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Does Global High table make sense without India?

Given her economic clout, global supply chains; responsible nuclear power & thriving open democracy, its India time under the Sun

Dr Amritpal Kaur

One representative benchmarks of post-second World War international order is the leading countries coming together for policy networking in the wake of cold war era ‘blocs’.


Global engagement has taken a different shape in terms of these groups. There are groups like Permanent 5 in the United Nations Security Council, Group of 7 or G7 which is a group of leading market economies in the world which are also liberal democracies.

To the unversed, this might look like global high table of the richest and most affluent countries in the world.

In the post second World war era, the world has seen propagation of strategic affairs of the rich countries play out via coordinated groups like G7. The huddling of major democratic countries with market economies increases their impact in the world affairs as they also are permanent members in UNSC, control majority shares in institutions like World Bank and IMF and are among top 10 economies in the world.

But, twenty first century is easily touted as the Asian century which means rise of the Asian Giants that will have altering effect on the global pecking order. Whether one accepts or not but China has grown leaps and bounds on economic development despite all its infirmities.

And, Indian juggernaut is picking up pace.

But, for good part of twentieth century, India was kept out of these influential groups. One way or the other, the high table was denied to India and importantly Indians too lacked the power or the heft to make their voice heard. Had India joined the Western camp after attaining independence post-colonial British era, could the fate of camp following be avoided? Or, Could India maintain its ‘strategic autonomy’ that she freely exercises without any encumbrances?

Chances are that India would have been treated like any other third world country joining the Western Camp. Then what has changed in the world which has necessitated incorporation of India into the global high table?

Historically, India has always been a country of consequence in the world politics. With its large swathes of land, richly endowed in mineral and non-mineral resources, its unique place in the Indian Ocean facilitating maritime trade made the country ‘Sink of Gold’ and large population ensured that she would be at the center of global high table, a trend which lasted till the advent of colonial powers on her shores.

British colonization was majorly responsible to diminish her say and value in the global order. Even then, India was regarded diamond in the British crown, underlining its unique position in the British Empire. When the empire was finally forced out, India got reduced to an impoverished country, typical of third world. It was also the time when Indian voice in the global affaires was effectively ineffective.

During first fifty years post-independence, India was effectively a spectator without the means to engage and take independent calls internationally that were of consequence. Change in Indian fortunes also led to other countries perception and reception of India as an effective entity, human race and a society to reckon with.

The high and mighty of the world had started out with anti-India stand. Of late, they had to revise their stand given India’s economic development and increasing political clout. Perceptional change began with Nuclear Non-Proliferation.

India has consistently stated that Nuclear Non-Proliferation regime under NPT and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty were heavily biased against countries not possessing nuclear technologies and on that ground it did not sign NPT and CTBT. Till the Clinton administration days (1992-2000), nuclear nonproliferation was a major bone of contention. What this issue exhibited was India’s firm positioning in the eyes of major world powers.

It was also the time when India was getting itself out of 1991-92 economic crisis with recovery very nascent. According to World Bank Indian GDP in 2000 stood at US $ 468.39 billion as against $10.25 trillion of USA, $ 1.95 trillion of Germany, $ 4.97 trillion of Japan, $ 1.67 trillion of United Kingdom and $ 1.21 trillion of China.

In the hindsight, it was also the time when tide started to turn, in Dickensian fashion, ‘it was best of the times and it was worst of the times’. As Indian fortunes shifted, so did the positions on global high table. Civil nuclear deal between India and USA exemplify the change in attitude towards India. George Bush Jr’s administration was responsible to end India’s nuclear apartheid, thereby opening the doors for transfer of latest technologies not only by Americans but also by others.

It was also the time when consensus was being built on permanent membership for India in the UNSC. Barring China, rest of the P5 group was in support of India’s candidature. Since then Indian foreign policy got a fresh coat of paint and nuanced approach in the world affairs. India has been able to objectively articulate its individual position to assert its ‘strategic autonomy’.

Two events underline this trend. One is the Covid 19 crisis when India provided vaccines support to other countries under the much-acclaimed Vaccine Maitri programme. In fact when major countries were busy in hoarding vaccines, India came forward in support of poor countries by dipping into its own vaccine inventory. Second is the Ukraine crisis, where India pursued its own independent line without budging under pressure.

Devil lies in the details and it’s true in India’s case as well. World Bank data shows that by 2022, Indian economy expanded to US $ 3.39 trillion as against $ 25.46 trillion of USA, $ 4.07 trillion of Germany, $ 4.23 trillion of Japan, $ 3.07 trillion of United Kingdom and $ 17.96 trillion of China in GDP terms. At this pace, by 2030, India will be third largest economy in the World. Fresh data from Morgan Stanley suggests that India’s ascent to third place may be much earlier by 2027.

 Besides, with 1.4 billion people, India is a lucrative market and emerging player in global supply chains which seek to diversify to de-risk and move away from single production hub in China. As a law-abiding major power, India has established track record time and again to underline its responsible stance in global affairs. From UN peace operations to global engagement on key issues like environment, development strategies to economic interface, India has played a yeoman role.

This brings us back to the question on global high tables and institutions. Will these make any sense without India?  Keeping India out of the international system may leave several institutions in the lurch.

(Author is an Assistant Professor in Dyal Singh College, New Delhi and Contributing Fellow at Centre for Integrated and Holistic Studies, a non-partisan think tank)  

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