Monday, November 19, 2012

India not superpower, so how about happy middle child?

In US News and World Report today, Scheherazade Rehman asserts:
India is not, nor will it become a superpower for the foreseeable future. There… I said it upfront.
How dare she! She must realize she insults almost a fifth of the world's population by saying so. It's like Dorothy opening the curtain to find an old man frantically turning knobs and pressing buttons only to end up putting on a long, worn out show.

India, the happy middle child? (Source: Jorge Royan)
However, this is old hat. Rehman is not alone in her opinions. In fact, the Wall Street Journal and the BBC have already put up their "let's put lagging nations in their place" Christmas tree lights earlier this year. Almost as a retort, a blog from The Hindu asked, "Who says India wants to be a superpower?"

Yes, who indeed wants to be a superpower anyway? It's a pain in the neck: Lots of emails to handle and dictators to pacify and constantly worrying about how fat you look.

Rehman reminds us that India is a land of contradictions. Growth seems to soar along with the poverty gap. Arundhati Roy puts this contradiction poetically, when she says:
India lives in several centuries at the same time. Somehow we manage to progress and regress simultaneously... As a nation we age by pushing outward from the middle -- adding a  few centuries on either end of the extraordinary CV. We greaten like the maturing head of a hammerhead shark with eyes looking in diametrically opposite directions. (The Nation, 2002)
Rehman also reminds us how it's been a bad year for India. I know. I've been somewhat chronicling the 2012 blow by blow in this blog. Since January it's gone from sewage, child malnutrition, adulterated milk and toxic air to the lowering rank of India's Child Development Index and disappointment at the Olympics.

So how can India flip the development coin like South Korea, which went from OECD donation recipient to OECD member? What will it take for India to catch up with star sibling, China; reach the heights of superpowerdom; and not end up like moody middle child, Russia? Too much. At least that's what Rehman seems to claim.

In fact, like in my previous blog, Rehman highlights Prime Minister hopeful, Narendra Modi. Well liked and the strongest candidate to revive India's economy on one hand, and on the other... is he guilty of allowing genocide against Muslims run rampant in his state? Eh...

If some of my friends are any indicator, then pro-Modi voters would argue that Rehman's negativity toward Modi is only because she's Muslim. In fact, I believe that much of the lower to middle middle class would take Rehman's blog and write it off as neocolonial mudslinging. However, Rehman's comments may be more of reality check than first world snobbery.

With the UK's DFID cutting aid to India and re-allocating it to other more needy parts of the world, will trying to claim heir to superpower status ultimately be too costly for India's poor? Oxfam asserts that India has dichotic economic voices and that DFID's cut on India will leave the poorest of the world bleeding.

Maybe what The Hindu's blog title suggests is the way to go for India: "Who says India wants to be a superpower?"

Hmm... reminds me of an old Indian adage:
Dhobi ka kutta na ghar ka na ghaat ka.
The washer man's dog belongs neither to river bank nor home.
Fitting into neither pre-fixed mold, India, like in her past, should continue to look for her own way into the future.

But what exactly is that way?