"India is superpoor, not superpower"
“It is still 80 percent nation and 50 percent democracy”
|Source: Where Are the Poor and Where Are the Poorest?|
Last year, Indian writer, diplomat and politician Sashi Tharoor said "India is superpoor, not superpower". This week, Indian historian Ramachandra Guha went a step further and suggested that "India can not and must not become a superpower". Guha added that “India should not try to be a dominant and powerful country, but a less discontented nation.”
How poor is India? An Oxford study found last year that India has more poor than the poor population of all of sub-Saharan Africa. The latest World Bank data shows that India's poverty rate of 27.5%, based on India's current poverty line of $1.03 per person per day, is more than 10 percentage points higher than Pakistan's 17.2%. Assam (urban), Punjab and Himachal Pradesh are the only three Indian states with similar or lower poverty rates than Pakistan's.
“A superpower is a political, economic and military giant that has global reach,” Tharoor said. “The US still holds that position. It can fight a war in East Asia or any other part of the world. But I can’t imagine China or India doing that.”
Given the many ethnic, regional, religious and caste fault lines running through the length and breadth of India, there have long been questions raised about India's identity as a nation. Speaking about it, the US South Asia expert Stephen Cohen of Brookings Institution said, " But there is no all-Indian Hindu identity—India is riven by caste and linguistic differences, and Aishwarya Rai and Sachin Tendulkar are more relevant rallying points for more Indians than any Hindu caste or sect, let alone the Sanskritized Hindi that is officially promulgated".
Acknowledging the reality of deep fault lines in Indian polity, Guha says: "Because of its size and diversity, because of the continuing poverty of many of its citizens, because it is (in historical terms) still a relatively young nation state, and because it remains the most recklessly ambitious experiment in history, the Republic of India was never going to have anything but a rocky ride.
"National unity and democratic consolidation were always going to be more difficult to achieve than in smaller, richer, more homogeneous and older countries."
Mr Guha argues that democracy and nationhood in India face the following major challenges:
1. India is home to some of the world's fiercest insurgencies which Indian military is attempting to put down in northeast, northwest and central India.
2. Religious fanaticism is "receding but by no means vanquished." A "sullen peace rather than an even-tempered tranquility" prevails in the country
3. There is increasing corrosion of public institutions. Political parties are becoming family businesses; the police and bureaucracy are heavily politicized; corruption is rampant and patronage trumps competence
4. Natural resources are rapidly degrading and depleting as population grows, causing severe problems for the rural poor.
5. There is growing economic disparity. One example: India's richest man, Mukesh Ambani, is worth more than $20bn, and his new home is a 27-storey high, 400,000 sq ft building in Mumbai, where 60% of the people live in subhuman conditions in overcrowded slums.
I think both Tharoor and Guha make a lot of sense. The sad reality is that India is home to the world's largest population of poor, hungry and illiterates, a country where nearly two-thirds of the people still practice open defecation. India really needs to focus on solving these basic domestic problems rather than trying to become a superpower through a massive arms buildup.
Here's a video of Ramachandra Guha on the subject:
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