India's leaders and their western boosters have been promoting the country as an emerging superpower to counter rising China. They cite the size of India's economy, demography, military and consumer market to back up their assertions. These claims are challenged by India's former chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian and Josh Felman, former head of IMF in India, in an article titled "India's Size Illusion". In a similar article titled "The Chinese Threat No One Is Talking About — And How to Counter It", Sameer Lalwani, a senior fellow for Asia strategy at the Stimson Center, has raised serious questions about India's ability to counter China in the Indian Ocean region.
|Modi Claims 56 inch Chest|
Modi's 56 inch Chest:
"Desh ka bahut nuksaan hua hai", acknowledged Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his military's 2019 failures against Pakistan in Balakot and Kashmir. This marked a major shift in Modi's belligerent tone that has been characterized by his boasts of "chhappan inch ki chhati" (56 inch chest) and talk of "munh tor jawab" (jaw-breaking response) and "boli nahin goli" (bullets, not talks) to intimidate Pakistan in the last few years. These events should force India's western backers to reassess their strategy of boosting India as a counterweight to China.
Indian government's former Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian has enumerated and challenged arguments for what he calls "India's Size Illusion" as follows:
1. India’s economic size has not translated into commensurate military strength. Part of the problem is simple geography. (German Chancellor Otto Von) Bismarck (1815-1898) supposedly said that the US is bordered on two sides by weak neighbors and on two sides by fish. India, however, does not enjoy such splendid isolation. Ever since independence, it has been confronted on its Western frontier by Pakistan, a highly armed, chronically hostile, and often military-ruled neighbor. More recently, India’s northern neighbor, China, also has become aggressive, repudiating the territorial status quo, occupying contested land in the Himalayas, reclaiming territory in the east, and building up a large military presence along India’s borders. So, India may have fish for neighbors along its long peninsular coast, but on land it faces major security challenges on two fronts.
2. Then there is the question of market size. As Pennsylvania State University’s Shoumitro Chatterjee and one of us (Subramanian) have shown, India’s middle-class market for consumption is much smaller than the $3 trillion headline GDP number suggests, because many people have limited purchasing power while a smaller number of well-off people tend to save a lot. In fact, the effective size of India’s consumer market is less than $1 trillion, far smaller than China’s and even smaller relative to the potential world export market of nearly $30 trillion.
In an article titled "The Chinese Threat No One Is Talking About — And How to Counter It", Sameer Lalwani, a senior fellow for Asia strategy at the Stimson Center, has raised serious doubts about India's ability to counter China in the Indian Ocean region. Here are a couple of excerpts from the article:
1. China has been building dozens of advanced warships that seem poised to head toward the vast body of water through which 80 percent of global seaborne trade transits.....Indeed, a deeper (US) partnership with India — the world’s largest democracy, on an upward economic trajectory, seemingly perfectly positioned to counter China on land and at sea — has been something of a holy grail for at least four U.S. administrations.......Yet what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a decade ago called a “strategic bet” on India does not seem to be paying off. Indian naval and political power in the Indian Ocean region is faltering, giving way to influence by Beijing. Many of these problems are of India’s own making.
2. There is increasing discussion and advocacy among China’s foreign policy scholars and former officials about an Indian Ocean fleet. Indeed, the idea is consistent with China’s efforts to acquire military facilities in the Horn of Africa, on Pakistan’s Indian Ocean coast, in Myanmar and in the UAE, which offers access to the Persian Gulf. China has also engaged in intelligence collection efforts in the region and increased its port visits and diplomatic presence.
India's "Accidental" Missile Firing:
India's March 9 "accidental firing" of Brahmos nuclear-capable supersonic cruise missile into Pakistan has raised serious questions about the safety of the Indian nuclear arsenal. Do the people in charge of India's nukes have basic competence to handle such weapons? Was this really an "unauthorized" or "accidental" firing? Why was there a long delay by New Delhi in acknowledging the incident? Could Pakistan be blamed if it assumed that extremist right-wing Hindu elements had taken control of the missile system in India and fired it deliberately into Pakistani territory? Has the Indian government risked the lives of 1.6 billion people of South Asia?
Could this "errant" missile brought down commercial passenger planes that were in the air at the time of this "accidental" firing? Here's an excerpt from Bloomberg detailing air traffic in the flight path of the Indian Brahmos:
"Several planes passed through the direct trajectory of the missile that day, which flew from the Indian garrison town of Ambala and ended up in Mian Channu in Eastern Pakistan. They included a Flydubai jet heading to Dubai from Sialkot, an IndiGo plane going from Srinagar to Mumbai and an Airblue Ltd. flight from Lahore to Riyadh. All crossed the missile’s trajectory within an hour of its accidental launch, data from flight-tracking application Flightradar24 show. Other international flights in the vicinity of the missile’s trajectory -- and within its range -- included a Kuwait Airways Co. jet heading to Guangzhou, China from Kuwait City, a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight to Riyadh from New Delhi, and a Qatar Airways service from Kathmandu to Doha, the data show. No advisory to pilots operating in the vicinity -- known as a notice to airmen or NOTAM -- was issued".
India: A Paper Elephant:
In an article titled "Paper Elephant", the Economist magazine talked about how India has ramped up its military spending and emerged as the world's largest arms importer. "Its military doctrine envisages fighting simultaneous land wars against Pakistan and China while retaining dominance in the Indian Ocean", the article said. It summed up the situation as follows: "India spends a fortune on defense and gets poor value for money".
"Its (India's) loss of a plane last week to a country (Pakistan) whose military is about half the size and receives a quarter (a sixth according to SIPRI) of the funding is telling. ...India’s armed forces are in alarming shape....It was an inauspicious moment for a military the United States is banking on to help keep an expanding China in check".
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