How can India become traffic-free

India's ambition : The underrated great power

It's a bit like the magic door in a fairy tale, through which you step into another world when you know the magic spell. Far too many cars, motorcycles, handcarts and motor rickshaws torment their way past skyscrapers, corrugated iron huts and plastic tarpaulin tents across a street littered with potholes in the three million city of Pune in the west Indian state of Maharashtra.

There are no sidewalks. Next to the road, people in sandals try to avoid muddy puddles. A man and a woman sort plastic and other garbage on a property with their bare hands. A little further on, pigs rummage in rubbish heaps next to houses. It's like scenes from a very poor developing country.

But anyone who has drowned a long, chaotic drive through Pune, drowned out by the horn, walks on the outskirts of the city through the glass foyer of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and actually ends up in another world, the 21st century.

The software company has built a strictly sealed, ultra-modern campus made of glass, steel and concrete for around 26,000 employees. In its center, green gardens, sports facilities and cafeterias await those looking for relaxation or hungry IT specialists. And while outside the humid and warm air makes people sweat on their foreheads, there is a pleasant coolness behind the large windows. The company could also be located in Seattle, The Hague or Melbourne. The complex is also exemplary in terms of ecology: All rainwater is collected and the service water is recycled.

TCS and its location in Pune are the figureheads of modern, up-and-coming India, which is claiming its place in the world with growing self-confidence - both economically and politically. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is flying to the country with cabinet members for German-Indian government consultations in the middle of the week, is also aware of this.

Members of the lowest caste die cleaning the latrine

Only a fraction of the 1.3 billion Indians are still competing in the global economy. But if the government in Delhi has its way, there will always be more. TCS, for example, is praising itself as the world's second most profitable software company and last year increased its sales in Europe by almost 18 percent. All of India should become as competitive as the expanding digital service provider is today.

Invest India's advertisers can project graphs full of promises on the wall at their headquarters in New Delhi to attract investors. According to this, the country wants to build no fewer than 400 airfields, 20 deep sea ports, 111 canals, more than 100 “smart cities” and 10,000 kilometers of railway lines for high-speed trains by 2025.

But as impressive and dynamic as success stories and master plans read themselves - the resistance to progress seems monstrous, the living conditions in large parts of India are so backward. While the country is building nuclear power plants and sending a probe called Vikra to the moon, millions of Indians are forced to relieve themselves outdoors because they do not have a toilet. Five members of the lowest caste (Dalit) die every day in the country because they have to clean latrines and sewers without any protective equipment, as the Supreme Court recently complained.

The majority of Indians still live away from the big cities and try to secure their livelihood with agricultural products. Agriculture's share of Indian economic output has been falling for years (16.4 percent in 2017/18), but almost half of all Indian workers are still employed in this sector.

The regular reports of lynching in villages show how backward structures and mentalities are in rural areas. For many, life there is poor. "While it is home to the most millionaires and billionaires in the world, India is below the average values ​​of sub-Saharan Africa on many social indicators," writes the Federal Foreign Office in its country report.

And although the economy has grown by seven to eight percent annually since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in 2013, making it one of the fastest growing economies in the world, the country is finding it difficult to create jobs for the twelve million new Indians who enter the labor market every year to accomplish. In addition, the growth rates of the Indian economy have declined over the past five quarters.

The largest democracy in the world, in which dozens of different ethnic groups and adherents of several religions live together and in which 23 official languages ​​are spoken, is run by a government which some analysts in the West refer to as "Hindu nationalist".

In fact, their program and governance practice of the Indian People's Party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian People's Party) are well suited to provoking additional, new tensions between different ethnic groups, which have often been violently discharged in the past. That India is a country of contrasts and it is amazing how such diversity can be held together at all, this widespread description is still valid in 2019. Since the government revoked the special status of the Jammu and Kashmir region, tensions between the two nuclear powers India and Pakistan have grown. German politicians are concerned about the severity of the Modi government in this conflict.

