Anglosphere: India and the Anglosphere

By JAMES C. BENNETT   |   March 2, 2002 at 7:24 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) -- I can't watch the current television footage of the turmoil in Buenos Aires without remembering what it was like to walk the same streets in the mid-1990s. In those days, bliss it was to be alive, as Argentina was enjoying the first fruits of currency stabilization and its initial economic reforms. Everywhere people were making hopeful plans, and optimism was everywhere in the air.

For everyone who, like me, is interested in the links between civil society, political freedom, and economic development, Argentina has been a powerful lesson. To me, that lesson indicates it will take more than a few high-level macroeconomic reforms to create a dynamic and self-sustaining market economy. It also indicates that the final outcome of reforms can't be predicted on the basis of short-term results, but must await a more long-term perspective.

Consider then the relative prospects for India and China. Few who have been to the new Shanghai have failed to be impressed by the skyscrapers of Pudong and the energy in the air along China's prospering coast. Few have failed to be impressed by China's growth statistics over the post-Mao decades, or by the number of areas in which China has made itself a world-class competitor.

India has always seemed more problematic. Its own economic reforms, begun in the early 1990s, are a good start but, like China's, have a way to go before they can be considered adequate. It is in the areas of civil society and democracy that China and India bear comparative examination.

If what we know about the correspondence between those factors is true, India, provided its course of reforms continues, should sooner or later outstrip China in economic, political, and military significance. Such a development would have profound consequences for the world's political and strategic balance.

To consider India and China, however, we must ask why India not already surpassed China, or more broadly, why has India not done better than it has over the past half-century since its independence.

After all, for most of that time period India had far more of a market economy than China, and for almost the entire time a functioning democracy. Even in hard times, the apparatus of democratic life, in the courts, press, and opposition parties, continued to function.

What this suggests is that the relationship between strength of civil society, prosperity and political freedom, although real, cannot be plotted as a neat correspondence between curves on a graph.

In the case of India, it seems to have been the case that although that country may have been 90 percent of the way to a freely functioning market economy over most of the past half-century compared to China, the last 10 percent of state control had an enormously stultifying effect on India's ability to generate development.

Erasing most of that last 10 percent, conversely, may have the effect of dynamiting a logjam on a river, enabling a rapid rush of development. The response of the Indian economy to the reforms carried out in the early 1990s indicates this is indeed the case.

The real wild card in the case of India may be its relationship to the Anglosphere. India has a particular set of ties to the English-speaking world above and beyond those of globalization. The history of British Imperial involvement in India has left a large and complex legacy.

However, after independence, many ties remained between Britain and India. One of the most prominent is the fact that, although India is not a majority English-speaking country, English remains a widely spoken language, a common language of government and commerce, in some ways the most important, across India.

Meanwhile, the greater openness of India to the world, and the advent of the Internet, is increasing the number of Indians who use the language in business and everyday life. Thus, although India has its own civilizational tradition, it continues to participate in English-speaking civilization as well.

Furthermore, there is a substantial Indian community resident elsewhere in the Anglosphere. Of the approximately 20 million people of Indian descent living abroad, almost all live in other English-speaking nations, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Singapore, South Africa and the Caribbean. In all of these places, Indians and their descendents tend to be well-educated, prosperous and influential.

This fluid and continuous link between India and the Anglosphere, embodied in what we could call the Indo-Anglosphere community, will continue to transform both India and the Anglosphere.

The fact that India was the principal state of the world (along with Australia) to support President Bush's missile defense proposal demonstrates the potential for an Indo-American rapprochement, which could be more significant and more long-lasting than the Kissingerean Sino-American alliance that did so much to end the Cold War.

Between the United States and China, there is an opportunity for peaceful cooperation, and even strategic partnership. However, China and America, and the wider Anglosphere will always be distinct civilizations, and at the end of the day separate ones.

India, in contrast, has already been more deeply affected, and has affected the Anglosphere as well. Gandhi reads Thoreau, and in turn inspires Martin Luther King.

In 1948, it was possible to believe that the Anglo-Indian encounter was a closing episode, and one whose mutual traces would gradually fade. Instead, it is now more likely that the Imperial episode was only the first, and perhaps least important of a series of mutually stimulating encounters between India and the Anglosphere, one whose destination is not yet visible. This process may become one of the most interesting facts of the 21st century.

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