Rise of India and Its Vision for a New World Order

By – Rayhan Shahid Shanavas

“Today we have demography, democracy, diversity, and this ‘Triveni’ (three factors) has the potential to make every dream of India come true” stated Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India in his independence speech on August 15th, 2023.

The last three decades have paved a seismic shift in the world economy, one that’s led not by the global north but by the global south, a journey that’s laying the foundation for a new world order to emerge, one that’s based on equality and inclusion away from the dominance of few1. This emergence stemmed from the exit of the United States from countries like Afghanistan, China’s rising economic and military power to regional wars such as the Russia-Ukraine war, to the arrival of more inclusive global platforms like BRICs for regional and international negotiations on trade and security 

The western world and the evolving superpower, China are driven by growth through an “outward impact” while India historically and philosophically, is an “inward impact country”. While China has used its financial prowess to attain economic growth for itself and for its partnering countries, India can afford to offer scalable models, such as that of economic growth, tried and tested on its land to the other developing or vulnerable populations facing similar issues like India2. More recently India was ranked third just after the US and China as the partner of choice in the state of southeast asia survey3

Accordingly, guided by its success and grounded in its history, India is envisioning collaborative, collective consensus-building approaches and leaping forward to play a critical role in the emerging new world order empowered by its demography, democracy, and diversity. The confidence of India’s leaders in its leadership potential and those of other global leaders can be understood from three key parameters. 

Firstly, India has had strong GDP growth over the last fifteen years and is poised to be among the top three economies by 2030 driven by transformative reforms such as “Make in India” strategy to convert India from service-centric to a manufacturing focused economy4. This strong economic position isn’t new to India but one that’s based on its history. After all, India once contributed to 23% of the global GDP in 1700 by various estimates. The current GDP contribution of India has risen back to 9.4%, driven by the strong growth of about 60% over the last decade itself5. The continuing positive forecasts, with increasing industrial growth and FDI inflow, amidst the global slowdown do prove that India is on the right and positive GDP growth trajectory6. Bhaskar and Gaurav have summarized India’s path to becoming an economic power by very succinctly highlighting the drivers and opportunities to complete the job at hand7. The stable government over the last two general elections and the continued reign of the current government in the foreseeable future is creating stability and the much-needed execution support to multipronged people- centric economic and social reforms that have been rolled out. 

Secondly, India has always maintained “nation first” foreign policies with its global allies, neighbors and now south pacific trading partners, even though its strategic alliances can be seen gravitating towards creating a multipolar global decorum. For instance, by maintaining strong ties with Russia, earlier to leverage the divide between the superpowers ,United States and Russia and more recently to keep it, at its bay, away from China with the latter’s evolving dominance in world affairs. Yet, deep down, these foreign policies are still engrained in long-standing belief systems, serving national interests rather than solving global security/dominance related issues. As an example, while India imports a large proportion of its arms from Russia, it chose to diversify and purchases drones from the United States while continuing to purchase oil from Russia. The technology partnerships with the United States was an act of de-risking India’s growth position especially against China, while oil purchase was an act of opportunistic trade to save the Indian economy from runaway inflation, both decisions alienated from the global discussions of war sanctions while continuing to condemn any wrongdoings in principle such as the attack on Ukraine by Russia. Similarly, it exited negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and is engaged in Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) negotiations8. Further it is slowly but steadily expanding its geopolitical ties, being a member of the I2U2 group (India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S.) and India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC). These policies allow India to be opportunistic and maintain sharp focus on its own growth, a critical indicator of its potential to become a leader of eminence itself and not just an ally of western powers. 

