Categories
Issue 6

India and the World: Looking into 2021

“I firmly believe that 2020 will be known, not as a year of external disruption, but as a year of internal discovery, for our society and for our nation,” 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote these words for an exclusive article in the Manorama Yearbook 2021. While his words were meant to bring hope for India in times of crisis it also raised questions of how the pandemic altered the country’s position in the international community. 

Claims that India will be a superpower by 2020 have been thrown around by academics, economists and patriotic bhakts for over two decades. These claims can be traced back to India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium by APJ Abdul Kalam. In this book Kalam laid down his prediction of an India that would have eliminated poverty, have a high amount of women in the work force and would be an economic giant by the year 2020. These predictions could now be considered optimistic at best and completely delusional at worst. 

Coming into 2020 it was quite apparent that we hadn’t even touched the surface of becoming a poverty free nation. The World Economic Forum (WEF) released a report in January 2020 claiming that it will take seven generations for Indians born in low income families to even approach the country’s mean income. The 2020 Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) identified 27.9% of the population as multidimensionally poor,  the number was 36.8% for rural and 9.2% for urban India. Even promises about the increasing involvement of women in the workforce has proved to be quite inaccurate. India’s female labour force participation rate fell to a historic low in 2018.  India is currently the most disadvantaged country for women participation in South Asia. Economic predictions about India becoming a super power also seem like a big joke. Coming into 2020 the country’s 5% inflation-adjusted growth was the lowest since 2013 and the 7.5% nominal rate was the lowest since 1978. The country that once had one of the fastest growing economies, has not seen success over the last few years mainly due to several blunders in national economic policies and actions. 

While the above numbers may just seem like confusing statistics they shed light on a much larger issue the Indian economy needs to counter. Low participation of women in the workforce doesn’t just shed light on the gender disparity that is evidently prevalent in the Indian patriarchal structure, but also showcases wastage of a large chunk of the country’s working population. 

A high poverty rate in the country’s population is a clear result of poor fiscal management on part of the government. The fact that a majority of the country’s workforce is employed in a sector that contributes the least to its GDP should be a clear indication that the Indian economy is in desperate need of a transformation. The record low inflation rates shows that the country is displaying minimal growth. All of these indicators point to one answer – India is nowhere close to being a developed nation.

India stepped into 2020 with an economic slowdown characterised by high poverty rates and increasing unemployment. The country was in turmoil as mass protests broke out in all states surrounding the people’s outrage towards the government’s discriminatory citizenship laws (NRC/CAA). This year was also not free of obstacles for the country, the biggest obstacle obviously being the COVID-19 pandemic. The Indian economy that was already suffering before the year started has taken massive hits, as the country has now officially entered a technical recession. The country is now faced with farmer protests due to the government’s new Farm Bills that potentially threaten the stability of their income. So what does all this mean for India’s position in the world?

The Indian economy took a larger hit than any other major economy. In the April-June quarter, the country’s GDP shrank by 23.9% , the worst contraction in its history. India also entered a technical recession for the first time since 1947. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) calculations showed that the Indian economy had taken a “uniquely” larger hit than most other countries. While their 2020 growth projections showed upward trends for countries like Bangladesh, China and Vietnam, India’s GDP dip due to the pandemic was more than double the global average fall. Infact China’s trade surplus widened to a record, gaining a 21% increase (for the month of November) in exports from a year earlier. 

The Modi government has tried to ensure the public that this fall in the GDP is temporary and promised that the economy will rebound rapidly, calling it a “V shaped recovery”.  In reality though this is quite unlikely. Sabyasachi Kar’s model predicts that it will take up to 2033 for India to get back on the pre-Covid growth path if the country’s GDP grows at a rate of 7% for the next 13 years. Another projection made by scroll.in shows that if India’s GDP grows at a realistic 6.1% instead of Kar’s 7% estimate, it will take almost three decades (upto 2049) for the country’s GDP to get back on a growth path. While the Indian government is planning on introducing policies to ensure growth, the country’s standard growth policies are being ineffective. States across the country are seeing a reduction in their capital expenditures (CAPEX) , this is mostly due to the fall in revenue due to the pandemic. This reduction in revenue and CAPEX basically means that the government isn’t investing close to enough money on roads, energy plants and other necessary infrastructure. An increased investment in infrastructure is peremptory if the country is to get back on its feet, and the current spending capacity of the states is only going to make post covid recovery much harder. 

Nirmala Sitharaman had stated that the COVID-19 pandemic was an “Act of God” which may result in a contraction in India’s growth. But India’s position as a potential superpower has been threatened for the last 6 years, and the pandemic has only acted as a catalyst for an economy that was already crumbling. While we can try to stay optimistic and hope that the government’s plans pay off, it’s almost impossible that the country can get back to the growth it enjoyed in the 1990s and 2000s.

