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India’s great power ambitions UPSC NOTE


India as a global power

Past challenges:

  • India of 1991 — a weak, poor, and deeply beleaguered country with a foreign exchange reserve of $5.8 billion and a nominal GDP of $270.11 billion. 

  • For a population of 846 million, around 50% of whom were poor, those were miserable figures.

  • Despite efforts to diffuse fears of a nuclear war, prospects of an India-Pakistan clash loomed, and violence in Kashmir was at its peak. 

  • The collapse of India’s trusted partner, the Soviet Union on the one hand, and strained relations with the United States.


  • Fast forward three decades to 2023. India’s foreign exchange reserve has grown to around $600 billion.

  • The reforms initiated after the 1991 economic crisis not only led to higher GDP growth but also significant poverty reduction.

  • Ranked as the world’s fifth largest economy, India’s nominal GDP could soon touch $4 trillion;

  • It has one of the largest militaries in the world with over a hundred nuclear weapons. 

  • The U.S. is now one of India’s closest friends.

  • New Delhi enjoys strong relationships with several powerful states around the world. 

  • India is also one of the pivotal swing powers of the contemporary international system, strategically located, and often playing both sides with great elan. 

  • The great power politics around the Ukraine war brought renewed focus on India’s role in world politics. 

  • The U.S. and the wealthy West want India to be on their side. 

  • An embattled Russian Federation is doing everything it can to ensure India does not turn its back on Moscow. 

  • There are serious suggestions that India should mediate between Ukraine and Russia to bring an end to the war.

  • New Delhi, increasingly, uses the language of mediation in global crises and being a bridge between the north and south and east and west, indirectly indicating that it is a major ‘pole’ in world politics. 


  • Despite being the fifth largest economy in the world, its GDP per capita is less than that of Bangladesh (Bangladesh is only the 40th largest military in the world).

  • The argument from this comparison is a well-known one: GDP and military strength do not equal the well-being of a country’s citizens.

  • But at the same time, the well-being of a country’s population does not equal to the gross material power that a state can bring to bear in its foreign and security policies.

  • India is also beset with major infrastructural and governance issues: 

  • Ease of doing business may have improved, but starting a business without a bribe is still not easy. 

  • A few days of rain brings the national capital to its knees, year after year. 

  • Regional, caste, ethnic and religious divisions run deep. 

  • India’s domestic challenges will continue to distract the attention of its political leaders from attending to global problems. 

  • One of the most pressing concerns for India’s political class is to reduce poverty and improve the well-being of millions of Indians living under the poverty line, a task that is bound to divert its attention from serious external engagements.

  • When the political class gives scant attention to the country’s foreign and security policy, as it usually happens in the case of India, it is managed by career bureaucrats who usually do not diverge from precedents and avoid taking even remotely risky decisions. 

  • Without political will, foreign policy tends to be on autopilot.

  • The presence of a weak economy also tempers the Indian elite’s appetite for external engagement. 

  • Over time, the appetite has grown, but that does not change the fact that the political class can only allocate so much attention to foreign and security policies if the country is economically weak and large sections of the population are living in poverty.

  • More so, a weak domestic economy prevents politicians from allocating adequate resources for foreign policy objectives. 

  • For instance, the Parliamentary Committee on External Affairs (2022-23) observed that “despite an increase in the overall budget allocation of the Government of India, the allocation made to MEA [the Ministry of External Affairs] in percentage terms has witnessed a downward turn during the last four years and during 2022-23 it is only 0.44% of the Government of India’s overall Budget.” 

  • The committee further said we “do not find such allocation in consonance with the country’s rising aspirations and growing global stature”. Perhaps the country is simply unable to do so.

Way forward:

  • Even though India’s domestic inabilities will continue to moderate its ability to influence the world order befitting of its size and ambition, being unwilling to engage and shape it would be a strategic blunder.

  • If you are not a rule shaper, you are a rule taker. India has no choice but to influence and shape the global order to meet its foreign policy objectives which would have significant impact on its economic growth, security environment and geopolitical and geo economic interests. 

  • Be it debt restructuring, climate change, global trade or non-proliferation, New Delhi can ill afford to let someone else make the rules and abide by them. 

  • Whether it likes it or not, India’s impact on the world order is a given, and, in a globalised world, the relationship between a state’s global influence and domestic growth is an unavoidable one.

  • India’s ability to shape international politics must also be a reflection of its domestic context.

  • Its global engagement must necessarily be geared towards the well-being of its people. 



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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: India’s great power ambitions UPSC NOTE
India’s great power ambitions UPSC NOTE
Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam
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