India’s numbers and its soft power do not automatically translate into great power status if there is no will to use these assets in the international arena. Is there an Indian quest for great power status, comparable to that of China? The signs are mixed. In the last decades, India has occasionally engaged in power politics with some of its neighbors, but has been averse to throwing its weight around on the global scene or in the Middle East. A quest for great power status can be found in some of India’s elites, its middle class and its government bureaucracy. India’s unsuccessful demand for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council was an expression of this quest. India has many assets: its size, its fast growing population and economy, its military and naval clout in South Asia and the Indian Ocean and its soft power. But India has also major shortcomings: its economic and social bottlenecks; its poverty and illiteracy; its corruption and stifling bureaucracy.
Another obstacle to great power status has been India’s difficulty to project an assertive message to the world and to convince the international community that it has the capacity and will to help protect peace and shape global policies. But Modi has already given indications that he plans to change this. His numerous high-visibility visists to countries near and far set him apart of all his predecessors. Modi has energy and vision, and the current times are propitious for India. The power of the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom and France has been declining over time at least in relative terms. In 2015, many commentators also saw a weakening of the power of China for economic reasons, and of Germany for political reasons. Others deemed Russia’s current geopolitical resurgence unsustainable in the long term. Unless the United States reasserts itself, India presently seems the only exception among the big players.