Karantaj Singh finished his undergraduate in History and International Relations. He is now pursuing a minor in Media Studies and Politics during his time at the Ashoka Scholars Programme. He enjoys gaming and comics in his free time.

Picture Credit: “India Map 2 N” by Mark Morgan Trinidad A is licensed under CC BY 2.0

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Categories
Issue 3

Everyday Forms of Geopolitics

We think geopolitics is all about international politics, where nations and national governments are involved. Many disputes over geographical borders are not even bilateral issues between two nations-states; there may be a third and fourth party in the backdrop. Former foreign secretary, Amb. Shyam Saran explains in a recent article how the U.S. forms the third angle in the present military stand-off between India and China in Ladakh. He says, “[China] has started looking at most issues through the prism of the more confrontational relationship it has today with the US. It is looking at India also through that prism and is telling the US, this is a country which cannot even take care of its borders, and you are thinking of this country as a major component of your security relationship in this region”

Yet, geopolitics can also shape the personal and social lives of individuals and communities. The geographical location of the border influences decisions about marriage, local elections, commercial exchanges, cultural expressions, regional unities and transnational affiliations. A recent book by Sara Smith called Intimate Geopolitics discusses how in Ladakh today, matters of the body and the heart, of love, marriage and romantic relationships, become caught up in larger questions of nations, borders and geopolitics. When geopolitics enters the intimate spheres of our lives and governs our deepest emotions – who we may love, trust and befriend, it becomes intimate geopolitics. It affects daily movements, trade, occupations, politics, and domestic relationships. 

In Kashmir, parts of Manipur and other militarized zones of India where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is in place, war becomes indefinite, routinised and normalized to such an extent that people living in these regions become used to the everyday violence, killings, abductions, and random detentions. These places form, as anthropologist Haley Duschinski remarks, zones of exception and social abandonment, where violence is normalised and invisibilised to the rest of the country.

In Ladakh, Sikkim, or Arunachal Pradesh in the Himalayan borderlands of India, home to many Tibetan Buddhist communities, the situation is slightly different. Geo-strategically important in India’s border war with China, these Himalayan regions have been marginal in the national cultural imagination and yet, important for national security. In post-colonial India, different governments have tried in their own way to integrate these populations into mainstream political, economic, and cultural networks, through development, education, and other forms of soft state power. Berenice Guyot Rechard shows in her book Shadow States how development has been a means of establishing a benevolent state presence among these border people. The Indian state has also encouraged and funded Buddhist cultural traditions locally as a method of integrating and keeping these populations within the gravitational pull of the nation.

Yet, problems remain and resurface from time to time, whether it is the form of friction between identities, naming of local place-names, and loss in livelihoods such as yak-herding or tourism. Many of the local Tibetan Buddhist communities have historical and cultural connections with Tibet, through trade, religion or political alliance. When India and China emerged as new nations in the 1940s, both embarked on their individual projects of nation-building and border strengthening, leading to the political-economic integration of the border communities on each side. After the Chinese annexation of Tibet and subsequent border war between India and China, the Himalayan communities on the Indian side were integrated more tightly within their Indian political identity. Over the years, these Himalayan Buddhists have found it strategically necessary to show their Indian allegiance by distancing themselves from Tibet and the Tibetans. This has created a conflict within them as they reconcile their historical connections to Tibet with their contemporary political ties to India.  

Further, the military presence in these border regions affect the communities in different ways. In Arunachal Pradesh, many local Tibetic names have been replaced by Hindi names or names of Hindu gods and goddesses, because the army people, unused to Tibetic phonetics, renamed the places where they settled in and spread out their settlements. This has led to a wiping out of cultural landscapes because every place-name comes with a story or legend, and as these names are erased, places lose their cultural moorings. Land and livelihood are also affected when armies move in. In many high-altitude regions, where the Indian army has built firing ranges, yaks, an economic mainstay for many of the Himalayan Buddhist communities, have lost their grazing pastures. With army build up, tourism, which is the main source of contemporary income for these communities, also suffers.

As the battle for borders rages in the high glaciers of the Himalayas, the local communities living in these borderlands fight their own battles. As armies descend on the border zones, and diplomatic channels are simultaneously activated to defuse border tensions on the ground, the people who live in these borderlands are often forgotten. Geopolitics infuse into their everyday lives and livelihoods, making war a felt experience even for those not in war uniforms. Their struggles are more of an everyday form of geopolitics.

Swargajyoti Gohain teaches Sociology and Anthropology at Ashoka University, India. She has published widely on borders, state, culture, politics, and Tibetan Buddhist communities in Northeast India and the Himalayan region.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).