Promises Of India’s Power Potential Under Prime Minister Modi – Analysis


India’s rise to great power status and its desire for a bigger role beyond the South Asian region has not only been subject to rigorous academic scrutiny and debate, it has fueled rhetoric among political leaders and scholars alike as well.

While some scholars zealously point to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s success in enhancing the image of India in the eyes of international community in different international platforms invoking New Delhi’s increasing capabilities as one of the largest investor-friendly markets, as one of the countries bent on strengthening its military preparedness and more as a country which seeks to preserve its ancient cultural resources through ideas such as Vasudheiva Kutumbakam and practices such as Yoga in its bid to turn itself into a Viswa-Guru, on the other side the detractors and critics intensified their assessments of India’s predicaments on the way to its rise as well.

Demographic Dividend 

Contributing to the debate and rhetoric of India’s rise to global power status is the fact that the country enjoys an unprecedented demographic dividend not only by housing the World’s largest population by surpassing that of China, the youngest section of people outnumbers other categories of people. Considering the decaying and ageing population in the West and among other developed countries, India promises robust contribution of human capital to the global economy in the long-term. It is projected that the economic outputs of the country can in this way surpass other economies in the foreseeable future.

Largest and Resilient Economy

India came out of the shackles of Hindu rate of growth (very often used to refer to India’s sluggish growth rate in the post-Independence era) following LPG in 1991 and continued to demonstrate impressive growth rate henceforward including under Prime Minister Modi. It is now the fifth largest economy in the world and it is projected to surpass Germany in next few years.

Militarily, India acquired a defacto nuclear power status in 1998 following the Second Pokhran Nuclear Test. It has been modernizing its defense forces by importing updated technology and equipment and it has also developed and upgraded its indigenous capabilities to generate defense resources. Under Modi, the country, it is believed, seems poised to establish a robust Military Industrial Complex. In terms of the shock absorbing capacities of its economy, Indian economy demonstrated resilience while many major economies faltered during global financial crisis in 2008 and during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

India’s Abilities to Defend its Interests Amid Great Power Politics 

Some scholars aver that India has been able to defend its key strategic interests by maintaining strategic autonomy even amid the wars involving great power politics. India’s stance on cases like Russia-Ukraine war and Israeli-Hamas war substantiates this. It has not sided with the west and chose a course of neutrality in the war in Ukraine. It neither condemned nor did it blame Russia for the war. India’s abstention from all UN resolutions pertaining to Ukraine demanding a Russian withdrawal or condemning the war as well as relating to Moscow’s annexation of Ukrainian territories since March 2022 exemplifies this.

India’s strategic interests in the Ukrainian case are multifaceted. First, India cannot afford to put its weight behind the Western move to isolate Russia that has palpably pushed Moscow even closer to China which is poised to undercut New Delhi’s interest. Second, a multipolar world order in which India sees its interests best-served can only be realized with preservation of Russia’s position as a great power.

Nirupama Rao, former Foreign Secretary of India not only underlined the threat concerns that NATO’s eastward expansion posed for Russia, she justified India’s stance in an article in Foreign Affairs as well arguing “India did not respond to Washington’s past abuses with sanctions or acrimony. New Delhi instead continued doing business with the United States—even if it opposed the country’s invasions—because doing so helped India and made it easier for the world to address shared challenges. New Delhi has every right to take the same approach with Moscow, no matter what the West says”.

Despite diversification of defence imports and India’s ever growing strategic partnership with the US, the country still depends on Russia for “essential components of several advanced weapons systems including its fighter aircraft, cruise missiles, submarines, and land warfare platforms”. In a similar vein, as a victim of terrorism as well as keeping in view of the Israeli support in the critical areas of defence, India has supported the Israeli action against Hamas.

