India: 21st Century Superpower
Summary of a meeting jointly sponsored by the Wilson Center’s Asia Program and Diplomatic and Consular Officers, Retired (DACOR)
Lalit Mansingh, Ambassador of India to the United States
Walter Andersen, Chief, South Asia Division, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Department of State
Teresita Schaffer, Director, South Asia Program, CSIS
Montek Ahluwalia, Director, Independent Evaluation Office, IMF
George Perkovich, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Deepa Ollapally, Senior Fellow, Center for the Advanced Study of India,
University of Pennsylvania
Karl Inderfurth, Professor of the Practice of International Affairs,
Elliott School, George Washington University
The World Bank served as host to more than two hundred retired U.S. foreign service officers and their guests on October 11 as the Wilson Center’s Asia Program and DACOR – Diplomatic and Consular Officers, Retired – jointly sponsored a conference on India – 21st Century Superpower? The question mark in the conference title suggests that India’s future is still very much an open question. Will it continue to plod along with what has been called “the Hindu rate of growth,” never fully meeting its potential, its aspirations, or the needs of its citizens? Or will India follow the course marked out by Asia’s “four tigers,” and more recently by China, and over the next several decades come to take a place on the world stage commensurate with its size and history?
A standard joke describes [pick a country] as “a country with great potential – and it always will be.” According to the three speakers who addressed India’s internal scene – Walter Andersen speaking on politics, Teresita Schaffer on social issues, and Montek Ahluwalia on the economy – this stale canard no longer applies to India. Schaffer underscored India’s success in slowing its rate of population growth, but warned that HIV/AIDs is the wild card that could upset the optimistic projections about India’s future. Andersen emphasized the movement toward the political and ideological center and the political decentralization that has encouraged the growth of regional and caste parties. Ahluwalia pointed to the unleashing of the private sector in India, India’s opening up to the global economy, and the privatization of the public sector as three crucial systemic changes that have occurred over the past decade, and which promote optimism that India can increase its already impressive growth rates of the past twenty years.
The three panelists addressing India’s external scene were a bit more guarded in their judgments, though each found cause for optimism as well. George Perkovich cautioned that neither India nor its rival Pakistan have fully accepted the concept of nuclear deterrence or the idea of military sufficiency; hence, he worries about the destabilizing consequences of a constant arms race in the subcontinent. Deepa Ollapally focused her comments on Kashmir and Pakistan, and noted that the newly reinvigorated U.S. - India relationship might give India the confidence it needs to engage with Kashmiri separatists and break the cycle of conflict with Pakistan that has roiled the region ever since India and Pakistan achieved independence in the 1940s. Karl Inderfurth emphasized the ways in which President Bush has built upon the policies toward India initiated by Bill Clinton, but also noted that in key ways, Bush has carried the bilateral relationship beyond what he inherited from his predecessor.
Indian ambassador Lalit Mansingh delivered the luncheon address and spoke about the shared interests and the explosion of contacts between Washington and New Delhi that have pushed two “estranged democracies” (to use Dennis Kux’s revealing description) to become two “engaged democracies.” Responding to a question from the audience after his prepared remarks, however, Mansingh did concede that an American military operation against Iraq lacking a United Nations sanction would create difficult problems in U.S.-India relations.
Robert M. Hathaway, Asia Program Director