By Adam Roberts
Outside interest in India leaps and falls roughly in line with its rate of economic growth. For far too long, the country isolated itself, hid away from global trade and capital, and stayed poor as a result. In turn, its international role was far too puny for such a massive population. India left South Asia, its hinterland, to degenerate into the least interconnected region in the world. Only in the past two decades has that, thankfully, begun to change. A more open economy and sustained growth helped stir commercial, strategic and other kinds of foreign attention. As India has grown economically and reached out, even building modestly better relations in its region, its position in the world has also expanded.
In four years so far as The Economist correspondent in Delhi, I have seen once-intense foreign appetite for news from India first shrink and then begin to grow again. While corruption, misdirected official policies and weak leadership dominated the news, interest from abroad waned. Then, over the past year, the triumphal march of Narendra Modi to office again provoked attention. New evidence of faster growth will lift interest higher. Imagine the rush of excitement when, one day, India nudges ahead of Chinese growth rates. Great bursts of diplomatic activity help too. But it is largely on the back of economic might that interest rises in India’s future strategic, military and diplomatic heft.
Modi’s arrival as India’s most dominant character, of course, drew intense attention. Mostly that is because he is a moderniser, anxious to make government function better, wielding a big electoral mandate, who says he will improve the business climate, open up to foreigners and get the economy racing. Unabashed ambitions to make India strong, active internationally and influential in its immediate region are welcome. Separately, some questions linger about stability and tolerance. Is Modi’s continued close association with far-right Hindu nationalists an indication of social tension ahead? What if a majoritarian leader proves clumsy in his treatment of minorities, a fifth of India’s population? How hostile is he to immigrants? Are signs of an uptick in communal violence the start of a trend? Will far-right extremists who spout provocative claims, such as that all Indians are Hindus, be contradicted in public by the prime minister?
The broad task before Modi is to deliver a future as stable, tolerant and welcoming to all diverse groups as possible — including foreigners — but also a country much more prosperous, efficiently run and influential abroad. Three months after taking office, how is he doing? One opportunity to take stock is at The Economist India Summit in Delhi on September 11. A day-long event, it offers frank, open and informed discussion. Business leaders from India and abroad, experts and investors, representatives of the government and commentators will assess the record so far, and ask what comes next. No one can doubt that the political rupture of the general continued…