Thirdly, India’s position in the global south as a unifier but one with the potential to carry the weight alone. India’s foreign policy is centered around key strategic priorities of, cross border protection, maritime security, global strategic coalitions etc and it is leveraging these three dimensions in an interdependent manner more often than not9. Its actions are indicative of a more pragmatic than the idealistic approach10. With evolving recent geopolitical situations, while it has actively utilized the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) platform as a critical strategic intervention to ensure security in the Indo-Pacific region especially from China’s assertiveness11, its engaging proactively with like-minded countries as well as China through BRICS, ASEAN and the SCO with an intent to protect multilateralism12

India still condemns getting involved in the internal affairs/governance of sovereign countries even if it affects regional peace and harmony, such as the role of The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). However over the last few decades, India has strategically stepped up driving its foreign policy to address many global issues. As an example, while India cannot attain net-zero until 2070, India has forged multiple coalitions such as ISA and CDRI with more than 100 nations and has found support from USAID too in proactively participating in combating climate issues13. On the technology front, India has become the torch-bearer by becoming the first country to establish a digitally enabled public infrastructure by successfully deploying all three pillars of digitization- issuance of unique digital identities to its citizens, providing access to digital financial transactions and offering secured platforms for sharing of personal information and is now sharing these best practices with the world including US and Europe14. On the trade front, India has signed free trade agreements with many countries including its historic partners in Africa, UAE, new south pacific partner, Australia and also shifted its trading significantly from China to the US with the latter surpassing China as the primary trade partner of India15. India also displayed moral leadership not just by supporting its neighbors financially through a “neighborhood first” policy but also through science and technology under the “Maitri program” during the COVID-19 pandemic by exporting 66 million vaccine doses to more than 100 countries globally. 

In summary, while undeniably there is a power gap at global level and weakening of the multilateral institutions, because of passive participation or withdrawal by the U.S owing to its heightened nationalistic policies, there is potential for the emergence of other economic powers such as India and China due to their domestic growth driven by large populations. However, the new world requires solving global problems of significant magnitude, including climate issues from mass industrialization, poor participation in free trade policies, cross-border security, food and water security apart from continued income divide and refugee numbers as sought out by the United Nations’ agenda. These problems need collaborative, collective consensus building efforts leading to a unified action plan, a theme that’s very Indian in its genesis. 

Accordingly, India is in a unique position to occupy this leadership position because of its size, growth and potential as entrusted by global leaders, especially ones from the global south and is poised to drive this agenda with an outward focused foreign and trade policies in alignment with India’s long-standing values rooted in its history and culture. “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” indeed has become the dictum of India’s foreign policy and while the phrase has been used by many in the past, India has both the opportunity and responsibility to transition this phrase into action. 

External affairs minister Jaisankar articulated India’s policy as “to engage America, manage China, cultivate Europe, reassure Russia, bring Japan into play, draw neighbors in, extend the neighborhood and expand traditional constituencies of support.” in his book. This in many senses draws out a roadmap Indian leaders have adopted to make India’s vision of the new world order a reality. 

The path is not straight, and the vision and attainment of this new world order can be threatened by India’s own poor economic performance, especially if India continues to heavily shift its focus on its domestic manufacturing agenda and stay away from export-boosting trade coalitions. While capital is always a good resource as is the case with the U.S and China, India under the leadership of Narendra Modi is following the alternate but traditional path of influence and negotiation embracing the views and respect of multiple countries, both from the global north and south, thereby positioning India to attain its own inclusive and sustainable economic growth and to shape the inevitable new world order. 

The evolution of the new world order will demand India to show its economic and military maturity in helping countries in need, something India has strategically opted out of in the past. It will have to step out of the neutral or abstinence path and will now have to ensure robust economic growth through international participation both by investing in other nations directly or through multilateral institutions and will have to become much stronger in shaping international trade policies. India’s vision for this is to use people- centric policies rather than solely relying on government-government engagements. 

Though India has been appreciated for its efforts towards climate change and food security, its participation in international forums such as the UN security council (UNSC) and IMF also needs to attain a leadership tone. India currently envisions that the human centric approach adopted to achieve its growth will help us to lead the path for many countries to address critical issues. 

In summary, India has for centuries, successfully navigated many conflicts through ancient kingdoms, rulers and Briteshers and honed itself as a nation known for traditional, religious, ethnic, linguistic diversity. Its current economic progress and future strategic reforms, baked on its evolving demographics and strong democracy, holds strong promise for its position to shape the new world order especially through its consensus building collaborative collectives with both the developed and the emerging nations. 

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