India is changing, and Europe is missing out. India is now the world’s fastest-growing economy, ahead of China, and the European Union is both its biggest market and biggest trading partner. The two unions share common values and democratic political systems. Yet Brussels has not found time to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and trade talks are deadlocked.
Europeans are frustrated by India’s complexity, fragmentation, and changing rules. But, while European firms complain about the difficulty of doing business across the diverse Indian subcontinent, few realise that Indians feel exactly the same about Europe. Indians tend to approach Europe through bilateral relationships with each member state, rather than treating it as a whole.
The North–South divide pits Europe as a giver of lessons against an India that often will not accept them – an India that can say no. Add this to India’s defensive and anti-interventionist international stance and Europe’s increasingly centrifugal trends, and India–Europe relations begin to look like a car crash.
On ECFR’s recent trip to India, organised in cooperation with the Robert Bosch Foundation, we heard the following comments from senior voices, both Indian and European:
“Europe summons up a big yawn for us.”
“Don’t treat India merely as a benign 5,000-year-old civilisation.”
“There is no commitment from the top in Europe on cooperation with India. All it brings to us are complaints about climate change and human rights.”
“European defence starts in the Hindu Kush.”
“India may be a difficult partner. But contrast the EU’s attitude with US persistence, over a decade and three administrations, which has led to a breakthrough in its relationship with India, now coming to fruition.”
We could go on. This collection of essays from leading Indian thinkers, about their country’s state of affairs, economic prospects, and international activism follows a week-long series of encounters in September and October 2015 between ECFR Council members, leading European journalists, and a range of Indian voices – from government and politics to business, the media, and think-tanks. During this trip, participants heard many wise insights, along with harsh assessments of the status quo and calls for changes.
The rise of Narendra Modi has triggered a reorientation of India’s politics. Media-savvy, with a strong understanding of social media’s capacity to forge new connections amongst India’s diverse population, Modi is a key figure in understanding how India sees itself and its place in the world.
In this chapter, Lord Meghnad Desai draws attention to modern India’s heterogenous cultural inheritance and Deep Datta-Ray details the influence of Gandhian thought in India’s foreign policy. Ashok Malik highlights Modi’s path-breaking rise from a humble background to the highest office and Rukmini Banerji explores the continuing challenges of providing a high-quality education system to all Indians.
Despite its accelerating rise to economic and geo-political prominence, India still faces many serious domestic challenges. Poverty, poor urban environments and unequal economic development remain a serious cause for concern and India is regularly chastised for its environmental record by Western onlookers.
In this chapter, Bibek Debroy explores India’s uneven economic development, Gurcharan Das chronicles the rise of India’s emerging middle class and Himanshu explains why alleviating poverty is a political, as well as an economic imperative for India’s leaders. Samir Saran and Vivan Sharan examine India’s record on climate change, and Mohit Sharma and Arunabha Ghosh take a look at India’s plans for "smart cities" to redress some of the country’s urban failings.
Locked into a three-way geopolitical contest with China and historic rival Pakistan, India’s foreign policy attention is focussed on its neighbourhood. But India’s rising economic and military significance means India is evaluating its position vis-à-vis the rest of the world. Will it remain a bastion of Gandhian multi-lateralist, non-violent thought or become more assertive?
In this chapter, Manish Tewari focusses on how India can expand its role to become a global player and Bharat Karnad asks whether it has the will to do so. Happymon Jacob and Rahul Roy-Chaudhury explore India’s strategic challenges with China and Pakistan and Sangeeta Khorana sets out how the EU and India could breathe new life into deadlocked trade negotiations.
Angela Stanzel & Christian Wagner
Europe has not made enough effort to understand what Indians think. As a result, it is missing out on India’s bold attempt to transform itself. This essay collection aims to address this, and to suggest ways of moving the relationship forwards. The broad range of views it contains should not be surprising given the sheer size of India; its linguistic, religious, and societal heterogeneity; and the democratic tradition of the “argumentative Indian”.
The lack of understanding is mutual: both India and the European Union are multifaceted and difficult to grasp. Moreover, in both unions, the strategic community that could explain and interpret such complexity is small. There are few Indian officials who focus on Europe – and vice versa. On the Indian side, there is limited administrative capacity: the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) employs a total of around 1,800 people (by comparison, the German foreign ministry has a staff of almost 6,000).
The consequences of this lack of understanding are clear: the enthusiasm around the 2004 Strategic Partnership agreement and the 2005 Joint Action Plan has dissipated in recent years. The lack of an EU-India summit since 2012, the stalled trade talks that began in 2007 but have been frozen since 2013, and the lingering case of the Italian navy personnel arrested in India over the death of two fishermen illustrate some of the obstacles in the bilateral relationship.Read more...