On the 23rd of June during a lunch lecture organized by Nyenrode, the Netherlands Institute Of International Relations Clingendael and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the renowned Indian historian Ramachandra Guha talked about his book `India after Gandhi`. He claimed that there are ten reasons why India, despite its enormous economic growth, will not become a superpower. According to Guha the ten percent economic growth in India contains "a multitude of sins`. He focuses mainly on the internal problems of the `unique political experiment` India, which according to the author was not made to survive as a nation.
In an enthusiastic manner, which he characterized as `passion with anger`, he presented his moderate views in an extremist manner. Lack of homogeneity Guha stated that India is a unique and unlikely democratic state because it is not built according to the classic European recipe of `one language, one religion and a common enemy`. The Indian state is not built on unified nationalism, but on the embrace of pluralism. India has a huge diversity of languages, religious groups and cultural backgrounds. The value of a banknote for example is translated in seventeen languages and a coalition government at times encompasses sixteen parties. Despite the lack of homogeneity the Indian democracy persists.
Not least thanks to the efforts of Gandhi and Nehru that formed the ideals of the Indian constitution regardless of linguistic and religious contrasts. India before that was a myth, Guha conveyed. Gandhi ignored the past and created modern India. The political vision and leadership that gave India direction in this period unfortunately seem to be missing nowadays. After 60 years of independence a revival of India`s internal threats seem a reality, and the question is whether the country can transcend these internal problems. Guha unfolded ten of these problems and designated them as reasons why India will not become a superpower.
The first two reasons are leftwing and rightwing extremism in India, the historian says. Religious extremism is on the rise among Hindus and Muslims in the last two decades. At the other end of the spectrum there is the armed resistance of Maoist rebels, backed by tribal groups marginalized by the political and social system.
Relationship with the ruling family determines opportunities and success. The third and fourth reason lie with the political elite, who during the last two decades have transformed India`s political parties into a kind of family organizations. This creates a situation in which opportunities and success in the public system are determined by one`s personal relationship with the ruling family. Due to this trend, public institutions such as universities, police, civil service and lower judiciary detoriate. In addition, it endangers democratic openness and accessibility of the public domain and causes increased corruption.
Gap between rich and poor
The fifth reason is the increasing gap between rich and poor. The impressive growth of the Indian economy reflects the growing industry and commerce. This produces an exorbitantly rich group with people like Mukesh Ambani who built a house of 27 floors worth almost 2 billion U.S. dollars for his five-member family. They seem to care little about the downside of their wealth.
The inequality has a destructive nature; rural communities benefit little from economic growth and farmers are being displaced to make way for multinational companies that exploit the land or forest. This among others leads to increased suicide among disadvantaged farmers. Guha wonders how much equality a democracy can endure and characterizes this phenomenon as a disease in the nation.
Damage to the environment
Degradation of the environment is a sixth reason. The lack of regulation and corporate responsibility causes disastrous damage to the environment. Rivers that play a central role in social and economic life are heavily polluted and are drying up. Forests and biodiversity are suffering badly and the poor air quality in cities has a major impact on public health.
Lack of criticism in the media
The seventh reason is the apathy of the media that lacks a critical and independent stance about the above listed problems. The media seem to have fully succumbed to the prosperity and entertainment industry. Since the 90s, journalists for example have barely been focused on environmental issues. Most of them have been retrained and are now financial analysts. The media is also financially dependent - due to the need to generate advertising incomes - and therefore does not act uncensored about corruption in the public domain and government.
No long-term policy
The eighth issue is the political chaos that is tied to the pluralist political system. In recent years India has had no majority government. The broad coalitions on both central and regional level make it difficult to form stable long-term policy. Small parties also elect the most lucrative ministries for "short-term corruption".
The last two reasons are shaped by the unresolved border disputes and unstable regional environment in which India is embedded. The extreme northeast and northwest of India (in the provinces of Kashmir, Nagaland and Manipur) conceal active armed separatist movements. According to Guha, only 80% of India`s regions are united; 3 of the 28 states struggle for independence. Several neighboring countries (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka) also boast unrest spillover effects in India, including massive migration flows undermine the yet difficult relationship of India with neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh.
In short, in the words of Guha: "There are too many fault lines in our society to be a superpower. As a historian I say: `we are not prepared`, as an Indian citizen I say: `we should not even attend to`. India should adhere to its constitutional ideals, fight national fires, and heal and harmonize, he argues.
The ten problems identified can act as a brake on the Indian development, but to what extent do they prevent India from a prominent role on the world stage? This question emerged in a lively discussion with the audience. It became clear that Guha`s position also has a normative component. India should not want to be a superpower, because the nature of a superpower is to impose its will on other states, something that would be contrary to the pluralistic values that form the foundation for India`s democracy.
A more prominent role for India on the world stage is not entirely preventable. Guha argues for Indian involvement in the international community and even a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. India has a responsibility in the world to deal sustainably with economic growth and raw materials. After all, a country with the size and material need of India would devour a continent "as a swarm of locusts". This is particularly relevant as China and India, together 2.5 billion people, battle to reap commodities on the African continent. Guha admits that the Indian elite does aspire superpower status. This, however, he designates as `foolish and misleading` and driven by male macho behavior.
These ambitions come to nothing, he argues, the interest of the elite is not equal to the national interest. When asked the likelihood that India will implode or disintegrate Guha finally quotes the Indian sociologist Andis Nandy: "In India the choice could never be between chaos and stability, but between manageable and unmanageable chaos, between human and inhuman anarchy, and between tolerable and intolerable disorder. "Therein India will have to find her way, but not in becoming a superpower.