General Studies Essay Paper: Leading power

India is a Leading Power

IAS Junior Mains Answer Writing June-Sep 2019 Schedule (Click Here)


Syllabus: General Studies Essay Paper: International Issues


India is a leading power, rather than just a balancing power.


Colonial India remained loyal to the British Empire, thus can be termed as a minor power. In the 1947, India became free from the subservient of the Britain. It focused more on domestic issues such as reducing poverty, social inequality, building robust economy, creating infrastructure etc. India remained non-aligned to either USA or the erstwhile Soviet Union and along with like-minded countries it formed third pole called non-alignment group. Later, during 1991, Indian economy undergone a major change at the same time the disintegration of Soviet Union happened. During this phase, India to serve its own national interest, established relation with Russia as well as USA, and emerged as balancing power. India’s role as a balancing power has been described by one of the former diplomats as ‘India diplomacy is an art of dancing with different partners but at the same time each one of them should think you are dancing with them’. 

The emerging concept of India as a “first responder” reflects the country’s growing capability and increasing willingness to assume the role of a leading power. By contributing its resources to prevent or mitigate regional and international crises India is demonstrating its commitment as a responsible actor in the international order. Beyond narrow self-interest, such contributions help project India’s soft power abroad and portray India in a positive light. They also reflect India’s expanding sphere of influence and capacity to shape events abroad. Currently, India is emerging as leading power this can be analyzed from following examples.

The international order is facing a variety of transnational challenges that occasionally erupt into acute crises. Whether it is a natural catastrophe, an Internet disruption, or a sudden financial shock, the repercussions are often massive, with regional and global implications. This is where individual states must take immediate action to mitigate the crisis impact and avoid further escalation. By taking the lead they are providing a public good to the international order, supporting smaller or less capable states in dire need of assistance.

When the forces of nature unleash their fury on South Asia, the Indian Government and military forces have played a critical role in supporting neighbouring countries in relief operations. After the 2004 tsunami, India deployed 14 Navy vessels, nearly 1,000 military personnel, and several dozen helicopters and aeroplanes to Sri Lanka. In 2007, in the aftermath of cyclone Sidr, India was one of the few countries allowed to provide relief to Myanmar and provided critical rice supplies to address food emergencies there. In 2015, less than six hours after Nepal was rattled by a tragic earthquake taking almost 9,000 lives, the Indian Air Force flew in National Disaster Response Force rescue team. Over the next days, India led on the ground, landing 32 flights with 520 tonnes of relief, and more than 50 medical, army engineering and other rescue operation teams. In 2014, the Indian Navy was the first to arrive in the Maldives to provide fresh drinking water to more than 150,000 of its citizens facing an acute supply crisis. More recently, in response to Cyclone More (2017), India was the first to respond to the devastating floods in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. As reflected in relief provided to Pakistan in 2005 and 2010, Indian support transcends political considerations and is driven by a deep humanitarian drive.


India’s role in Expatriate evacuation operations proves that it is a leading power. When crises erupt abroad, India is often the first on the ground to protect the lives and assets of its nationals. By mobilising its consular officers, New Delhi has also provided safe evacuation to citizens from other countries. In 2015, for example, India extricated almost 2,000 nationals from 48 different countries, including many from the European Union, the United States and neighbouring countries. The Ministry of External Affairs, Air India, and the Navy and Air Force have emerged as key actors in conflict zones, especially in the Indian Ocean and Gulf region, normally operating as first responders coming to the rescue of thousands of foreign nationals in distress.

During Non-traditional security challenges, The Indian Navy has emerged as the Indian Ocean’s default first responder to non-traditional security challenges. To combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden since 2008 it deployed almost 30 warships that has escorted more than 1,500 ships and thwarted around 30 piracy attempts. India was a founder-member of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia and has taken a lead role in coordination efforts among different naval forces in the region. When aeroplanes or ships go missing in its extended neighbourhood, India has often been among the first responders to participate in search and rescue missions. In 2014, the Indian Coast Guard deployed around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in initial efforts to locate the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

India has often taken the lead in supporting countries going through post-conflict processes which require expert resources and significant funding. After the end of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, in 2009, India provided more than US$1 billion worth in lines of credit and grants for projects in education, health, transport connectivity, and training. Focusing on relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction, India’s early efforts played a crucial role in facilitating Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan’s return to normalcy years of violent conflict. As one of the largest contributors to United Nations peacekeeping missions, India’s “blue helmets” have also served as first responders to mitigate dozens of conflicts around the world, leading efforts on the ground to facilitate stabilisation and reconstruction.

Whenever friendly governments face the risk of a coup or instability threatening regional security, India has often stepped in as a first support responder or Regime support. In 1988, for example, in response to a request from the Maldives, India activated Operation Cactus to deploy its military and ensure regime continuity in Male. Located in one of the world’s most conflict-ridden regions, whenever requested by neighbouring countries, India has also played a constructive role in offering its mediation services to ensure peaceful and inclusive settlements. New Delhi is also a democratic first responder, deploying expert technical support to assist transitioning democracies to design their new constitutions and hold free and fair elections.

India plays a little-known but crucial role as a first responder in the region to support friendly governments facing financial crises. Under a special currency swap mechanism instituted in 2012, the Reserve Bank of India has provided critical assistance to the governments of Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka whenever they face foreign currency liquidity shortages. By coming to the rescue of their respective monetary authorities, New Delhi has demonstrated its commitment to financial stability and economic growth in the region, strengthening governance to wither crises.

In the international politics, the terms great power, leading power, balancing power and minor power are used varyingly. For instance, today, USA is the great power, is a system maker, who enjoy complete hegemony in the global political order. USA’s status is being challenged by China, who is emerging as a great power. The leading power like India, posses an ability to influence various policy issues. Rather, balancing power is the nation who try to serve its national interest by gaining confidence of great global powers. While minor powers have a little ability to drive any policy outcomes. Let’s have a brief about India’s transformation from minor power to leading power.

