmental problems such as water shortages, sanitation-related illnesses, and pollution threaten to topple India’s forward momentum—no matter how mighty it may seem.
Many predict a catastrophe for the country unless these issues are effectively dealt with—soon. The World Trade Organization (WTO) predicts a major national health crisis for India as soon as 2020 if it does not curb its inefficient redistribution and regulation of water resources immediately. Despite this serious cautionary tale, India continues to rise. The world—whether in concordance or not—has no choice but to accommodate India in the new global order—and this is a role India is more than eager to occupy.
India has had an increasingly active role in international affairs and is beginning to exercise its new prominence in the global system. The Indian Embassy to the United States outlines its diplomatic objectives as follows: a belief in friendly relations with all countries of the world, the resolution of conflicts by peaceful means, the sovereign equality of all states, independence of thought and action as manifested in the principles of nonalignment, and equity in the conduct of international relations. India also looks to preserve its safety while securing international prestige. Regional tensions drive much of the country’s foreign policy. Competition for political dominance and economic rivalry with China, nuclear tensions and border disputes with Pakistan, and the continued conflict over Kashmir preoccupy much of its foreign policy agenda. As India rises in the global system, it has proactively pursued relations with countries outside of the West. Tariff cuts for Brazil, aid to Africa, and continued ties to the Middle East have expanded India’s international support network while reducing its dependence on the United States.
India is perhaps best known for its driving role in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The charter, which now lists 118 member states representing 55 percent of the world’s population, acts as a counterbalance to the world’s twentieth-century power blocs. The agreement’s origins lie in the 1950s. Then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru outlined five pillars for peace for Sino-Indian relations in a 1954 speech given in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The five pillars were: mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty; mutual nonaggression; mutual noninterference in domestic affairs; equal and mutual benefit; and peaceful coexistence. NAM’s first official summit was held in Belgrade in 1961. India’s neutrality was called into question during the Cold War when it drew close military ties to the Soviet Union after its 1962 conflict with China and 1965 conflict with Pakistan. Under Indira Gandhi, India attempted to regain some of the ground it lost in influencing the movement through increased involvement and by hosting the 1983 summit. However, pro-Soviet positions, especially on the key issues of Cambodia and Afghanistan, again compromised its neutrality. As the Cold War closed, the movement was forced to justify its continued existence. Its new objective is to secure developing countries’ rights. India has played a role in this movement—especially in the important case of Pakistan.
While India and China's relations are on the rise, a legacy of tension resulting from three wars and persistent regional rivalry underlies recent progress. Since the 1950s, the Tibetan border has been a point of tension between the two nations. The 1954 agreement, which outlined Pillars for Peaceful Coexistence, attempted to seal these tensions. However, in 1962 the Chinese People's Liberation Army swept across the McMahon Line, overtaking Indian forces and igniting the Sino-Indian Conflict. Cold War interests were deeply embedded in the dispute. US threats to become involved combined with logistic challenges compelled China to declare a unilateral cease-fire shortly after this invasion.
The conflict resulted in two further skirmishes—the Nathu La Incident and the Chola Incident—and two decades of cold relations. India became more politically assertive throughout this time, in part due to the necessary resistance to Chinese aggression along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Shaking Nehru’s “Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai” and Ghandi’s strict pacificm, India began to develop the strong national character that enabled it to act as a counterweight to China today. While India remains wary of its Eastern neighbor, relations are largely on the rise. The tremendous economic potential available via bilateral negotiations between the two countries provides ample incentive for growth.
Since the partitioning of India and Pakistan in 1947, disputes have marred the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir. Pakistan retains control of the region north of the Line of Control (LOC) while India controls the south. The 1971 War between India and Pakistan resulted in the creation of Bangladesh, as well as the surrender of Pakistani forces to India. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan agreed to a cease-fire along the Line of Control (then named). Tensions continued through the 1970s and 1980s, worsened by mutual testing of fission devices (India first in 1974, followed by dual testing in 1998). The Indo-Pakistani border erupted in what would come to be known as the Kargil War in 1999. Pakistani soldiers and Kashmiri militants poured across the LOC. India eventually rebuffed the attack, and peace accords were signed under the surveillance of President Bill Clinton. However, Kargil led to greatly increased defense spending in both countries, while bringing Perez Musharaff into power in an unstable Pakistan. Jammu and Kashmir continue to be the site of ongoing terrorist strikes and assassinations.