Favourable Strategic Location

India understands how its geostrategic location is vital to the American pivot to Asia. The US’s ‘Containment of China’ strategy through QUAD is largely contingent on India’s critical support. Its vital location has allowed it the breathing space amid the polarized stance of the West on the one hand and Russia on the other over the Ukrainian war.

From Russia, India could import natural resources such as oil with subsidized prices despite its neutrality in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and diplomatic pressure from the West on India to isolate Russia. India could secure a waiver from the US for importing S-400 missile from Russia. India is importing essential defense equipment as well as deftly maintaining its ties to Russia even while it has entered into a strategic partnership with the US to balance China.

With the US, India has successfully forged ties in the areas of critical defense technology, Artificial Intelligence, cyber technology and telecommunication whereas Russia has inched closer towards China and Pakistan during the post-Cold War era engendering concerns in New Delhi. In this light, India understands that it cannot afford to isolate Russia further.


India understands that a country witnesses shifting of its friends and enemies with passage of time but its geography cannot be altered. Hence, it has sought to secure its vital security interests in the Indo-Pacific and Himalayan region by entering deeply into the strategic ambit of the US but not by throwing its full weight behind the containment of China strategy.

In this light, India has carefully crafted its Indo-Pacific policy and participation in QUAD so as to strengthen the maritime security and maintain a free and open region without explicitly endorsing a containment strategy aimed at China. It has been able to defend its national interest through a policy of multi-alignment. India is managing the Chinese threat with the US assistance by strengthening the QUAD without sacrificing the age-old strategic relationship with and military support from Russia.

On the other side, India’s security concerns about China have not prevented it from cooperating with China in its continued efforts to collectively working towards representing and addressing the development concerns of the Global South through multilateral forums such as BRICS and the SCO. India is not only one of the largest trading partners of China, it has been attending trilateral meetings with both China and Russia. It has left no stone unturned to strengthen the multilateral forum – BRICS including member-states — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — in order to represent the interests of the Global South. India has also been at the forefront demanding reforms of the global institutions such as UN Security Council and International Financial Institutions including World Bank and IMF keeping the changing power realities and notions of security which favor the global south in view. 

Soft Power

Prime Minister Modi’s efforts to project India as a Viswa-Guru by invoking India’s historical and spiritual resources Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam and practices of Yoga have gained traction. He has been able to influence leaders of many countries through his oratory skills and yogic lifestyle. India is also willing to play a greater role towards leading the Global South. This willingness of the country to lead Global South amid the dysfunctionality of Non-Alignment Movement has restored some of its lost soft power resources which has been evidenced during India’s presidency in the G-20 and SCO groupings.

Detracting factors on the way to India’s Rise

However, many scholars and commentators are not only skeptical about India’s abilities to assume a global power status, they point to many downsides to India’s rise such as the country’s democratic backsliding with a centralized and personalized leadership under Modi. Some academics underline dilution of federal provisions enshrined in the Indian Constitution under Modi. For example, agriculture is a subject in the state list but the central government under Modi’s leadership has sought to legislate on that subject as well. 

Rise of Hindutva 

A palpable ascent of disunifying tendencies with fomenting of the Hindutva ideology and rhetoric by the leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its sister organisations such as RSS and Bajrang Dal strengthens a melting pot model of majoritarian rule where other smaller identities would merge within the larger Hindu identity rather than the Salad Bowl Model that has been historically prevalent in India where unity in diversity was maintained.

The Central government’s inaction to stem violence in Manipur and perceptions of minorities on the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 are some of the examples substantiating ideological underpinnings of government actions, the sceptics maintain. It is also argued by some that scrapping of special constitutional status of Kashmir and turning it into a union territory might have restored short-term peace by bringing the region tightly under the security scanner of the Indian Government but the ground realities echo a peace that is prevalent in a graveyard. Deadlier violence is likely to erupt once there is a sustained perception of laxity in security is generated among the subversive elements.

