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India Biggest Population: DETERMINANT OF FOREIGN POLICY, By Dr. D.K. Giri, 28 April 2023 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 28 April 2023

India Biggest Population


By Dr. D.K. Giri

India has just become the largest population in the world. It is said to be the biggest democracy as well. Today we talk about how India leverages its biggest demography in her foreign policy. Democratic dividends and determinants have been discussed by scholars across the world. Population can be a bane as well as a boon for any country depending on how one perceives and promotes it.

To share a slice of statistics, India’s population has reached 142.86 crore people leaving China behind which has 142.57 crore. According to Pew Research Centre, India’s population has grown by one billion since 1950, the year the United Nations began gathering population data. Indian population is said to peak at 1.7 billion by 2064. It was estimated that India would overtake China to be the most populous country by 2027. For variety of reasons it has happened four years faster.

Today, an average 86,000 babies are born a day in India compared with just 49,000 in China. The average age of Indians is 29. It is also observed that India will soon have plenty of people between the years 40 to 65 and will remain so for 50 years or so. That is ‘quite a lot of capital rich people out of about 1.5 billion’ according to American Indologist Peter Zeihan. That is promising. Will this prospect be automatic?

There are two perspectives on population growth: some would call it controlling population growth, others would talk about population development. On the former, attempts have been made in India and elsewhere to control the population growth. During the Emergency period, there were stories of forced sterilisation and compulsory family planning. Although the idea was perhaps constructive, it became controversial as it was executed. Without adequate healthcare and education such gigantic population growth could have wider ramifications. Less than 50 per cent of working-age Indians are in the workforce, for women, it is about 20 per cent. So, simply looking after such a large population is a challenge.

In earlier times, donors used to treat Bangladesh as a ‘basket case’, and India too large a population to handle. To share an anecdote, a World Bank official was visiting a farming community in Haryana. He was talking in dismay to his Indian escort. Observing the WB official’s discomfiture, one farmer asked the Indian official what was his problem? The Indian official said, “he is wondering how one could feed such a large number of people”. The farmer humorously retorted, “Ask the visiting official, why is he looking at our stomach, not our hands”. That was a profound Indian rural wisdom which indicates how the growth and development should proceed. The policy planners must focus on generating work and productivity not a consumer culture.

On the other hand, there is a saying in the management that ‘quantity makes quality’. This would mean if you produce more and more of one particular thing, you will become good at it. So, if India can produce massive work force for the world that would add to India’s economy by making it a human resource provider. Only recently New Delhi was planning to make India a skill capital of the world, but it has not happened at the pace it was expected and not at par with a country like China. China’s skilled work force made it the manufacturing hub of the world. After Covid, as the business from China is moving away, it goes to countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh, not India because of an assured work force in those countries.

It is for South Block to devise an ingenious policy to use Indian population as a determinant of our foreign policy. To a great extent, population plays an important part in determining the foreign policy of a country. One of the European diplomats in Delhi, in a discussion on balancing human rights and trade, said, “when we talk to India, we are talking to the biggest democracy (now the largest population), not to a small country of a couple of million in some parts of the world”. This shows the power of the population whether one views it as a production source or a market destination.

Admittedly, the size, nature and distribution of population determine the power of a country manifesting in its foreign, economic and military policies. At the same time, mere size of the population is not an index of one’s economic and military power. The amount of social capital, the skill level and their mobility define the power of the population. Also, the human resource emanates from the degree of industrialisation, depth of development and the stability of political systems obtaining in a country.

Nevertheless, the dynamics of population constitutes an important domestic as well as foreign policy consideration. European countries have suffered because of sudden demographic crunch. Japan’s economy is affected by its aging population. Population’s stabilisation is hitting the Chinese economy. India will not have such demographic difficulty. At the same time, India is industrialising, a lot later and quite slower compared to its peer countries. As India’s economy is not fully globalised, it does not suffer the setbacks happening off and on in the global market. India may not have any energy crisis as it is the first stop out of Persian Gulf. Moreover, Australia, rich in natural resources, could come handy for India as it has fallen out with China.

To sum up, India’s foreign policy has traversed through several phases -- de-colonisation, Non-Alignment, self-reliance and import substitution, globalisation, technological upgradation, a masculine nationalism (current). The next phase is perceived to be demonstrating the power of Indian demography and democracy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has on a couple of occasions claimed the inherent and the oldest roots of democracy in India. He has also emphasised the autonomy of our foreign policy with tactical alignments. Now perhaps is the time to project India as the biggest country by dint of the size of its population.

The population however needs to be built with technical skill (India has quite a bit of it in software etc.), social capital, cultural heritage marked by pluralism as well as syncretism. Indian culture embodied by its huge population is considered unique in the world. So, the biggest population could contribute to economic, technical, scientific and above all cultural bases for our foreign policy. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)


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