Until relatively recently, US-Indian relations have been strained. While India signed the 1961 Non-Aligned Pact, its strong ties to the Soviet Union provided a natural point of tension. In an effort to counterbalance Soviet influence in South Asia, the United States backed Pakistan while simultaneously courting India’s rival, China. Relations under President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger further estranged India from the United States. However, after the fall of the Soviet Union, relations regained relative neutrality. India’s diplomatic victory in the Kargil War, as well as its new economic reforms in 1991, furnished it with new legitimacy with the United States. However, its 1998 nuclear weapons testing caused President Bill Clinton to call for sanctions against India because it had dangerously violated an international moratorium on nuclear weapons testing. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, India’s considerable assistance with the US-led war on terror marked progress between the two nations. Perhaps the most striking development in US-Indian relations has been the US-Indo Nuclear Pact proposed in 2006. Under the terms of this agreement, the United States would sell India reactor technologies and nuclear fuel in exchange for open supervision of India’s civilian nuclear program by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Additionally, India would separate its military and civilian nuclear programs. The proposal faces vocal opposition in both India and the United States.
India has been a democracy since gaining independence in 1947. Pakistan was created at the same time through partitioning administered by Great Britain. Tensions along the Indo-Pakistani border have existed since this point, causing three conflicts, two of which resulted from Kashmir. India has also had difficulty with political unity within its own nation. In addition to staggering problems of underdevelopment, poor infrastructure, lacking educational systems, and rapid population growth, India has the difficult challenge of uniting diverse cultures and linguistic groups under a unified national identity. While English is spoken by 30 percent of Indians, there are 22 other official languages in addition to Hindustani. This is reflected in India’s coalition government and fractured election results. Forging a unified national character remains to be one of India’s primary political challenges in the upcoming century.
India is the world’s largest democracy. More than 387 million Indians, nearly 58 percent of the registered voting population, turned out to vote in the 2004 elections. That’s a slightly higher percentage than in the United States the same year. Yet India’s democracy faces many challenges. Indian states submit to a federalist form of governance, which substantially limits state control. New Delhi cannot be challenged by any Indian state. Critics say this centralized system of government marginalizes local government and discourages vested local participation in democracy. Large-scale social, environmental, and political problems are not met with active and thorough civic dialogue that works toward pragmatic solutions. Rather, jaded voting populations quickly elect a new representative. This legislative overturn inhibits the consistency often needed to undertake the long-term projects many see as fundamental to the future health of India’s democracy.
India is a federal state with a parliamentary form of government under its 1949 constitution. The executive branch is held by the president, who is elected every five years. The president is largely acknowledged as a symbolic head of state. Executive power is held by the government under the leadership of the prime minister. India is a multiparty representative republic with two houses of parliament. The upper house, Rajya Sabha (Council of States), consists of a maximum of 250 delegates, most of whom are apportioned by the states. Each delegate is selected by the state’s elected assembly. The lower house, Lok Sahba (House of the People) is a 545-member body elected by popular vote to represent specific constituencies. The judiciary is independent and has the right to strike down laws contradicting the constitution. It has become increasingly active in this role in the last decade.
India’s diverse composition lends to the forming of coalition governments—rather than unified party dominance. Coalition governance has become a defining feature of Indian politics since Rajiv Gandhi left power, reflecting India’s atomized political parties, fractured regional concentrations, and inability to rally around a unified national political identity. The 1991 elections yielded a series of stable coalitions able to enact the substantial reforms often cited as the measures enabling India’s economic boom in the mid-1990s and 2000s. Many of these parties were (and continue to be) regional rather than national. This allows parties to align, rather than compete, at the federal level. The India National Congress (INP) has led India for most of the last fifty years. However, the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seized legislative power for less than two weeks after the 1996 elections, beginning what would become an unstable political period for India’s parliament. The BJP was quickly overthrown by the liberal United Front (UF) coalition. The BJP formed a new coalition, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), with 22 other parties under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee. The NDA successfully defeated the UF in an election called in 1998. The 2004 elections replaced the BJP with an opposing coalition led by the India National Congress and the left-leaning United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
One of the most pressing issues for India’s government is the country’s Naxalite, or Maoist, rebel factions. Born largely out of India’s tremendous economic disparity, these groups are housed in India’s rural areas, particularly in the economically devastated regions of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, and Chhattisgarh. The movement traces its origins to a 1967 Naxalabari village uprising in West Bengal. While the government was able to quell the movement throughout the 1970s, it has returned in full force, constituting what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh labeled in a 2006 speech as the greatest threat to India’s internal security. Sporadic outbursts of violence rip across the countryside. Brutal membership campaigns, rape, and forced displacement grip villages without adequate police presence. Despite this violence, Naxalism has successfully attracted a broad base of support. Tens of thousands of Naxalite supporters exist in India’s “Red Corridor,” and the Asian Center for Human Rights estimates their numbers grow by the day. Maoist rebels have been able to thrive among India’s landless classes and among those left behind in India’s technological boom. Naxalite ideology has moved into some of India’s major metropolitan areas, finding fertile ground in neglected slums. The bloody success of this movement provides key insight into the dangers of neglecting economic disparity—even as the nation moves forward.
