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It has long been standard practice among foreign policy experts to include into future projections the potential influences of an ‘Indian Superpower’.

Behind this logic lies a demographic determinism which, broadly applied, also promotes the highly fertile nations of Brazil, South Africa and Nigeria to a similar hypothetical prowess later in the century. To put the logic at its most simple:

Big population + stability = China.

Anyone with a less politically-correct mind will of course (correctly) discount the potential of Nigeria or South Africa gaining a seat at the top (economic, political or military) table any time soon. Some however might understandably find the prospect of India ascending to such a rank rather more feasible.

After all, India is due to become the most populous country in the world in a matter of years. The territory of India is large, diverse, and in a geo-strategically important position. The military of India is huge and well-equipped by EU and American exporters. The country is also the world’s largest democracy, with guaranteed representation for all faiths, genders and political persuasions. This status as a democratic counterweight to the rise of Chinese autocracy in Asia may further tighten Delhi’s ties with Washington and secure generous terms of alliance with America long into the future.

It is a strong case then, I concede, and I’ve little doubt most policy-makers will continue to believe it. But I also have a diminishing sense of doubt that they are wrong.

After the population issue is discarded, India has very little in common with its rapidly ascending Northern neighbor. In fact, the differences, considered closely, couldn’t be more stark.

For whatever reason this may be, China has industrialized at a rate that has left India scrambling in the dust. Chinese cities have shifted in just a few decades from semi-rural wastelands to New-York-grade metropolises, complete with financial districts, subways, lightening fast overground train networks and first-class infrastructures. Even the wealthiest and most important Indian cities like Delhi and Mumbai have nothing on a myriad of internationally unknown Chinese urban centres. Comparing Delhi to the prefecture level city of Chongchinq for example, is equivalent to comparing Bogota to Chicago. The distance in modernity, infrastructure and appearance couldn’t be more starkly presented.

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In terms of Cultural sophistication (provided we take the West as the standard to measure against) India lags even further behind their Northern counterparts. China, under the dictats of its (albeit heavily qualified) ‘Communism’ has outlawed many tribal practices that only fifty years ago were considered the norm. India however, under the much lighter reforming hand of democracy, has yet to abandon many of its most antique oppressions. Women in India (from all religious backgrounds) are routinely married not by love and choice, but by considerations of caste and family standing.

Should the women in question flee into more modern practices, then honor killing is not unheard of even in large, middle class cities like Bangalore or Chennai.

If rape rates are an adequate measure of cultural misogyny, India is also far behind the expectations of the modern idea. Sexual assault is a horribly common occurrence in India, and this has become especially notorious of late as the ‘Delhi gang-rape’ scandal hit headlines across the world.

As to explanations for the endemic violence against women, the Guardian reported that some consider it “a consequence of the efforts of a growing number of women, even in remote areas, to claim basic freedoms denied for centuries.. ” while “…Others point to India’s acute gender imbalance, tenacious caste system and entrenched patriarchal culture. Conservatives have blamed “western influences”, women’s clothing and even fast food.

“Informal village courts run by local male elders, such as that which ordered this most recent attack, are common across much of rural India and are frequently responsible for inflicting cruel, sometimes lethal, punishments for supposed social transgressions such as marrying without their prior consent. Such courts also frequently oblige relatives to take violent action to restore the “honour” of a community.”

Despite what we might automatically (and given the situation in neighbouring Pakistan, justifiably) assume, those involved are not all Muslims, but Sikhs and Hindus too.

India is also weakened by that very diversity. The country is a very recently woven patchwork of historically divided religious communes, many of which have come to violent confrontation in just the past few decades. Though it might be said that China is equally afflicted by division (Tibetans, Uygurs etc…) – such cleavages are there managed by an efficiently centralized, undemocratic regime. Parliamentary Democracy (like that which governs India) is much less suited to holding religiously or ethnically divided countries together (for comparison, I give you the cases of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Lebanon). China’s authoritarianism also serves to manage the fallout from economic inequality, an increasing problem on both sides of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

In conclusion, although India will certainly become more economically important as the 21st century progresses, an Indian Superpower is a most unlikely prospect.

D, LDN.

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