China’s Belt and Road Initiative has been at the forefront of international news for much of the last couple of years. India, however, has not been sitting on its hands. It devised a rival trade route, the International North-South Trade Corridor, as long ago as 2000 and recently announced that a first consignment of goods was ready to be transported from Mumbai to St Petersburg. Regular movement of goods are scheduled to begin by the middle of next year.
On another front, India has been admitted to the Wassenaar Arrangement as that body’s forty-second member. That India was able to obtain membership of the Arrangement without having signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty is notable. The membership can only add to the country’s reputation as a non-proliferator. Membership in the Arrangement could, moreover, enhance India’s application for membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which has, until now, been blocked by China. It is to be noted that India is currently is a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime; China is not a member of either body.
There appears to be an elevated degree of economic optimism among Indian business leaders, as well. One recently predicted that India’s GDP, currently estimated at just over US$2 trillion per annum, would grow to US$5 trillion in the next seven years and reach US$10 trillion by 2030.
India, in short, appears to have optimism and the momentum required to become more influential in the international system over the coming years.
Since opening up its economy in the early 1990s, India has gone from strength to strength. True, there was a hiatus in 1998, when the first BJP government under Atul Bihari Vajpayee conducted its nuclear tests, causing the US and other countries to impose economic and military sanctions on it, and again during the second term of the Manmohan Singh Administration, when corruption was rampant; one minister, A. Raja, was allegedly responsible for the loss of around US$36 billion in selling telecommunications bandwidth. Those interregnums aside, India’s economic growth and, by extension, its influence on the global stage has grown steadily over the years. Its future, therefore, appears to be increasingly assured in economic terms. The initiation of the International North-South Trade Corridor and the opportunities created by the country’s accession to the Wassenaar Arrangement could well point to the validity of the prediction that its economy will grow to US$5 trillion and more.
The eradication of corruption aside, there remains much, however, that still needs to be done. On the domestic front, the rise of the BJP has coincided with the rise of Hindu nationalism. This has led to friction between some Hindus and Muslims and far more than one Muslim being killed for various reasons. One of those is the protection of cows, an animal sacred to Hindus. Time and again, Muslims have been killed by Hindus because they were suspected of having slaughtered cows or of eating beef. Another is the rumour of the so-called “love jihad”, whereby young Muslim men, it is alleged, would persuade Hindu women of a similar age to marry them but only on the condition that the women convert to Islam. For the most part nothing more than allegation and rumour, the concept has been used for political gain in at least one instance. Several people, moreover, have been killed in acts of vengeance by suspicious, irate mobs. Indiscriminate retaliatory attacks by Muslims soon follow.
It is not only inter-sectarian violence that poses a problem for India’s growth; problems between the various castes among the majority Hindu population also exist, with the “upper” castes clearly discriminating against the “lower” ones. So widely accepted is this system of entrenched discrimination that most government forms require people to specify the caste to which they belong. While it has been argued that that is required in order to provide people of the “lower” castes with benefits that could eliminate the disadvantages they face, the practice reinforces social divides and discrimination.
Among the other issues that need to be dealt with on a priority basis are the provision of a degree of readily available heath care that is better than the rudimentary service currently offered, a better quality and more accessible educational system, more employment opportunities and better infrastructure. Meeting national goals in those and other areas could see a better distribution of wealth and even greater economic growth.
The past year has seen India grow in confidence and many of its achievements are laudable, including the efforts of the Modi Administration to increase the number of toilets and to give each citizen a bank account. Yet more needs to be done, however, and India’s rapid economic growth will, hopefully, see that happen just as quickly.