China and India are often grouped together as the world’s new economic powerhouses. However, distinct characteristics differentiate the development of these two rising powers. India opened its economy to global investments in 1991—thirteen years after China did the same. Economic reforms in India are often seen as stilted and sporadic in comparison with those of China. Whereas China committed itself to an open market early on, India hesitated. However, as India opens its markets up to the global economy with increasing ambition, many wonder if it will be able to surpass China in the next twenty years. The Indian government has reduced controls on foreign trade and investment. An elite business class has been trained and its services submitted to the global economy. India’s economy has held at a 7 percent growth rate since 1997. Despite this impressive growth, sagging infrastructure, a lagging agricultural sector, and tremendous economic disparity pose major—if not crippling—problems for India.
India supplies the world with a major source of financial and research services. This includes software design and telecom companies, as well as a robust technology industry. Major industries include automobiles, cement, steel, pharmaceuticals, machinery, mining petroleum, and textiles. Agricultural crops include vast quantities of rice, wheat, pulses, sugar cane, sorghum, bajra, and corn. Cotton, tobacco, oilseeds, and jute are principle nonfood products. Tea plantations grow in Assam, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. Medical tourism also fuels India’s economy, with total revenues growing 25 percent annually. Opium for both pharmaceutical and illegal use is also grown.
India is largely dependent on its service sector, which produces over half of the national economic output using only one-third of its labor force. Business processing, information technology (IT), and telecoms based in the country’s largest cities account for a large portion of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Higher education at universities abroad or entrance into one of India’s Institutes of Technology (IITs) is highly prized. India’s unique economic development is accredited to its successful creation of a knowledge-based economy. It is the first nation to industrialize through a revolution in the service sector—rather than in manufacturing. Multinational corporations and large telecommunication firms are attracted to India by its wealth of trained professionals. Much of this business is generated by India’s call centers where employees work long shifts fielding customer calls from around the world. Young Indians perfect their English in university, and these universities in turn feed the growing demand for English-speaking employees. Often higher salaries reward those graduates who can best replicate an American or English accent—a useful skill when servicing clients in the United States, the United Kingdom, or Oceania.
India’s vibrant middle class is mostly constituted by college-educated urban citizens working in the service, banking, and information technology sectors. Economic opportunities for highly skilled labor have expanded greatly. Experts estimate India’s middle class as growing by 20 percent annually, while the numbers of households climbing to the upper middle class as growing by 10 percent. Young college-educated Indians are seeing income growth unheard of in previous generations. It is not uncommon for a young IT professional to triple his/her parents’ combined income in his/her mid-twenties. This purchasing power has brought with it a wealth of new goods and services available for consumption. Fashion, perfume, cell phones, and other luxury suppliers have found an eager market in this newly empowered demographic. This infatuation with Western values of consumption is often referred to as “Westoxification.”
Inconsistency characterizes India’s economic development. Its dynamic growth has been all but evenly distributed. The top 10 percent of India’s elites control 33 percent of its wealth. While agricultural land occupies 55 percent of its land and employs almost 70 percent of its population, it yields a mere 25 percent of its GDP. An estimated 40 percent of its population (mostly located in rural areas) are too poor to afford adequate nourishment on a regular basis. This percentage is greater than that of many sub-Saharan African countries. Yet Indians claim the fifth-largest purchasing power in the world. Drought, disease, flood, and famine are often blamed as contributing factors to India’s backward-facing rural economy.
However, the economic situation in rural areas is more complicated than a mere environmental issue. Vestiges of the caste system lock inhabitants in stagnant economic positions. Rugged roads isolate agricultural areas from efficiently transporting goods and services. A lack of access to the Internet and the educational tools needed to benefit from it isolate many. Thus much of India does not have clear access to important information necessary for self-advancement. Land certifications, medical information, exchange services, as well as banking and utilities information are not available. The education system suffers as well. Many economists foreshadow that India will not be able to maintain its present growth if it does not find some way of bringing this vast section of the country into the fold of economic prosperity.