In the realm of international politics, India welcomes growing reality of multipolar world. That is why, India is building bilateral diplomatic relations with all major players. India is following more regional approach in diplomacy which can be highlighted from India’s growing relations with Africa, ASEAN, EU and SCO. India is at forefront to shoulder greater global responsibilities. For instance, India supports Afghan-led and Afghan-owed peace process to normalize the tensions in Afghanistan.

On December 11, 2014, India’s permanent representative to United Nations, Ashoke Mukherji introduced the draft resolution for declaration of 21st June as an International Yoga Day in United Nations General Assembly. It received a huge support from 177 member states. The best part is that the resolution was adopted without a vote. Later, it culminated into declaration of 21st June as International Yoga Day. Now, the day is being observed and celebrated with a great enthusiasm worldwide.

The passage of this resolution symbolizes the strength of India in the global policy making. It is manifestation of rising status of India in the international politics. This is one of the best examples which denotes that India is emerging as a leading power which is the transition from India’s traditional role as a balancing power between the global great powers.


In the soft power matrix, India is one of the most popular nations worldwide for its contribution in UN Peacekeeping Operations. India was one of the earliest respondents during Nepal Earthquake, Indonesian Tsunami, Maldives Water Crisis, etc. India provides a budgetary support to the neighbouring countries as a development assistance. Also, last year, India launched South Asian Satellite which is for service of the whole South Asia.

Whenever people fear for their lives in South Asia they often look up to India first. India has consistently provided an emergency safe haven for refugee and minority populations from across South Asia. Whether they are affected by violent conflict or any type of persecution, most displaced people’s routes to safety pass through India, taking advantage of its default open-door policy. Since 1947, this includes people from Tibet, East Pakistan, Afghanistan, Burma/Myanmar, and Sri Lanka, leading the current UN secretary general to speak of India’s refugee policy as a model for other countries.


On the global common goods, India seems to be very local about any emerging issues. To reduce carbon emissions, India has taken a firm stand to develop 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022. Domestically, India has launched various policies and programs to achieve this end. Internationally, India collaborated with France to announce International Solar Alliance to drive global policy actions in harnessing solar energy.

India believes in respecting the mandates of international organizations such as UN, WTO, IMF etc. India believes in free access to open sea and that is India has been critical of Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. India understands the limitations of littoral states of Indian Ocean to protect their maritime boundary and that is why India as a surplus power assures maritime security. In order to ensure energy security of South Asia, India seems to be pursuing two major gas pipeline projects – TAPI and IPI pipeline. India is also, pursuing for International North South Transport Corridor.

Traditionally, Vasudeva Kodambakkam, remained as a motto of India. India believes in peaceful global order, that is why India is forefront when it comes tackling global terrorism. It has initiated the Counter Terrorism Resolution numbered 1267 at the UN. But unfortunately, it is yet to be adopted.

At the socio-economic front, India is more vibrant than before. Recently, India surpassed France to become the world’s 6th largest economy and it is believed to become the third largest by 2050. India has a huge advantage of demographic dividend as more than 65% of its total population belongs to the working age-group.

These examples, initiatives, will-power etc highlights the shift from India as a balancing power to the leading power. But this transition is not so easy as India faces various diverse challenges at domestic and international front as discussed below.

At the domestic front, India economy is struggling with many issues. India remains the nation with low saving rates, low capital formation, consistent fiscal deficit above 3.3%, with stagnant agriculture growth pegged at 4% on which more than 60% depends for livelihood opportunities, rural distress etc. Socio-political front, India seen a growing trend in radicalization, insurgency, naxalism, terrorism, lynching’s, fake news etc. India remains a nation with low gender equality as it is being ranked at 108th position in the Gender Inequality Index of World Economic Forum. The female labour force participation remains low at 24% which is lower than Bangladesh and Pakistan. India being 2nd most disaster-prone country in the Asia, has to struggle a lot to survive against natural calamities like earthquakes, cyclones, floods, droughts, desertification etc.

At the international front, India is wary about the growing proximity between China and Pakistan and China’s aggressive step to construct a road through Gilgit region of Kashmir. Also, growing alliance between Russia-Pakistan and Russia-China posing a diplomatic challenge to India. USA who considers India as a leading global power has ignored India’s energy security and asking to curb oil imports from Iran. Globally, the successionist movements like Khalistan Movement, Azad Kashmir has been rising. The recent incidences like Organization of Islamic Cooperation criticizing India’s action in Kashmir and a plane flying over a stadium on which India was playing with New Zealand in the ICC World Cup 201, with a message Free Kashmir are examples.

In this light, India has to initiate an action to overcome the adversaries in the path of becoming leading power and to become a great power by 2050. Domestically, India should build robust infrastructure for a vibrant economy. India should initiate legislations to curb incidences such as radicalization and lynching which undermines social fabric. At the global level, India should be more vocal when it comes to national interest without coming under the pressure of any great power.

In so far as larger international politics is concerned, India welcomes the growing reality of a multi-polar world, as it does, of a multi-polar Asia.

India’s contribution as a first responder in these areas above will continue to increase as its economy grows in size and openness. As India expands its horizons, it will keep stepping up to take the lead where other countries are reluctant, unwilling, or incapable to do so. The transition in India is an expression of greater self-confidence. Its foreign policy dimension is to aspire to be a leading power, rather than just a balancing power. Consequently, there is also a willingness to shoulder greater global responsibilities. The present reform in the socio-economic, scientific and political realm is manifestation and assurance that India is soon to become a great power!


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