WHEN LIKING INDIA ISN'T ENOUGH

July 8, 2010

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs recently surveyed respondents in the United States, China, Russia, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Japan and India in terms of its influence in the world now and in the next 10 years.  Not surprisingly, India was ranked last, says John Lee, a research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies. 

What is striking, however, is that Indian respondents rated themselves second behind America now and in the future.  This confirms a significant gap between India's assured perception of itself and the outside world's perception of India.  It is highly unlikely that India will be the second-most influential power in the world within the decade.  However, it is also true that few foreigners realize the remarkable progress the country has made since it began reforms in 1991, says Lee: 

  • Its economy has been growing at 7 percent to 8 percent per annum for almost two decades.
  • The country boasts the largest middle class in the world -- between 100 million and 300 million -- depending on the definition.
  • India has shocking infrastructure but has world class players in information technology, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology.
  • And don't forget its youth dividend in the future: while many rich countries (including China) have an aging demographics problem, approximately half India's population is under the age of 25 years.  

Why does India have a perception problem?  One reason is a poor emphasis on "cultural diplomacy."  Many Indian bureaucrats and diplomats are stuck in the post-Nehru "nonaligned" frame of mind and show little interest in showcasing the country's achievements. 

Another is India's media, which is unregulated and free to criticize the government and point out the country's failings; no doubt a liberal virtue -- but it makes the crafting of positive propaganda messages impossible. 

Finally, foreigners are not yet convinced that India can continue the reforms that will allow it to be successful; they are not yet prepared to buy into the story of India's "inevitable rise."  But another decade of spectacular growth and negative foreign perceptions of India will eventually change, says Lee. 

Source: John Lee, "When liking India isn't enough," Center for Independent Studies, July 2, 2010.

 

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