India's robust military is the third-largest in the world behind those of the United States and China. Many of the British military structures put in place during India's colonial rule still govern its armed forces. The president serves as symbolic commander in chief, with the army, navy, air force, coast guard, and various security or paramilitary forces subordinate to the government. Service in India’s military is voluntary. Subscription has never been necessary—even during India's two border conflicts with Pakistan. While India’s legacy of pacificism is at odds with its growing military capacity, the country has accelerated military growth and weapons supplies. India must balance other regional strong powers as well as lend strength to its continued border disputes in Kashmir and along the Chinese-Napalese border. Of particular note is its expanding nuclear weapons program—a subject of intense international debate and foreign political concentration.
Perhaps the most contentious of India’s military capabilities is its nuclear weapons program. A 2005 estimate by David Albright and Kimberly Kramer for the UN’s Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) estimates that India had between 50 and 110 nuclear weapons. India does not maintain its nuclear forces on a heightened state of alert. The individual armed services, the Defense Research and Development Organization, and the Department of Atomic Energy oversee its nuclear-capable missiles, bombers, nonnuclear warhead material, and fissile cores. Nuclear missile forces are under the control of the Indian army—a decision that underwent scrutiny over a long period of time before being settled. India has adopted a “no-first-use” or “retaliation-only” doctrine that states it will resort to punitive strikes to inflict unacceptable losses only in the case of a deterrence failure. States that do not possess nuclear weapons will never be targeted. Despite this primary clause, India’s nuclear capabilities remain a strong source of tension in regional and global foreign policy discussions.
India’s firm decision not to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has remained at the heart of the global controversy surrounding its nuclear program. The original treaty, which opened for signature in 1968, has been signed by 189 countries. It advocates nonproliferation, disarmament, and the right to peacefully use nuclear technology. Only four nations have refused to sign—Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and India. A series of two nuclear tests conducted under Indira Gandhi’s administration in 1974 and again under the supervision of Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1998 blanketed India’s nuclear program in further international controversy. The United States refused to continue nuclear talks. India has continually refused to sign the NPT despite immense international pressure. Nor has it agreed to the terms of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), a doctrine that looks to freeze the global development of nuclear weapons. Fears of border instability and regional tensions with Pakistan and China fuel much of India’s hesitation. Despite military pressure, the government has abstained from further testing, choosing instead to honor the current international moratorium for as long as all other nations continue to do the same.
Perhaps the most contentious of India’s foreign policy agreements is the US-India Nuclear Pact. In August 2007 India and the United States reached a bilateral agreement for nuclear cooperation based on a 2005 accordance between President George Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In exchange for US dual-use nuclear technology and fuel, India will separate its civil and military programs. Additionally, India must allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) surveillance over its civilian program. Critics of the deal accuse the United States of undermining over 50 years of international efforts to unify all nations under the NPT. Concern is raised over supplying India’s military with yellow cake and partly enriched plutonium, the deal’s refusal to limit the number of nuclear weapons India may develop, and the liberty given to the Indian government to distinguish which facilities are labeled civilian and which are labeled military. However, proponents counter the deal symbolizes a crucial warming of US-India relations at a time when both countries have significant stakes in the region. US policymakers often herald India as a responsible nuclear stakeholder in an unstable region. Democratic India, they claim, is a natural US ally and must be entrusted as such. The agreement still requires approval from the US Congress and India’s Parliament.
While Mumbai and Delhi modernize at seemingly rapid rates, significant segments of India lag behind. Archaic telephone lines, pot-marked roads, and dated infrastructure hold much of the population back. Its quasi-socialist history has made streamlined updates similar to those of China difficult. While much of this contrast can be drawn between rural and urban areas, the situation is more complicated. A highly educated young business class clamors for Western consumer goods, many having returned from universities abroad. At the same time, many young urban Indians turn toward traditional Hindi dress and language in a reaction to globalization. This dichotomous reaction is visible on India’s streets. Archaic buildings stand next to modern high-rises, and livestock are sold at the foot of multinational corporations. At any given time, India is being pulled in multiple directions between forces of modernization and tradition, capitalism and socialism, old-style pacifism and new-global power.
Bollywood is often mistaken to refer to all Indian cinema, when in fact it refers only to the specific genre of Hindi-language films centered around Mumbai. Bollywood is a portmanteau of Bombay, the former name of Mumbai, and Hollywood. The mechanics of the genre are often considered melodramatic. Plots intertwine grand romantic stories, extravagant stunts, large-scale musical numbers, and dramatic plot twists. Most follow a relatively predetermined line. While many consider Bollywood to be an archaic cinematic form, its popularity is growing. The Bollywood industry generates millions nationally; its international revenues have increased steadily. Large Bollywood audiences are found in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the former Soviet bloc. The genre has spread in popularity in the United States and European Union, especially among Asian-Americans and Asian-Europeans.
