Understanding India as a Rising Power: An Open Economy and Interdependence* Framework

By Aseema Sinha

India’s global priorities have changed and it seeks power and status and acts more actively at regional and global levels. This article offers an open economy and inter-dependence framework that pays equal attention to the changing nature of the global order but also how internal constituencies within India favour a more engaged and activist agenda.


On August 18, 2016, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Delcy Rodriguez, visited India on a strange assignment. Venezuela’s foreign minister’s brief was to convince India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to attend the Nonalignment summit. She did not succeed although India’s Vice President – Hamid Ansari – did attend the summit. India was the founding member of the nonalignment movement and took strong ownership of the movement in the post-war period. In contrast, recently, S. Jaishankar, India’s foreign secretary, is reported to have said: “Blocs and alliances are less relevant today and the world is moving towards a loosely arranged order.”1 Pushpesh Pant, former Professor of International Relations at the Jawaharlal Nehru University reflected on India’s decision not to send the PM in a larger historical context: “We have been aligned with the Americans post-globalisation. And it’s not just happened under Modi. Even the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) did it. They staked their government over the nuclear deal. India’s engagement with the US has been a continuous process; in fact, we can even say PM Modi is reaping the harvests of previous regimes.”2 How do we understand these decisions by many Indian leaders to eschew leadership of the developing world? What are the global and domestic sources for this change in India’s behaviour to seek closeness with the United States and adopt a more distant attitude towards the NAM (Non-aligned movement)?

Now, India, acknowledged by many, is a rising power. Its actions at the global level speak of a slow but sure confidence in its economic prowess, and ability to engage with established powers.

In the cold war era, India was largely bypassed by larger powers and was happy to be isolated. It boasted of its ability to say no to the US and spoke of carving a new third way. At that time, India was an active nonalignment member. Now, India, acknowledged by many, is a rising power. Its actions at the global level speak of a slow but sure confidence in its economic prowess, and ability to engage with established powers. Now, Indian negotiators negotiate more strongly in global institutions such as the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), the WTO (World Trade Organization), and seek to change the rules of the game of the IMF (International Monetary Fund). As an Indian negotiator said to me: “In the old days, India was a free-rider, now it’s a negotiator.”3 India engages with global players on a case-to-case basis and is hesitant to take the leadership of the developing world without a careful analysis of its changing alliances with countries such as the US, or China. India’s changing behaviour needs to be understood in the context of larger global changes but also by understanding how India’s domestic priorities have shifted and become more externally oriented.

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About the Author

Dr. Aseema Sinha is an Associate Professor and the Wagener Chair of South Asian Politics and George R. Roberts Fellow at Claremont McKenna College. She previously taught at University of Wisconsin-Madison and was a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in DC. Her research interests relate to political economy of India, India-China comparisons, International Organizations, and the rise of India as an emerging power. She has authored a book, The Regional Roots of Developmental Politics in India: A Divided Leviathan (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2005), which received a book prize titled, Joseph Elder Book Prize in the Indian Social Sciences. Her book, Globalizing India: How Global Markets and Rules are Shaping India’s Rise to Power was just published with Cambridge University Press.



* Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman,” Domestic Institutions Beyond the Nation-State: Charting the New Interdependence Approach,” World Politics, Vol. 66, issue 2, April 2014, 331-363.
1. Special Correspondent, “Global Blocs are less Relevant, says Foreign Secretary,” The Hindu, August 18, 2016, accessed at: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/global-blocs-are-less-relevant-says-foreign-secretary/article9000079.ece
2. Nikita Doval, “Nardendra Modi Skips NAM Summit, the first Indian PM to do so,” The Livemint, Octber 14, 2016, accessed at: http://www.livemint.com/Politics/ectxbpHsJ2XUmRkXXqVbpL/Hamid-Ansari-leaves-for-Venezuela-to-attend-17th-NAM-summit.html
3. Aseema Sinha, Globalizing India: How Global Rule and Markets Are Shaping India’s Rise to Power, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
4. “IMF Members’ Quotas and Voting Power, and IMF Board of Governors.” IMF: International Monetary Fund. Accessed at: https://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/memdir/members.aspx
5. “IMF Reforms: China, India, Brazil, Russia Get Greater Say.” The BRICS Post, January 28, 2016. Accessed October 12, 2016. http://thebricspost.com/imf-reforms-china-india-brazil-russia-get-greater-say/#.V_3HMJMrLeT
6. Ibid
7. Sanjaya Baru, 1991: How P.V. Narasimha Rao Made History, Aleph Book Company 2016.
8.Tricia Olsen and Aseema Sinha. “Linkage Politics and the Persistence of National Policy Autonomy in Emerging Powers: Patents, Profits, and Patients in the Context of TRIPS Compliance,” Business and Politics, Volume 15, issue 3, 323-356.
9. Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman, “Domestic Institutions Beyond the Nation-State: Charting the new Interdependence Approach”, World Politics, Vol. 66, issue 2, 331-363.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.