Will India ever overtake China?

Angela Merkel is currently traveling through India. It is a country that nobody really knows what it is all about. India provokes an abundance of competing, often contradicting, interpretations. And that is due to its sprawling diversity, which defies any clarity.

It starts with the economy. On the one hand, the country is being treated as the most promising market of the future; India will soon have overtaken China as the most populous nation in the world. On the other hand, many are still puzzling whether India will ever be a good engine of the global economy. At first it doesn't look like it. The Indian economy is stuttering, worse than in previous years.

India is a country full of contradictions

Politically, the country is no less confusing. The state is often praised as the largest democracy in the world. But it is also true that the government in Delhi is struggling to protect women from violence; that, as recently in Kashmir, it is curtailing the freedom of its citizens. Besides, Hindu extremists don't have much to fear here. The religious zealots hunt people down on the mere suspicion that they may have slaughtered a cow.

It is therefore difficult for Europeans to find their way through the thicket of Indian contradictions. The German economy, which is traveling with the Chancellor, will need courage to venture more into the market. Ideally, he still has his best times ahead of him. It's worth building bridges. India always offers a huge arena for cooperation in climate protection, for example through the expansion of renewable energies and environmental technology. They would be good investments in the future, they are of global use and could also create jobs. India and Germany have the chance to act as the driving force behind ecological restructuring if they don’t shy away from the effort.

The great power of India is still more of a concept than reality

The Indian market may be in the foreground for an exporting nation like Germany, but it should not tempt you to look exclusively at the economy. Because India is a democratically constituted state, the country appears at first glance to be an ideal political partner. The reality is then more complicated. Delhi is becoming more and more important as a counterweight to the dictatorial China on the international stage. Still, it would be naive to ignore the obvious downsides of Indian politics. They become more and more evident the longer Narendra Modi ruled Delhi. The prime minister is supported by a Hindu nationalist movement that has strayed far from the spirit of the former Indian freedom fighters. The ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru are fading, a religiously tinged nationalism is strengthening and undermining the religious pluralism that has so far guaranteed internal peace in India.

Modi primarily rhetorically positions Hindu nationalism against Muslim Pakistan, thus succeeding in diverting attention from the economic weaknesses and oppressive unemployment for which he is partly responsible. So far, populism has been of use to him politically, but it does not help the economy. Nor does it boost the confidence of foreign investors that India needs so badly if it wants to follow China's heels. The great power of India is still more of a concept than reality.