The Indian government’s 2001 liberalization of the constraints placed on India’s entertainment industry allowed for an expansion in genre conventions. Films may now be privately funded, resulting in a marked professionalization of films and greater variety of projects. Producers are now looking to sell films on an even greater international scale. Large Western companies such as Sony, Viacom, and Disney have formed joint partnerships with Indian filmmakers and have created production houses in many of India’s large cultural centers.
The popularity of information in India is evidenced in its press. More than 45,000 newspapers are published in India. Delhi alone has 9 daily newspapers in Urdu and nearly 500 in Hindi. Roughly 600 million Indians are literate—twice the raw number of Americans. While India’s constitution does not specifically grant freedom of the press, it does guarantee the right to free and fair expression—as long as it does not work against the state. This right has been honored for most of India’s history since its independence. However the 1975-77 Emergency proved to act against this. Then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi attempted to strangle national media criticism of her new socialist programs through intimidation, funding source cuts, and imposed print quotas. The media prevailed, however, through clever adaptation and popular support of their cause. The press proved instrumental in her electoral overthrow.
Since that time, India has been largely congratulated for the health of its media. Many herald the large number of journals in circulation as a testimony to Indian democracy—and indeed, they are. On the other hand, much criticism is narrowed at the lack of deep or investigative journalism in India. Newspapers often cover many events in short order. However, the advent of online publication has allowed more space for larger articles, greater participation in news discussions via blogs and Web posts, and public participation in content generation. Many Indian newspapers, such as the Times of India and The Hindustan, have achieved global prestige, with Web-site hits from home and abroad.
India’s geography is as varied as its languages. Bordered to the north by the world’s tallest mountain range and to the south by the Indian Sea, the Indian countryside has been called one of the most impressive in the world. Tourism reaped nearly $12 billion last year alone, as Westerners flocked to climb Himalayan peaks, stroll Goan beaches, and crawl around its coastal cities. The dramatic landscape of the north flattens into the Indus Valley, expanding into the plains of the Punjab, Uttar Pradash, and the Ganges River Valley. Mountains, rain forests, plains, and river valleys play host to India’s abundance of indigenous plant and animal life. Rich deposits of coal, iron ore, and petroleum fuel its economy.
India’s natural resources are in danger. Severe pollution problems threaten not only the health of the land, but its water resources, plant and animal life, and the health of its citizens. Tremendous population growth burdens the land. India’s population triples that of the United States. However, it occupies one-half the landmass. More than 50 percent of its energy comes from coal—a high-emission fuel. The nation’s carbon emissions rose 61 percent between 1990 and 2001, an increase second only to China’s. India surpassed China in its measure of increased energy consumption—up 208 percent in comparison to China’s 130 percent between 1980 and 2001. The quality of air in most of India’s large cities is eight to ten times worse than those with the worst measure in the United States. Every year 527,000 Indians die prematurely due to air-pollution-related illnesses. Respiratory and pulmonary problems have steadily increased in India’s children. Many of these illnesses are life-threatening.
Water is of chief concern for India. India’s 1.2 billion people stress its natural resources. Mismanagement, pollution, and unregulated economic growth also drive the issue. A World Bank report cites 70 percent of India’s irrigation water and 80 percent of its domestic water supplies as coming from ground water—a resource that is dropping 10 meters annually. Agricultural runoff and sewage contaminate most of India’s water sources. The World Bank estimates that 21 percent of communicable diseases are related to water. Diarrhea alone causes 1,600 deaths in India per day. India is working with international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to promote education about water sanitation practices. As the crisis worsens, the importance of politic and economic control of water supplies becomes increasingly apparent. Unless India severely redirects its water distribution system and sharply curbs its sanitation record, it is predicted to reach a major crisis point in 2020. So grave is India’s water crisis that some experts believe it enough to completely topple India’s political and economic rise.
India faces many challenges threatening its new prominence in the changing global order. Sagging infrastructure, a shortage of Internet connections in rural areas, large disparities in quality of education, water shortages, and a quickly growing population threaten its stability. At the same time, India has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, a broad base of highly trained professionals ready to fuel its knowledge-based industries, and a newly minted middle class with robust purchasing power. India’s nuclear program has granted the country new status on the energy front as well as granted its military significant weight abroad. Not only does it act as an important counterweight to the regional power of China, it has challenged US economic dominance. India has and continues to be a strong force in remapping the flow of goods, markets, jobs, and money around the world. However, its internal weaknesses will negate its international power if not confronted soon.
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Sources: Brookings Institution, The Economist, National Public Radio, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, The World Bank, International Atomic Energy Association, ISN, World Trade Organization, and others.
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