Expansion of a Culture of Freebies

It is a recurring phenomenon which is being witnessed during the election times that the Central Government as well as different state governments are engaged in a sustained campaign offering and promising freebies to win elections which does not aim at empowering the people through generation of income and employment but costs the government exchequer high.

Inadequate Domestic Reforms 

Despite the circulation of success stories of Make in India and Atmanirbhar Bharat ideas under the Modi government, many economists and commentators argue that the domestic financial reforms in India are not adequate enough to turn India into a Manufacturing Hub. They point to the difficult regulations as regards the land acquisition and inadequate reforms of labor laws. In a comparative perspective, India’s economic performance pales in juxtaposition to China as India accounts for 7 percent of global GDP whereas China contributes 18 percent.

Despite India’s market-friendly approach, China will remain “central to global supply chains and transnational production networks for the foreseeable future”. Despite registering healthy growth rate, critics point to India’s inability to translate the gains into development. There is a difference between growth and development. The former is quantitative and the latter qualitative. Better redistribution of resources is needed to enhance the quality of life of people. The Modi government despite reforms in infrastructural, market and social sectors, is still viewed pro-capitalist by many.

Largest importer of Natural Resources 

India is one of the largest importers of energy resources. As the country’s population keeps inflating and industrialization process remains largely dependent on conventional energy resources, India cannot but pursue a reactive foreign policy responding to volatility of energy politics. In this context, the remarks of India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in response to the alleged accusation from certain quarters of the West that India was indirectly financing Russia’s war are germane. He said: “I have a country that has a per capita income of two thousand dollars,” and “these are not people who can afford higher energy prices”.

Jaishankar’s remarks smack of the pertinence and imperative of efficient redistribution of resources and swift transition to alternative sources of energy for India. Despite certain measures undertaken and commitment made by the government under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership towards indigenous production of renewable energy resources, the process has been sluggish and involves substantial costs.

Ideological Inconsistency

Some skeptics see a dichotomy between what Prime Minister Modi says and the ideology his party and its sister organisations represent. These skeptics believe India’s market-friendly approach and integration with the global economy inviting continuous flows of foreign direct investment and trade have their limits. They argue his party represents an ideology which seeks to strengthen national economy through isolationist measures rather than through structurally integrating with the global economy. 

South Asian Entanglement 

A few sceptics squarely point to India’s failure to assume a leadership role in South Asia leave alone the country’s power projection beyond the subcontinent. As all the smaller countries were once part of the Indian subcontinent, all of them are in a process of redefining their identities in non-Indian terms which very often take anti-Indian forms.

Whenever the smaller neighboring countries found opportunities to court China and the latter attempted to spread its sway through its massive capital and infrastructural projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), India’s security concerns took a backseat and Beijing became their favorite patron. The dismal performances of SAARC and SAFTA and several cases exemplifying turning down of New Delhi’s infrastructural initiatives speak volumes about the small neighbouring countries’ reluctance to accept India’s leadership role.

In sum, India is viewed more as a swing power than a pivot around which other powers would seek to revolve like China. The country has nevertheless the potential to be a global power, before attaining this status, however, it has to address many of the concerns represented by the sceptics. A global power needs to have the potential to shape foreign policy course and contours of other countries rather than just possessing the abilities of designing the foreign policy and justifying the same in response to great power politics.

Dr. Manoj Kumar Mishra

Dr. Manoj Kumar Mishra has a PhD in International Relations from the Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad. He is currently working as a Lecturer in Political Science, S.V.M. Autonomous College, Odisha, India. Previously, he worked as the Programme Coordinator, School of International Studies, Ravenshaw University, Odisha, India. He taught Theories of International Relations and India’s Foreign Policy to MA and M.Phil. students.

One thought on “Promises Of India’s Power Potential Under Prime Minister Modi – Analysis

  • March 7, 2024 at 1:45 am

    Modi has provided a stable Government since 2014 and a global leadership which was missing since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
    2024 is critical for Modi and Bharath.🙏


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