Currently the world’s largest democracy and second most populous nation, India has seen a significant rise in its economic investment and output since the 1990s. With its huge military and substantial cultural influence, the country is emerging as a major player in the world arena. Still, despite its new-found strengths, India continues to face pressing issues such as a high population, environmental degradation, extensive poverty, and widespread corruption. Of these, maladministration and the growing population are the most urgent. The two together represent the fundamental reason behind most of the nation’s social, economic, and environmental problems. India’s economy has posted an average growth rate of more than 7% in the decade since 1997, reducing poverty by about 10 percentage points. India achieved 9.6% GDP growth in 2006, 9% in 2007, and 6.6% in 2008, significantly expanding manufacturing through late 2008. The country’s diverse economy spans traditional village farming to modern agriculture, handicrafts to a wide range of modern industries and a multitude of services. Services have become a major source of economic growth, now accounting for more than half of India’s output and one third of its entire labor force. India is also capitalizing on its large numbers of well-educated English speakers to become a major exporter of software services and software/IT workers.
Since achieving independence from Great Britain in 1947 and separating from the newly established state of Pakistan, India has seen decades of tension and even conflict with its closest neighbor to the west. Much of the hostility between the two nations has been focused on a dispute over the Kashmir region located to the north. Kashmir remains the site of the world’s largest militarized territorial dispute today, with China also having control over areas in the region, including land ceded by Pakistan. While a 2004 diplomatic thaw between India and Pakistan offered temporary respite from bickering, this came to an abrupt halt with the Mumbai attacks of November 2008, which were carried out by Pakistani militants.
The arch-rivals have, in the past, also both antagonized the international community. India carried out nuclear tests in May 1998 with Pakistan following closely behind, performing similar tests only weeks later. These actions prompted widespread condemnation, with the US consequently imposing sanctions on India. However, because rigorous technology sanctions were in place on India following its 1974 nuclear test, these additional measures had little impact. Recently, India and the US have improved their ties in this area, and have even begun efforts to share nuclear technology. As for other technological advances, India launches its own satellites and in 2008 sent its first spacecraft to the moon.
The country’s arts and culture scene is currently marked by a massive cinema industry, Bollywood, which boasts products that are some of the most widely-watched films in the world.
Religion, caste, and language remain major determinants of social and political organization. India, in common with countries such as Russia and Romania, is also a source, destination, and transit country for men, women and children trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. As such, as of 2009 the nation was placed on the Tier 2 Watch List for a sixth consecutive year for its ‘failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat human trafficking’.
Currently, it is also the world’s largest producer of licit opium for the pharmaceutical trade. Although estimates are hard to come by, it is believed that an undetermined quantity of opium as well as chemicals used in the manufacture of narcotics (such as acetic anhydride) gets diverted to illicit international drug markets, in conjunction with drug-runners in Afghanistan and Pakistan
With more job opportunities in the private sector and better chances of upward social mobility, India has begun a quiet transformation in areas of entrenched social and political organization. India was also one of the earliest members of the United Nations, although then being under British rule, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill rejected efforts in 1944-45 to make the country a permanent member of the UN Security Council. So, despite its billion-plus population and rapid growth, India has yet to be admitted to this exclusive club of five (the US, Russia, China, France and the UK) that has (unlike the rest of the world) remained unaltered since the end of World War II.
Madhav Nalapat, India Correspondent