Indian Prime Minister Modi invited French President Hollande to be the guest of honor at India’s Republic Day Celebrations in New Delhi last month. The seat is generally reserved for, and used by the office of the Prime Minister as, a signal of close and important state ties. Last year President Obama was Modi’s guest, which served as the start for a banner year of U.S.-India cooperation, on a broad range of economic, climate, and defense issues. Among others, Washington and New Delhi signed agreements aimed at developing India’s next generation aircraft carrier — an overt signal of joint concern about China’s emerging power in the Indian Ocean and, by extension, the South China Sea. Hollande’s presence is expected to have a similar result, particularly given that it is the world’s fourth largest arms exporter.
India has demonstrated that it has partners in multiple international camps. Some observers expected this year’s guest to be either Pakistan’s Prime Minister Sharif or perhaps even President Putin, to re-emphasize India’s historical orientation toward non-alignment. Thus far, Modi has signaled that India will remained non-aligned, but with the world’s most important arms exporters. In choosing Hollande this year, India may be shedding the strategic ambiguity that has long characterized its foreign policy, and starting to take steps that will ultimately result in it becoming a greater power in our G-Zero world.
As the second-most populous country in the world and its largest democracy, and having a young, energetic and impatient population that yearns to join the ranks of the world’s leading economies, India has all the basic prerequisites to become a Great Power, at least in its own region. Yet, for decades it has failed to live up to its potential, the result of a sclerotic government bureaucracy and extremely diverse ethnic, religious and linguistic composition.