India Insight

Is India really the world’s fifth most powerful country?

India is the world’s fifth most powerful country, according to a New Delhi-authored national security document, the Times of India reported on Wednesday, as Indian analysts placed the emerging nation above major European powers.

Outranking traditional global powers such as the UK, France and Germany, India’s ballooning population, defense capabilities and economic clout were cited as reasons for its position behind only the U.S., China, Japan and Russia in India’s National Security Annual Review 2010, which will be officially released by the country’s foreign ministry next week.

Its statistical foundations in terms of population numbers and GDP aside — in terms of purchasing power parity, it should be noted — India’s experience of wielding power on the global stage of late, boosted by its temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council, has been less encouraging.

India has failed to cultivate a wholly reciprocal relationship with the United States, despite warm rhetoric in recent years between New Delhi and Washington and a number of big-ticket diplomatic and industrial agreements.

New Delhi appears to struggle to assert itself in the face of growing Chinese influence in south Asia, has dithered on formulating a firm approach to states such as Iran, and risked appearing naive and out of its depth during the lead-up to international efforts to protect civilians in Libya.

Should Britain continue its controversial £1bln India aid package?

The UK will continue to send more than £1 billion to India over the next four years, despite huge cuts to government spending under London’s Conservative-led coalition government and soaring economic growth in the Asian giant.
Britain's Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell speaks during a plenary meeting of the 64th General Assembly of the United Nations  August 19, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Andrew Mitchell, the UK’s international development secretary, told the Financial Times on Monday that Britain’s annual £280 million aid payments to India would not be reduced, in spite of the country’s space ambitions, nuclear energy development, soaring numbers of billionaires and its own aid program to many African nations.

Mitchell’s comments, a day before an official announcement, are likely to infuriate some UK MPs who have seen spending slashed in their constituencies, and those who have called for a reduction in overseas payments as British taxpayers brace for a period of tough austerity measures.

In September, suggestions from Westminster that aid may be reduced sparked a terse response from New Delhi, as Indian officials reportedly mulled rejecting UK support rather than waiting for London to decide whether its slice of the pie would shrink.

Does Indian literature owe its global success to the Raj?

As close to 50,000 people prepare to celebrate India’s bulging roster of nationally and internationally renowned authors and poets at the seventh annual Jaipur Literary Festival, a public spat between its British organiser and an Indian magazine over allegations of perpetuating “a Raj that still lingers” threatens to ignite a decades-old debate over the role of colonial English in the country’s literary success.

Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan (R) talks with Neville Tuli, founder and chairman of Osian's - Connoisseurs of Art Pvt Ltd, at the annual Jaipur literary festival, one of India's biggest, January 23, 2009. REUTERS/Abhishek Madhukar (INDIA)

As Delhi-based William Dalrymple and his fellow organiser stress the festival’s intent to showcase works from India’s array of states and dialects to thousands of book lovers, an article in India’s Open magazine this month claimed the festival matters “because of the writers from Britain it attracts”.

India’s literary elite has long wrestled with its complicated post-colonial legacy, sharpened by the huge international success of Indian writers such as Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth and Kiran Desai, who have put the former British colony on the literary map, but live, sell more books and win more awards in the UK or the U.S.

Shunning UK aid would show India’s rising confidence

Choosing to jump on its own terms than face the ignominy of waiting to be pushed, India may have politely but firmly asked the UK not to send any more aid from next year in a sign of the country’s increasing self-confidence on the global stage.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (L) and Indian President Pratibha Patil attend their meeting at the presidential palace in New Delhi July 29, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur

Citing whispers in London’s corridors of power that suggest the country’s Department for International Development (DFID) was preparing to radically reduce the cash sent to India, the Indian Express reported on Wednesday that Nirupama Rao, India’s Foreign Secretary, had asked the Finance Secretary “not to avail any further DFID assistance with effect from 1st April 2011.”

A DFID spokesperson told Reuters: “All DFID’s country programmes are currently under review to ensure our aid helps the poorest people in the poorest countries. No decision on future funding to India has been made and we are in close dialogue with the Government of India.” The Ministry for External Affairs were not available for comment.

Tony Blair says India to be ‘one of the key leading powers of the world’

Forced to cancel book-signing events in his own country due to the threat of being pelted by eggs by anti-war protestors, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair took the publicity tour for his newly-released memoirs to India with an interview with the Times of India on Saturday.

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after a joint news conference in New Delhi, September 8, 2005. REUTERS/Kamal Kishore

In A Journey, which has caused a great deal of interest and controversy in the UK, Blair writes: “India remains , still developing, that manages to be genuinely democratic,” and this sentiment continues in the interview:

“I was very keen to move beyond the old-fashioned relationship… My view was India was going to be one of the key leading powers of the world in the times to come. The west in the 21st century, including countries like mine will have to get used to the fact that we’re going to have partners who will be equals, sometimes more than equals,” he says.

BA’s Kingfisher deal ups pressure on India’s airline regulators

Willie Walsh, Chief Executive of British Airways, is not afraid of conflict. Having tackled investors who have seen the airline struggle through two years of substantial losses and stared down continued industrial action from his cabin crew, he’s now set his sights on India’s civil aviation regulators.

