“After more than a half century of false starts and unrealized potential, India is now emerging as the swing state in the global balance of power,” C. Raja Mohan, the director of Carnegie India, wrote not so long ago in the pages of Foreign Affairs. Ever since its founding in 1947, the world’s largest democracy has, as Mohan suggested, prompted both lofty expectations and frequent disappointment about its economic potential and international role. But given turbulence around the world, challenges in India’s own region, and growth and dynamism within India itself, the question of where the country goes from here has never mattered more than it does now, 70 years after its violent birth.
There are many ways India can swing: east or west, inward or outward. Understanding its course demands analysis of not just the forces of India’s present but also the forces of its past. At Foreign Affairs, we have been charting India’s successive transformations from the beginning: from British colony to sprawling multiethnic democracy, from nonaligned-movement leader to emerging nuclear power, from chronic underachiever to economic powerhouse.
In this collection, we feature the voices of both key participants and keen observers. The Earl of Halifax, the British viceroy from 1926–31, reflected within these pages on the end of British rule, while an early U.S. ambassador noted the young country’s potential to shift the balance of power in the Cold War. Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister, wrote in Foreign Affairs on the roots of nonalignment, and a decade later, his daughter, Indira Gandhi, followed up with an essay marveling at all that India had weathered in its first quarter century. More recently, Foreign Affairs has charted Narendra Modi’s rise to power and considered what his grand economic plans and rousing populist call for a “New India” will mean.
The story of India’s first 70 years is as fascinating as it is significant. The question of what happens next may be even more consequential—for understanding not just the course of what will soon be the world’s most populous country but also its impact on Asia, on geopolitics, and on the global economy.