The Truth About “India’s Moment”
As China quickly reshapes the global order, Western governments have convinced themselves that, with enough flattery, today's India can become a reliable partner. But given the country's misgovernance, poor economic prospects, and democratic backsliding, they should rethink that assumption.
WASHINGTON, DC – India is having a moment. This summer, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was treated to a state visit in America and then hosted as the prize guest at France’s Bastille Day celebrations. To Modi’s many fans, this high-profile courting was an irrefutable confirmation of India’s arrival on the world stage. Yet they would do well to ask why India’s star suddenly seems to be rising. Is it because of India’s own accomplishments, or is it more a reflection of China’s rise as a power that America and Europe now must confront?
Hope is a powerful drug. What we saw this summer was a hasty effort by Western governments to conjure up their own preferred version of India – one that they can count on in a global order that China is rapidly reshaping. In reality, India’s moment has already passed. The preceding ten years will eventually be rued as a lost decade in which public-relations fireworks outstripped public-policy acumen.
After Modi came to power in 2014, the economic momentum that he inherited from his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, succumbed to a raft of ill-conceived policies (remember demonetization?), including several – such as farm bills and a data-localization scheme – that he was eventually forced to reverse. And on the political front, he has eroded Indian democracy and polarized the country by abrogating Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood and turning it into a militarized territory administered by India; by advocating a Citizenship Amendment Act that discriminates against Muslims; and by using tax enforcement as a cudgel against independentjournalists and civil society.