Great powers sneak up on you. While Washington has been preoccupied with a burning Middle East, Russia behaving badly and, to a lesser extent, the rise of China, U.S. relations with India have slipped down the diplomatic priority list. In coming decades, however, enormous, unwieldy India will likely be the United States’ most important continental partner in Asia.
On Sunday, 19,000 spectators were enthralled at a rock-star-like rally for India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, in Madison Square Garden in New York. Additional screens were set up in Times Square. The Rolling Stones and U2 do not command a similar reception. Responding to chants of “Modi, Modi, Modi,” the prime minister promised to “form the India of [his fans’] dreams.”
Modi, a Hindu nationalist who successfully brought economic growth to his home state of Gujarat, was elected by a landslide in May. His first state visit to the United States this week signified to Indians around the world that their country is back, front and center, on the world stage. After a frustrating few years of economic slowdown and gridlock in Delhi, they can be proud to be Indian again. Their hopes are now pinned on their new prime minister and his team.
Let’s hope that India is back on the U.S. priority list as well.
Why does India matter? First, it is enormous and growing. Just 16 years from now, many experts believe, India will likely have inched past China to become the world’s most populous country, with 1.5 billion people. By 2030, China will likely be the world’s largest economy by purchasing-power parity, with the United States second and India third.
Yet the size of India’s middle class is expected to surpass that of both the United States and China, due to its fast-growing population. In 2030, India alone will account for 23 percent of middle-class spending globally (nearly $13 trillion a year!). U.S. companies will be courting Indian customers. If our two governments can remove trade and investment barriers, we will be selling that new, huge middle class everything from computers to cars to legal services and much more.