The meaning of the Indian century
The Prime Minister has put forth the goal of making the 21st century India’s. In the usual discourse, this would imply India surpassing the current super-powers, US and China. That in the current geopolitical atmosphere may invite disruptive actions by the current superpowers. We propose here an alternative meaning of the “Indian century” which will allow us to make progress according to our needs and potential avoiding any clashes.
The primary focus of Indian century project would be for India to develop, some time by the middle of the 21st century, into a model state (Adarsha Bharat) characterised by - prosperity, strength, inclusiveness, cleanliness including ecological sustainability, transparency, honesty, and happiness with Yoga becoming part of everybody’s daily life. India would become a sort of ‘Jagadguru’ and not a hegemon, setting an example for others. Its guiding philosophy will be: rise of all with participation of all and respect for all.
India’s relative position will depend on the US and China’s performance in the next 30 years which remains uncertain. What we can say is that India will become one of the three largest economies by 2050 and it can play a key role in defining the rules of new world order which will be multi-polar and multilateral institutions which would run on democratically oriented voting power. India’s role in the next 30 years will be one of promoting a new narrative vision for world order.
Long-term evolution of world order
The 20th century is usually regarded as American century. It began in a mild form around the World War I, when America began to surpass Great Britain in economic power and it was clinched when after World War II with USA becoming the biggest economic power. It was an improvement over the world order promoted by European powers when the colonial masters exploited the occupied territory. The colonial era was an improvement over the earlier era of conquest and occupation by the marauding hordes of middle ages.
If this trend towards evolution into more constructive world order continues, we will have in the 21st century a truly multipolar world where every nation, big or small, will develop according to its own roots. There will be effective multilateral institutions based on democratic power-sharing, which will provide global public goods and peacefully resolve inter-state disputes.
Risks of BAU Scenario
By 2020 China has become the biggest economic power and is now itching to establish its power, in Asia and the rest of the world. It is trying to take over global hegemony form the US. The US, however, remains the most powerful military power and is in no mood to cede global leadership to China. There is now an emerging cold war between the two superpowers and we are facing a new world disorder. The fight between the two superpowers could be ugly and expensive for them as well as for the rest of the world. There is clearly a need for thinking creatively on how to prevent such a war and achieve transition to a new world order peacefully. This is where India comes in.
A new vision that India can promote
India working jointly with Europe and the rest of the world can develop a new narrative. The US is neither willing nor able to continue its role as global hegemon. The key weakness will come from the economic side. Under the system of dollar-based reserve system, the US has been living beyond its means for the last fifty years. During this period, it has run current account deficits of more than 2% if its GDP every year, which cumulatively amount to more than $11 trillion today. Sooner or later this “exorbitant privilege” will end and if it ends through a turmoil, it will be costly for all, including the US. USA, therefore, should accept various proposals for a smooth transfer to an SDR-based system with substitution account to transfer its dollar obligations into SDRs and living within its means in future years. SDRs created by global institutions would fund the global public goods including International Court which will solve interstate disputes and will have power to enforce its verdicts with financial power of the SDR-creating institution.
Once the US accepts this peaceful transition to new world order much like what Britain did for ending colonial era, it can persuade China not to follow in its earlier footsteps and accept an equalitarian multi-polar world. India along with Europe will play a key role in creating such a consensus.
India in the near term has to work with the silent majority of the rest of the world to highlight the ecological and human disaster that the superpowers representing a small minority of humanity are causing in their relentless power struggle. Just as India under Gandhi’s leadership led the struggle against colonialism at the beginning of the 20th century, even though it took more than 30 years to achieve its goal, India must start its struggle against hegemonic superpowers now, though it may take several decades before it can fully realise its goals of creating a new world order..
The author is Chairman of Pahle India Foundation and a former Distinguished Fellow of NITI Aayog.