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The story of India’s diminishing power in Asia

The story of India’s diminishing power in Asia

By Debotosh Chatterjee

Edited by Nidhi SIngh, Junior Editor, The Indian Economist

Even though some of us may have been pleasantly surprised by Narendra Modi’s choice of his maiden foreign destination, in the aftermath of being elected as the nation’s Prime Minister, one need not rack his brains to decipher the actual reason underlying such a choice. Even though India and its Himalayan neighbour have shared a historical bonhomie with each other, Mr Modi’s ongoing tour of Bhutan underscores the importance of India’s re-establishment of its stronghold in the Asian continent, at a time when the world is being fast dictated by regional politics. Once anointed with the status of being the ‘Voice of Asia’ in the United Nations, India now languishes behind most of its economically well-off neighbours like Japan and China, in spite of witnessing steady growth for the better part of the first decade of the 21st century.

The fundamentals of India’s stronghold in Asia, in the yesteryears, lay entrenched in its philosophical superiority over other countries in the region – a superiority that saw India rise to significant prominence, even before the heydays of independence, by convening prestigious meetings and conclaves like the Asian Relations Conference. That superiority, however, has long been lost – and the loss can be credited to our failure to grow as a ‘complete economy’, with the passage of time. While we can tout wholeheartedly about our impressive growth rate in the last decade, the sad reality of persistent low-per capita GDP and abysmal infrastructure shall continue to haunt us till the end of time.

While the World War II may be seen as a tipping point in world history, in terms of a subtle rearrangement in the balance of power between the East and the West, it was also the point from where India’s influence over the rest of Asia nosedived. While the forays of our sensible neighbours (read China, Japan and their ilk) into the annals of time were based on a rock solid foundation of equitable distribution of the fruits of growth and development, India chose to sit on its laurels and let negative externalities lay siege on a fledgling democracy. Independent India’s failure to synchronise with the broader Asian philosophy of growth thus became the fulcrum for a bifurcated bombardment on the socio-economic fabric of the nation – we lost our position as a primary heavyweight in Asia, besides succumbing to the ill effects of irresponsible division of wealth and power that emanated from the various avenues that had opened up in the post-independence era.

In this perspective, let us now consider the development model followed by a number of Asian nations, in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophic Second World War. Health and education were lent top priority importance by the State – a policy that ensured creation of quality human capital, which in turn gave rise to the demand necessary to manage and sustain high growth. It was with the creation of this gigantic pool of human capital (read millions of healthy and educated citizens who could effectively fuel the growth of their own nations through various productive ways) that countries like China and Japan set foot on the pedal of a prosperous future. This was ably supplemented by the newly created public infrastructure, which was born out of copious investments made by the governments, that had fully understood the value of such infrastructure, when juxtaposed with sufficient human capital. India, on the other hand, could scarcely find enough gumption to create either top quality public infrastructure or any significant human capital – the evils of democracy, with corruption at the vanguard, had already kick-started the process of policy paralysis in our corridors of power. With the passage of time, such policy paralysis got translated into vacant electoral promises that never got manifested in reality and legislation of rights and laws which were seldom implemented with any appreciable degree of conviction, on the part of law enforcers.

The deplorable culture of spineless legislation and electoral promise-mongering found more than a few takers in the society, which gradually found itself inured to such practices. This ‘culture’, though, was beneficial to a certain section of the population, which was more than eager to manipulate its political and economic leverage on the nation’s future in as many ways as possible. The absence of ‘equitable distribution of income and wealth’ at the base of national policy making (unlike countries like China and Japan) had ensured that while a minuscule section of the population got pampered with political patronage and financial prosperity, the rest of the country started sinking in a vicious cycle of poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and homelessness (all of which had invariably resulted from India’s failure to make itself comfortable with the ‘Asian way’ of making an impact on the growth and prosperity of the commoners). Even the much vaunted reforms of 1991 were unable to stem the rot of populism and irresponsible policy making in our country – seemingly ‘insignificant’ vices which have snowballed into gargantuan monsters constantly gnawing away at the stability of India’s economic, political and social spheres, thereby enervating it among its neighbours in Asia and consequently weakening its global position.

Narendra Modi’s visit to Bhutan is aptly indicative of the fact that the PM is fully aware of the appalling deficiency in India’s diplomatic and political prowess in its immediate neighbourhood. The nation’s road to salvation needs no special interpretation – for it lies uncharted on account of the two factors mentioned above –

  1. Human capital
  2. Public infrastructure

It can only be through their harmonious coexistence of that the once glorious ‘Asian behemoth’ can find its proper way back into the comity of nations.

Debotosh is an undergraduate in Chemical Engineering at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, He is a die-hard cricket aficionado, who loves writing on the Gentleman’s Game. Besides, he is a percipient interpreter of daily life and is never shy of responsibly opining on issues, which he finds worthwhile. A passionate admirer of silence and tranquility, he is currently discovering the many joys that stem from ‘positive thinking’. Reading and traveling too fall within the periphery of his myriad interests.

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