APAC—Top 10 Stories of Decade

By: The Diplomat

3. Sonia Gandhi Steps AsideMay 18, 2004

image: Uniphoto Press

Although China got most of the attention, India’s economy this decade has been almost as impressive. Much of the growth has been under the pragmatic leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a technocrat who unexpectedly rose to power in 2004 when the Indian National Congress pulled off an upset election victory and leader Sonia Gandhi declined the top job. The Italian-born Ghandi averted a major brawl with nationalists opposed to a foreign-born leader, paving the way for Singh to continue the economic modernization he began as a popular finance minister in the 1990s. In 2009, India’s economy was nearly triple the size of a decade earlier and it was increasingly being courted as a great power counterweight to China.

Still, poverty remains rampant in India and in both absolute and per capita terms it lags far behind China in economic prowess. But it does have some advantages. India’s democracy may be messy, but emancipation offers a social pressure valve that China doesn’t have. And with English widely spoken, India has been able to plug into the global services sector. While it faces its own threats–demonstrated by the Mumbai attacks in 2008 and a brutal insurgency by Maoist separatists–India still doesn’t face quite the same array of internal and external challenges that China does. The 2010s could well be to India what the 2000s were to China, and could also be a decade of rising tensions between the two emerging giants, with potential triggers including an ongoing border dispute.

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