India can lead the democratic world
In his forthcoming book, Towards Decentralized Democratic Global Governance, economist Ramgopal Agarwala argues that the leadership India can provide would lead to the end of hegemony
When India became independent, there were two global hegemonies or leaderships. It could have followed the United States (US) and its allies or the (erstwhile) Soviet Union. Jawaharlal Nehru followed America in establishing India as a democracy, although a British Westminster-style democracy rather than an American presidential-style democracy. But at the same time, he was an admirer of the Soviet Union and deeply influenced by its economic practices.
As we approach the 75th anniversary of Independence, India finds itself in a quandary. There are many reasons why the US no longer commands the respect necessary to remain hegemonic. The Soviet Union no longer exists. China is now approaching America’s economy in size, but it is not a democracy. Therefore, it cannot provide the leadership for India to follow. Since the economic reforms of 1991, India has been heavily influenced by American hegemony with its neoliberal capitalism. But now, the distinguished American economist, Joseph Stiglitz, says, “There is more than enough evidence to suggest that some aspects of American political and social life have become deeply pathological.”
The US’s exit from Afghanistan, followed by the war in Ukraine, which seems to be going Vladimir Putin’s way, has shown that America has neither the will nor the strategy to fight as a hegemonic leader. The economy has become an unbalanced breeding ground for Donald Trump supporters. Shocked by a spate of gun violence, America has, at last, legislated to restrict gun ownership, but the law has only said “dangerous people” must not be allowed to become gun owners.
On Covid-19, America got all the vaccines it needed, ensuring that poorer countries did not get adequate supplies. On the climate crisis, America has accumulated a far higher count of pollution than any other country. Still, it opposes India’s argument that it should pay more to prevent further damage. And so, the litany of neoliberalism’s failures contributes ever more to resentment of American hegemony.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a solution to the world’s hegemonic problem. Two years ago, he said: “It seems that the 21st century is the century for India. This is not a dream, rather a responsibility for all of us”. But, in his forthcoming book, Towards Decentralized Democratic Global Governance, economist Ramgopal Agarwala argues that the leadership India can provide would lead to the end of hegemony. He says, “India will play a lead role in creating a multi-polar world where there will be no hegemony and all states, big or small, will develop according to their lights, but an international order will exist for providing global public goods to all.”
What are Agarwala’s reasons for suggesting this could be India’s goal? They all require India to realise the values it once held — a belief in the inherent goodness of humankind, keeping a place for the transcendent in our lives, and the practice of its ancient spiritual tradition. Moreover, it stresses the importance of the immeasurable — love, beauty, divinity, awe, and humility — in a world obsessed with measuring the measurable.
In his long career, Agarwala has been an academic economist; he’s worked for 25 years with the World Bank and worked on the Indian economy in the NITI Aayog. In the World Bank, he saw the adverse effects of neoliberalism on Africa, and in China, he saw the efforts it made to replace American hegemony with China. There will be many who will write Agarwala off as an unrealistic idealist. To me, the size of India’s population and the potential of its economy make the country potentially hegemonic. Ramgopal calls his governance: “Happiness of all and hegemony of none: A neo-Swadeshi Indian Dream”, and he believes the dream can be fulfilled.
The views expressed are personal