The India Option

French President Jacques Chirac’s visit to India this month to complete the sale of 6 attack submarines to India will confirm once more India’s emergence as an economic and diplomatic powerhouse. The “strategic partnership” that both America and the European Union have at times sought with China looks both more plausible and more desirable with democratic India.

With a Muslim President, a Sikh Prime Minister, a Hindu Foreign Minister, and a foreign-born Christian President of its ruling Congress party, India is as remarkable a success story as the twenty-year boom that China’s Communist Party has delivered. Indeed, since 1991, when a balance-of-payments crisis loomed, India has been shedding its socialist legacies and posting 7.5% average annual GDP growth – only marginally slower than China. India has opened up its economy to world trade and started to privatize many of its state-owned industries (albeit often too slowly).

High-tech businesses have helped enormously in this effort by showing that India has more to gain than lose from competing in the global marketplace. Perhaps for the first time since inventing the zero, India has a hot product to sell – and, this time, it can keep the profits for itself. Moreover, a global bidding war has broken out for Indian brains.

The EU is keen to link into India’s boom. The first EU Galileo satellite – intended as an alternative to America’s GPS system – was launched in late December with India as a full partner. Also in December, India became the latest nation to join the EU in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) team, which aims to produce electricity using nuclear fusion, as happens in the sun.