A British Airways passenger jet taxis past parked BA jets at Heathrow airport in London July 30, 2010. REUTERS/Luke MacGregorWith the ink barely dry on BA’s merger with Spain’s Iberia, the recently-announced code-share agreement with India’s Kingfisher Airlines marks the UK flagship carrier’s first tentative step into the Indian aviation market. While current rules do not permit any foreign ownership of Indian carriers, he has made it clear that reforms are needed.

“If the rules change, not just British Airways, all airlines around the world will look at the possibility to invest in Indian carriers. I have no doubt Indian carriers would welcome such foreign investment because airlines are looking at strengthening their financial position. Also, consolidation will help. We will be looking at opportunities in the future. We are sponsoring Kingfisher Airlines into Oneworld (a global grouping of airlines) because India is such an important growth market and we want to participate in this growth,” Walsh told India’s Mint newspaper in an interview.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Dreams from my father: South Asia’s political dynasties

bilawal"Whatever the result, this meeting will be a turning point in Pakistan's history," Pakistan President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto told his daughter Benazir as he prepared for a summit meeting with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1972 in the Indian hill resort of Simla after his country's defeat by India in the 1971 war. "I want you to witness it first hand."

If there is a slightly surreal quality to President Asif Ali Zardari's controversial state visit to Britain - where he is expected to launch the political career of Oxford graduate Bilawal Bhutto at a rally for British Pakistanis in Birmingham on Saturday - it is perhaps no more surreal than taking your daughter, herself then a student at Harvard, to witness negotiations with India after a crushing military defeat.

Family dynasties are a tradition in South Asia. Indira Gandhi, the victor of the 1971 war which led to the creation of Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, had learned about international relations from her father, India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Now her grandson, Rahul Gandhi, is being groomed as a future prime minister while his mother Sonia Gandhi keeps a tight grip from behind-the-scenes on the Congress Party government led by her appointed prime minister Manmohan Singh.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Britain and the Kashmir banana skin

Memories seem to be short in the British government when it comes to Kashmir. Foreign Secretary David Miliband stirred up a diplomatic row over the region during his visit to India earlier this month. As this piece in The Times says, Miliband angered Indian officials by giving what they described as "unsolicited advice" on Kashmir, over which India has three times gone to war with Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947 and over which it is in no mood to be lectured by outsiders, let alone the former colonial power.
It was on a visit to Pakistan and India in 1997 to mark the 50th anniversary of those two countries' independence that the then British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, also got into trouble over Kashmir. Cook, who also served the Labour government, was forced to row back from suggestions that Britain might help resolve the long-running dispute. His intervention cast a serious shadow over the visit by Queen Elizabeth, who was at one point forced to cancel a long-planned speech.
The visit, during which the queen was accompanied by Cook, went downhill after that, and at one point a senior British diplomat was seen sitting, head in hands in despair, on the pavement outside Chennai airport. There were even suggestions, denied of course, that the British High Commissioner might be recalled. Tony Blair, then prime minister, had to patch up ties by assuring his Indian counterpart, Inder Kumar Gujral, that London would not meddle in Delhi's dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir.
One wonders whether Miliband was reminded of all this before he went to India, and if he was, why did he walk into the Kashmir minefield once again. Or maybe he wasn't, which poses a different set of questions about competence and institutional memory at the Foreign Office.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Miliband’s gift: stiffening Indian resolve over Pakistan

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband may yet end up achieving the opposite of what he intended in India when he called for a resolution of the Kashmir dispute in the interests of regional security.

To some Indians, linking the attacks in Mumbai - which New Delhi says originated from Pakistan - to the issue of Kashmir is not just insensitive, it is also a wake-up call. The lesson they have drawn is this: for all the world's sense of outrage over Mumbai, India will have to deal with Pakistan on its own, and not expect foreign powers to lean on its neighbour in the manner it wants.


Miliband's visit was a "jarring reminder to India to stop off-shoring its Pakistan policy," writes Indian security affairs analyst Brahma Chellaney in the Asian Age. He then goes on to call for a set of measures including a military option short of war to weaken Pakistan.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India – aiming for diplomatic encirclement of Pakistan?

India is piling on the diplomatic pressure to convince the international community to lean on Pakistan to crack down on Islamist militants blamed by New Delhi for the Mumbai attacks.

According to the Times of India, "India has made it clear to the U.S. and Iran as well as Pakistan's key allies, China and Saudi Arabia, that they need to do more to use their clout to pressure Pakistan into acting..." The Press Trust of India (PTI), quoted by The Hindu, said India had used a visit by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal to Delhi to drive home the same message.

As discussed previously on this blog, in the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, India's response was to look to the United States to put pressure on Pakistan. It also appears to have won some support from Russia, whose officials said publicly that the attacks were funded by Dawood Ibrahim, an underworld don who India says lives in Pakistan. China, Pakistan's traditional ally, supported the United Nations Security Council in  blacklisting the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the charity accused of being a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba.  China's Foreign Minister has also telephoned his counterparts in India and Pakistan urging dialogue, according to Xinhua

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