Anyone who speaks to politicians, entrepreneurs, think tank employees or journalists in the country feels a strong sense of optimism and a strong self-confidence: The representatives of at least one fifth of the entire world population want to increase the importance of their country in the world - and they also want that this increase in political presence and influence abroad is recognized accordingly.

Why is Europe only looking at China? The Indians ask

That is why it hurts Indian diplomats when European media follow developments in China very closely, but often pay little attention to it in their no less populous country. The size of the economy could make the Asian country an important future market and trading partner for Germany and Europe. Since the birth rate is falling only slowly, the proportion of the working population aged between 15 and 59 will increase to almost 70 percent by 2016.

India will only be able to reap a “demographic dividend” if it trains its young people well, which would require massive investments. If you believe posters in New Delhi, then the government has recognized its task. Modi then announced: "Let's make India the skill capital of the world!" If it takes advantage of its opportunities, India could not only overtake China in the foreseeable future and thus become the most populous country, but also rise to third place worldwide with its gross domestic product after China and the USA.

The inequality of treatment bothers Indians with contacts to Europe all the more since their country regards China as a political rival. Many Indians do not see the Chinese project of a new “Silk Road” (“Belt and Road Initiative”) from Shanghai to Duisburg as an opportunity for development, but as an attempt to make participating countries dependent on Beijing. The Times of India newspaper called the project a “colonial enterprise”.
Arch-rival Pakistan is trying to establish close ties with the country in the middle - of all things, the country which, according to Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, “produces terrorists like an assembly line”. Meanwhile, however, it is a thorn in the side that China was able to make its economy more efficient and its military stronger than its own and that it is expanding its influence into the Indian Ocean with several bases around its subcontinent (“pearl necklace”).

Indian experts explain the development difference, among other things, with the fact that India is a democracy and China is a one-party dictatorship. "China is an autocratic system," says Gautam Chikermane, Vice President of the think tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in New Delhi. The former business journalist makes it clear that he is proud of the freedom and co-determination in his country: “Democracy makes progress slower,” he admits, only to add immediately: “We develop very slowly, but we develop more securely than they do Chinese. "

Foreign Minister Jaishankar is also proud of the progress. “Our country is in the middle of a very large, very complex process of change,” he recently told European journalists. The recently re-elected BJP government is "optimistic that we can deliver results in five years".

Indeed, India has caught up significantly since opening the country to foreign investment in the early 1990s. The World Bank currently only ranks 77th in the table of countries that offer business people good conditions. But in a short time the country has moved up 56 places in this overview.

Modi also wants to make the weight of his country more noticeable in the world. But in India "great power ambitions come together with the resources of a middle power," warns Christian Wagner from the Science and Politics Foundation. Industrialization is stagnating, the economic base is not enough to invest more in an offensive foreign policy.

The common willingness to shape the emerging countries and the BRICS countries (Brazil, India, China, South Africa) also seems to have gotten a bit slack, since they had come together to change the world according to their interests. But together with Germany, Japan and Brazil, India is continuing to pursue the goal of reforming the UN Security Council and gaining a permanent seat there.

After some hesitation, the Modi government accepted the invitation from Germany and France to join the Alliance for Multilateralism. It is true that she initially shied away from the prospect of becoming a member of a club that the Donald Trump administration must see as a counter-power to the United States. But India, too, has committed itself to a rule-based world order.

The Indian lunar module Vikram actually landed on the moon recently, but the impact was so violent that it lost all contact with the earth. The setback did not affect the optimism of many Indians about the future.

Because chaos is also part of the country, as the Indian journalist Ruchmir Sharma noted in his book “Democracy on the Road”. He summed up the basic principle of society and politics in his homeland as follows: “Unorganized, chaotic, constantly threatened with failure, but it works like a miracle.” The country must hope that this description also applies to the development that has made it up.

The text is based, among other things, on an information trip to India for journalists to which the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited.

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