India Must Seek Out Growth Opportunities In A Post-COVID World
BOOK EXCERPT: Aspiring powers such as India get space to flourish when there is a churn in the international order.
“The river of history was already changing direction before the Covid-19 pandemic hit us. Now the river is in spate, the banks have been broken and it is unclear where the main stream will appear once the flood recedes. The pandemic and its impact will leave a whole new sediment of unfamiliar experience which will compel new ways of living and earning livelihoods.
The quality most valuable among nations and societies will be the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, being nimble in avoiding pitfalls and in seeking opportunities. Above all, leadership will count more than at other moments of history. Since this is a global crisis, India is impacted as every other country is. It can retreat into a shell, build walls behind which to hide or it can seek out and occupy the many spaces that are likely to open up in a period of thoroughgoing transformation.
Emerging and aspiring powers such as India are constrained when the international order is stable and its rules of the game are set and enforced by established powers. It is when the order is in flux and the power equations are changing that spaces are created for others.
But whether a position of advantage can be achieved depends upon the ability to read the nature and scope of changes, calculate one’s assets and liabilities, play to one’s strengths and repair one’s liabilities, seek partners wherever possible and neutralise adversaries when necessary. This essay attempts to outline a framework within which such an exercise may be undertaken with the aim of locating India in the most favourable position to advance its interests in a rapidly changing geopolitical terrain.
One of the first things to recognise is that there were already significant shifts taking place in the geopolitical landscape that were altering power equations. The end of the Cold War in 1991 brought a brief unipolar moment with the USA as the hyper power unmatched in its economic, technological and military prowess. This came to an end in 2007–2008 with the global financial and economic crisis, which erupted at the very epicentre of the US-led capitalist system.
Even though the USA remains the world’s most formidable military power, its relative economic status and influence have declined even as that of China has increased. But it is not only China which has gained in power and influence. There is a clutch of emerging and expanding powers, particularly in Asia, and this includes India, Japan, Australia, South Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam. Brazil in Latin America and South Africa and Nigeria in Africa are influential actors in their own regions even though they have not lived up to their promise as emerging economies.
Even as Europe continues to fragment, Germany is emerging as the most powerful country in the region. Russia remains a relevant power given its size, resources and significant military assets. There is an unmistakable trend towards a more multipolar world and this is anchored in a multipolar Asia as well. What the pandemic has done is to accelerate the trend toward multipolarity and the shift in the centre of gravity of the global economy toward Asia. This is also reflected in the relative success demonstrated by Asian states in managing the pandemic with the prospect of earlier economic recovery than in the USA and Europe.”
The above excerpt is taken from an essay by former Foreign Secretary of India Shyam Saran featured in Securing India's Rise: A Vision for the Future. The book, edited by one of India’s leading military experts, Lt General Kamal Davar (retd), is a collection of essays by 19 eminent Indians from diverse fields. Here is what Lt Gen Davar (retd) says in the epilogue:
The Need to Focus on National Security
“A strong resurgent economy translates not only in the overall development of the nation but also in strengthening national security and in allocating adequate budgetary resources to the military defence of the country. Military capability takes inordinately long to establish and is symbolic of national power; it is linked to the fact that adequate resources are given to the nation's military which then converts them into the desired war-fighting capabilities.
Keeping in mind the environment prevailing in India's neighbourhood, especially the growing threat from China, India is spending far too less on its security needs. Our defence budget is a paltry 1.60 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP). China's economy is nearly five times that of India and in 2020 it had earmarked US$178 billion for its defence budget. Though India does not have any extra-territorial ambitions like China, Indian defence spending should be around 2.5 to 3.5 per cent of its GDP in case it wishes to counter China's capabilities in the region — which may become a possibility only if India grows rapidly.
India has to take all measures to ensure that its growth multiplies substantially in the next two years, say, by 7 to 8 per cent to generate the scale and quality of jobs that our young people need and also to create economic conditions that are consistent with our long-term security needs.
Economic Growth And Sectoral Reforms
India's weight in the Asian region and in the world, which contributes to the perception of India and, therefore, its heft in the world, depends also on the size of its market. That size will increase only if India grows rapidly. The government will have to shape an economic policy which supports rapid growth. This will require solid work to restore fiscal balance and reduce the large fiscal deficit by fixing the banking system, which is under severe strain.
The government must undertake sectoral reforms in many areas, all of which are likely to generate political opposition. Thus, India's political leadership will have to generate acceptance and cooperation between all sections of the society to encourage reforms which promote growth — a difficult task by all standards in the currently prevailing environment within the country. The nation already boasts the existence of adequate economic expertise; all that is required is energising the wisdom of the scholars and economists for the greater good of the country. The government has to radically alter the poverty narrative within the country and economically lift millions of our people who are still unable to meet basic human needs.
In a true democracy, its armed forces take their legitimate orders from the elected government of the day. The roles and responsibilities of the armed forces of the union are clearly enunciated within the Constitution and in governmental instructions issued from time to time.
In peacetime, defence planning has to be consciously undertaken so that the nation is fully prepared for all probable conflict situations across the entire spectrum of warfare. Defence planning must emerge from national security and military strategies and, thus, sound civil-military interaction following guidance from the political leadership is a sine qua non. However, since Independence, overall defence planning and serious interaction between bureaucracies and the civil as well as military leadership have remained lacking of the desired order.”
(This is an exclusive excerpt from Securing India's Rise: A Vision for the Future, edited by Lt General Kamal Davar (retd). The blurbs, paragraph breaks and subheadings have been introduced by The Quint for the ease of readers.)
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