Saturday, April 13, 2024

2023: The emergence of India as a SuperPower!

The outgoing 2023 will be remembered in India as the year of many “proud firsts” – from emerging as the most populated country in the world (bypassing China), to becoming the first nation to land on the Moon’s south pole, to having the first female officer of the Indian Navy to take command of a warship. 

Following a triumphant Moon mission and the prestigious hosting of the G20 Summit, India is poised to enter 2024 with a renewed sense of optimism for further economic expansion (it is aiming at a $5 trillion economy by 2025) and aspirations to play a bigger geopolitical role. 

The nation’s allure as an investment hub remains robust, leveraging a skilled talent pool, homegrown technologies and innovations, and tailored central and state government policies to attract global companies such as Apple and Tesla. Peering into the future, the nation eyes attaining developed economy status by 2047. No wonder growth, infrastructure development, and investment have been at the center of the pitch to voters by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as the country heads into a 2024 general election

In retrospect, 2023 was a year that witnessed pivotal moments defining India’s trajectory. Below is a quick look into key events that shaped the year for India.

On the cold side of the Moon

India jumped over the Moon when its third lunar probe, Chandrayaan-3, became the first spacecraft to land on the lunar South Pole region. India joined the former Soviet Union, the US, and China as the only nations to have planted their flags on Earth’s satellite. The Moon’s south pole is thought to contain ice, so it’s a prime target for a possible lunar station and further research. 

For Prime Minister Modi, it marked a moment he could declare “India is a superpower” – without other nations rolling their eyes. For Indian Space Research Organisation chief S Somnath, who had broken down in Modi’s arms when Chandrayaan-2 failed on a similar mission four years earlier, and the nation of 1.4 billion, it was a moment of supreme pride and triumph. ISRO even attempted to revive the mission in -200C temperatures at the Moon’s south pole, after the main mission’s targets were achieved, but to no avail. 

By 2027, India will launch another mission to the Moon – to bring back samples from the lunar surface. Encouraged by the success of Chandrayaan and this year’s other breakthrough mission – to the Sun – Modi instructed ISRO to set up a space station by 2035 and send the first Indian to the Moon by 2040.

G20 presidency, India-style

Held in September, the G20 Summit was showcased as a display of Modi’s brilliance and vision. The event at India’s refurbished trade fair grounds, Pragati Maidan, was a razzle-dazzle of high technology and higher acidity food. The roads were cleared of dogs, shanties, and journalists. People were ‘encouraged’ to stay home, though not like the Hangzhou G20 Summit, where the Chinese government paid citizens to take a bus out of town for a holiday.

Modi had the deliberations end a day early with a ‘clean’ resolution, termed by many as “win for India” but also a “win for multipolarity,” as the Delhi Declaration was adopted after achieving a 100% consensus over 83 paragraphs of the final communique, including on the Ukraine conflict that had no mention of Russia – thanks to the role of India’s negotiators, and to much of disappointment of Washington and its allies. 

Not just the Delhi Declaration – at the G20 summit, the Indian leader swiftly inducted the African Union as a member before the Europeans could even blink; he championed the Global South even while vigorously clasping US President Joe Biden’s hands. Yes, a triumph of the will.

India snatched away the baton for presiding over the G20 from Indonesia and reluctantly passed it on to Brazil; but during 2023 the leadership milked it for as much mileage as it could. And it was rewarded by voters in Hindi villages, who openly declared while standing in line for their free foodgrain, “Modiji did the G20.”

It’s raining Indians

It was the end of April when India reached 1.45 billion souls, beating China to take the mantle of the most populous nation on Earth. It was around 50 years ago that the rapidly growing populations of the South were thought to be a concern for a planet whose resources were being depleted, and whose climate was perhaps changing – and not for the better. The good news is, of course, is that the planet will be around for another 4.5 billion years. The even better news is that nations like India are thinking in the direction of inhabiting the Moon and Mars, and possibly other worlds.

For India, a burgeoning population means a younger, more productive country that can challenge its neighbor to become world’s new manufacturing hub. New Delhi, however, has a bigger challenge – poverty and literacy. This year, the UN lauded India for lifting 135 million people out of poverty in the past five years. In 2022, around 15% of the Indian population was living in poverty, compared to 24.8% in 2015-16. Also, in just nine years, India managed to provide a no-frills bank account, or ‘Jan Dhan,’ to 509 million people – a staggering achievement.  This scale of financial inclusion would normally take 47 years for a country to achieve, experts note.

A mammoth new parliament of crows

The world’s most populous country presumably needed a newer building, never mind that the old one was number nine on the “ten most impressive parliament halls” or the “ten most beautiful parliaments”. (The Hungarian Parliament consistently ranks number one, in case you were wondering.) But it was associated with colonial architecture, and when Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the building, he said as much. “The new parliament isn’t just a building, it is the symbol of the aspiration of the 1.4 billion people of India,” he said.

As the world’s largest democracy enters the new year with high aspirations over the 2024 general election, some in the political establishment felt that the new house of democracy came with a fresh approach to democracy in India, that is Bharat.

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