India’s status in today’s world: Is it treading the path to recover its lost glory?

In an Aspen Security Forum meeting, Kurt Campbell, the White House Asia Coordinator, said that the U.S.-India bonhomie is forged with much more than the desire to be just allies. He strongly emphasized that the relationship between the two countries has matured significantly over the last twenty years. In Kurt’s own words at the summit, India is not content with just being a silent cohort. The new India has risen with its means to become a regional and global superpower, strategically and economically. The United States and its leadership now understand the value of investing more resources to build an equal Partnership with India. They now know it makes more sense to recognize India as a superpower than to tug it like an unequal ally. But what changed, or how did the United States realize that the disparity between the two nations’ importance is not sustainable or realistic to deny anymore?

In its recorded history of eight thousand years, often, India has always been a powerhouse. From science to military to architecture, it has always been leaps and bounds ahead of all contemporary civilizations. It was the academic center for the whole planet. It is said that the first residential university in the World, Nalanda, when burned down under the order of Bakhtiyar Khilji, destroyed nearly 9 million manuscripts. The library was so vast that it took three months to destroy it. Such was the treasure trove contained in there. Even when outsiders invaded it, its wealth was rarely diminished. Despite recurrent invasions from marauders from central Asia who looted India, killing, raping, and maiming hundreds in the process. While most invaders were happy looting, Babar and his clan decided to stay back. They assimilated with the country, creating a porridge of different cultures and customs. From the 1st century A.D. to the start of British colonization in India in the 17th century, India’s GDP was between 25 and 35% of the world’s total GDP, dropping to 2% by 1947 when India became independent. It was by far the world’s largest economy and manufacturing power. However, after the invasion of multiple European nations, like England, France & Portugal, and a brutal British rule, its economy was in shatters bled by colonial powers. Research by economist Utsa Patnaik calculated that Britain drained nearly $45 trillion from India from 1765 to 1938. For a proper understanding of the magnitude, particularly for a dim-headed mathematician like me, this amount is 17 times more than the total annual gross domestic product of the United Kingdom today.

After World War 2, in 1947, when India finally gained Independence, it was left a shell of its former glory. Multiple governments, after the Independence, struggled to get the country back on its feet. India & the U.S. have always had a tumultuous camaraderie after the former’s Independence. The younger nation became an economical & manufacturing superpower during the industrial revolution. At the same time, India’s stock fell far below due to its deindustrialization under British rule in the late 1800s till its Independence. Due to multiple famines after the Independence, the subsequent governments had to focus on agriculture for a long time till it became a self-sufficient agricultural nation. Industrialization also followed suit. The initial loot from India, followed by natural calamities, stunted the country’s growth till the later part of the nineteenth century. The U.S., the economic and military powerhouse, thus dictated most terms, including arm-twisting India during its war with Pakistan. In fact, due to India’s proximity to communist Russia and a platonic attitude toward expansionist China may have made the U.S. more inclined to support non-democratic Pakistan in regional conflicts and wars. While India’s proximity to Russia was appropriately awarded by a legacy of camaraderie that helped India at its worst times.

Contrarily initial rulers of India harbored phantasmal ideas about “Hindi-Chinni Bhai Bhai.” This combination of genuflexion and delusion costs us heavily, including thousands of acres of land, hundreds of lives, and communist China knocking at our door. When China annexed Tibet on 7th October 1950, Tibet appealed to India for help. The Indian Government headed by Jawaharlal Nehru was a mute spectator to Chinese barbarism in forcibly annexing Tibet. A few Indian leaders, like Sardar Patel, advocated a strident stance against the Chinese invasion. He contended that given the covert support from the United States and Britain, based on inputs from the Intelligence, this move could have been prevented if not at least opposed. However, under the thrall of the ‘Hindi-Chinni Bhai Bhai’ façade, Nehru forced the entire nation to bury its heads in the sand instead of taking decisive action, perpetuating a blunder that India is paying the price for and will pay the price for in the future.

Subsequent India’s growth trajectory and changing world political scenario compounded to make India a growing economic and military superpower and friendly to opposing present-day power structures. China’s growing economy might further aggravate its voracious appetite for expansion, compounded by its eternal dream to challenge the U.S. U.S. also perceived its long-drawn folly on two accounts; it needed a vital ally in India to negate China. Secondly, it also realized that Pakistan, which it had been feeding and funding for over seventy years, had no qualms in hiding and abetting U.S. enemies. It was with one hand accepting U.S. largesse but stabbing it from behind with the other without wavering.

The prominence of India is also very clearly established by the amount of cooperation between the two countries at international levels, including the United Nations, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum, G-20, and World Trade Organization, among others. Together with Australia & Japan, India, and the U.S., are also part of QUAD or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a strategic security dialogue between member countries. As the partnerships increased, the U.S. and its allies realized that India could no longer be viewed as another ally. India’s leadership is needed to maintain a healthy balance of power in the world.

It is also important to realize that many of America’s decision today is carved by the Indian diaspora in the U.S., which is one of the most potent region-ethnic group. The population of Indo-Americans is the second-largest immigrant group after Mexicans. It is also the most successful, with the median household income at $107,000 – almost twice that of American-born households. Both first and second generations of Indians have permeated the establishment, be in educational or political power bastions. There are several prominent Indian-origin politicians: among them, Democratic party senator and presidential hopeful Kamala Harris; former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley; and former Democrat congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. There is also a long list of mayors, senators, state representatives, and city council members who are from a South Asian background, and their numbers are increasing with every election cycle. Similarly, many Indians supported and funded the campaign of former president Trump. Most importantly, Indo-Americans have spread their loyalty to democrats and republicans almost equally.

Finally, one of the most significant sources of India’s soft power in the U.S. is the spread of yoga. Over 37 million Americans practice yoga. The number of U.S. “yogis” increased by over 50% in 4 years. The number of men practicing yoga increased by 150%. Amongst those practicing yoga, 72% are women, and 16% are over 65 years of age. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey of 2009, 24% of Americans believe in reincarnation, a core concept of Hinduism!

India has been a responsible leader amongst all nations in not-too-distant past, and it is destined to be once again. However, there are no free lunches in this universe-it does require relentless strive and hard work of well-meaning people from both nations to carry this bonhomie forward!