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India: From snake charmers to global superpower

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Brussels, Aug 15: Some time ago, an elderly German asked me a question that has stayed with me ever since. The gentleman, in his 70s, said, "I remember when I was in school, we were told that India was a third world country — a poor country that needed our help. So, we collected money and sent it there as aid."

With a curious look on his face he continued, "today I read in newspapers that India is an IT hub, a startup capital of the world. Did you Indians use up all our aid money to buy computers?"

India: From snake charmers to global superpower

The question — though naive in nature — was an indicator for me of how India's image has changed over the past seven decades.

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It wasn't long ago that India was depicted in the West with pictures of snake charmers, cows walking on the streets and people riding on the backs of elephants. However, over the last 75 years India has made a mark in the fields of space technology, telecommunication, agriculture, energy production and biotechnology, to name a few. India has more than 750 million internet users, which also shows how quickly the country is progressing in the digital age.

India's growing influence

Gone are the days when poverty and despair were romanticized in popular culture. Today, India is working on becoming the world's biggest producer of renewable energy. In its aim to become a global superpower, India is growing trade ties with both the East and the West.

India: From snake charmers to global superpower

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently wrote, "India has emerged as a democratic superpower, more than capable of providing the leadership that the world often needs. [..] If a free world has to have a leader after 50 years, it is likely to be India."

There is no denying that the international community is looking toward India more expectantly today than it ever has. Russia's war in Ukraine is a key driver of those growing expectations. India is emerging as an increasingly important player on the world stage. Currently it is the world's fifth-largest economy by GDP, and the third largest by purchasing power parity.

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Lacking on the domestic front

With its non-aligned approach, India's foreign policies are yielding results in its favor. But India still has a formidable amount of work to do on the domestic front.

The Indian government claims it can become a $5 trillion-strong (€4.8 trillion) economy by 2025. But without substantial economic reforms this might remain a distant dream for the world's largest democracy.

Inflation; unemployment; factionalized elites; socioeconomic divisions in the name of caste, and language and religion issues are serious challenges that the country is facing even 75 years after its independence.

Tensions between Hindus and Muslims have only worsened over the last eight years. Somehow it seems as if the British divide and rule policy has made a comeback. The recent Islamophobic remarks by a ruling BJP party official show how hate speech is on the rise in the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always shunned away from condemning or even remarking on communal tensions in the country.

It is a matter of concern that India ranked 150th out of 180 countries on the 2022 Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders. This is India's lowest rank ever. India also has a low score in the global Academic Freedom Index with an AFI of 0.352, which puts it in the company of countries like Saudi Arabia and Libya.

Moreover, India ranked 101st out of 116 countries in the 2021 Global Hunger Index. Around 25% of children in India suffer from malnutrition, and over 190 million go to bed each night without a meal.

Making the right choice

It's no surprise, therefore, that in the Global Happiness Index, India's rank has fallen to 140, lower than Pakistan, Bangladesh and China. Unhappiness and discontent are spreading throughout the country.

In the last seven decades India has spent a lot of energy and resources on addressing security concerns with neighboring countries — Pakistanon the one side and China on the other. There is no doubt that these concerns cannot and should not be ignored. Nevertheless, it is of utmost importance for India to channel its energies in solving its domestic issues.

More than half of India's population is below the age of 25. The country will have to ensure education, employment and happiness for its youth. Without this paradigm shift, it could take another 75 years before India achieves its aim of becoming a global superpower.

Source: DW

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