Aspiration and Reality

First, it should be highlighted that the world of power and hegemony has undergone three transformations between the Second World War and the present.

Aspiration and Reality

BRICS Summit (Photo:ANI)

First, it should be highlighted that the world of power and hegemony has undergone three transformations between the Second World War and the present. In 1952, Alfred Sauvy classified the world into three categories: First World, Second World, and Third World. However, his idea was out of date by the late 1980s when the USSR collapsed. By then the concept of ‘Developing and Developed World’ had become popular, signifying a wide range of interests. At the beginning of the twenty-first century three major groups arose: the global South, represented by developing nations like Brazil and India, the global West, led by the US and Europe, and the global East, led by China and Russia.

With unique histories, grievances, and leaders, each group provides narratives, solutions, and aspirations for reshaping the world order. The emergence of this ‘Three Worlds’ system reflects more than just shifts in global power: it reveals a deeper ideological struggle between the global East and global West. Each superpower advocates for a distinct type of world order: the US defends a liberal international order, while China and Russia aim for one that challenges Western liberal values. According to Prof. Ikenberry this isn’t just a power struggle but a clash between liberal and illiberal visions of world order, where both seek to shape global rules and institutions to secure their political systems and values. So, it is the struggle for world order which primarily involves the global West and East, each led by a superpower and a coalition of great powers.

In the post-Covid era both these superpowers ~ China and the United States ~ are aggressively moving to establish their group’s primacy in the changing global order. But it is impossible for both the US and China to achieve success on their own. They require companions and allies. Bigger coalitions perform better in these competitive times than smaller ones, and these possible allies are found in the global South. In contrast, the global South lacks a leading great power in terms of defence or economy and is characterized by diversity. It also lacks strong representation in some key international institutions like the UN Security Council. It basically operates from a position of weakness, seeking opportunities to join coalitions for international order reform, driven by aspirations for development, voice, and status.


However, the global South is not devoid of resources. It is, after all, home to most of humankind. In this case, India, the most populous nation in the global South can function as a kind of intermediary. Both the East and the West are offering various incentives to strengthen relationships with the global South. While the US, one of the main proponents of the postwar liberal international order, offers trade, security, and foreign aid; China is marketing the developmental model. Despite being the weaker member of the ‘Three Worlds’, the global South possesses structural qualities that will make it a strong and significant alliance in the changing global order.

India, a pivotal state in the global South, has the power to influence broader global patterns of alliances and partnerships. It can also lead the global South by perfectly balancing the benefits of both regions, keeping in mind Turkey’s and Brazil’s respective positions. India can serve as a kind of third party, influencing global narratives about what constitutes appropriate and acceptable behaviour in international politics, given its position as the leader of the global South. To assume that role, India needs to focus on the following five areas with equal importance: economy, military, technology, demography, and climate change because these are the fundamental requirements for becoming a superpower.

The goal of becoming a superpower can be dashed by deficiencies in any area. Is India capable of that? Here we shouldn’t be overly sentimental or romantic. We should remember that emotion is not intelligence, enthusiasm is not understanding, and to entertain high ideals is not to think. Perhaps we have enough of these, but they may not turn out to be reality until we are able to look at our abilities from close quarters. The goal of becoming a superpower is admirable, but it is important to analyse the difficulties and complications that go with it. If we focus on the economic sector, in 2023, India’s economy really thrived, with a projected GDP growth of 7.3 per cent, surpassing IMF estimates of 6.3 per cent.

Government-led capital formation increased by over 10 per cent, but private sector investment declined sharply, alongside a 4 per cent drop in foreign direct investment between ApriL-November 2023. High disinvestment rates rose by nearly 29 per cent. Inflation is forecast to rise to 5.4 per cent in 2024, with food prices escalating to 9.5 per cent in December 2023. Agriculture and allied sectors grew by less than 2 per cent in 2022–23 due to adverse weather conditions. Manufacturing is expected to grow by 6.5 per cent, but certain industries faced declines between April-November 2023.

Now let’s discuss India’s defence industry, which has shown progress, with a production turnover of Rs 1,087 billion (US$13.5 billion) in 2022-23 and exports to over 85 countries involving 100 Indian firms. However, production growth hasn’t met procurement demands, with a target of $26 billion by 2025. Despite reforms, domestic share in armed forces’ capital acquisition hasn’t increased significantly since 2014-15. Export targets remain unmet, with licensing manufacturing dominating at 58 per cent in defence procurement. Challenges include slow implementation of reforms and reliance on external sources due to limited technological depth in major systems and components.

On the other hand, the convergence of transformative technologies like AI, blockchain, cloud computing, IoT, open source, and automation is revolutionizing the fintech landscape. Niche financial sectors lead in harnessing these innovations for application development, value creation, and competitive edge. Traditional financial institutions must adapt swiftly, leveraging their resources to navigate this wave of disruption. Embracing these trends is essential for staying relevant and competitive in the rapidly evolving financial industry, where agility and innovation are key to success amidst the changing technological landscape.

Nilekani and Carstens propose a new model called “Finternet” comprising interconnected financial ecosystems. It integrates technological advancements and governance principles, incorporating tokenization and unified ledgers. By seizing these chances, India can assume a leading position. Lastly, there are still two crucial topics to discuss: climate change and demography. India, contributing only 3 per cent of historical climate pollution, faces significant environmental challenges due to coal consumption and rapid development. Its carbon emissions increased by 75 per cent since 2005, with coal accounting for 14 per cent of global demand.

Extreme heat threatens 600 million people, exacerbated by climate change. Indian citizens prioritize climate action, with 85 per cent expressing concerns. The government aims for net-zero emissions by 2070, requiring a $10 trillion investment. Political parties, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and opposition Indian National Congress, pledge support for renewable energy, targeting 500GW of capacity and emphasizing green energy transition. On the other hand, India’s demographic landscape is shifting, with a slight decline in the proportion of young people projected over the next 15 years. Despite this, India’s demographic dividend remains significant, with 12 million young individuals entering the workforce annually.

Challenges include low labour participation rates and high youth unemployment. Only about one in ten young people had jobs in 2023, with just 30.2 million out of 305.3 million working-age individuals employed. Navigating this transition effectively is crucial for India’s future economic and social well-being. However India’s internal politics may both aid and hinder its aspirations to lead the global South. India is now facing the most critical task of safeguarding democracy amidst widespread corruption. In this situation the United States and China are shifting from traditional alliance systems to cultivate ties with countries like India and Brazil.

Both powers aim to prevent countries from aligning with the other. America’s nightmare coalition is the global East and South uniting, while China fears alignment between the West and South. India has the potential to emerge as a significant leader in the global South by addressing the abovementioned key areas. From this perspective, it is preferable to acknowledge that India may not have the capacity to lead the world but can exert significant influence among global South countries

[The writer is on the faculty of the Department of Statistics, Basanti Devi College, Kolkata]