India's Broken Promise

How a Would-Be Great Power Hobbles Itself

India's political and business elites have long harbored a desire for their country to become a great power. They cheered when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finalized a nuclear deal with the United States in 2008. Indian elites saw the deal, which gave India access to nuclear technology despite its refusal to give up its nuclear weapons or sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, as a recognition of its growing influence and power. And Indian elites were also encouraged when U.S. President Barack Obama announced, during a 2010 visit to India, that the United States would support India's quest to gain permanent membership on the United Nations Security Council, which would put the country on an equal footing with its longtime rival, China. In recent years, such sentiments have also spread to large segments of the Indian middle class, which, owing to the country's remarkable economic growth in the past two decades, now numbers around 300 million. Nearly nine out of ten Indians say their country already is or will eventually be one of the most powerful nations in the world, an October 2010 Pew Global Attitudes survey revealed.

Symbols of India's newfound wealth and power abound. Last year, 55 Indians graced Forbes' list of the world's billionaires, up from 23 in 2006. In 2008, the Indian automobile company Tata Motors acquired Jaguar and Land Rover; last year, Harvard Business School broke ground on Tata Hall, a new academic center made possible by a gift of $50 million from the company's chair, Ratan Tata. And in 2009, a company run by the Indian billionaire Anil Ambani, a telecommunications and Bollywood baron, acquired a 50 percent stake in Steven Spielberg's production company, DreamWorks. Gaudy, gargantuan shopping malls proliferate in India's cities, and BMWs compete with auto-rickshaws on crowded Indian roads. Tom Cruise, eyeing the enormous Indian movie market, cast Anil Kapoor, a veteran Bollywood star, in the most recent Mission: Impossible sequel and spent a few weeks in the country to promote the film. "Now they are coming to us," one Indian tabloid gloated.

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