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Posted by: | Posted on: December 23, 2008

Three Events Tell a Tale of Two Indias

Three Events Tell a Tale of Two Indias

David J. Karl (dkarl@pacificcouncil.org) is director of studies at the Pacific Council on International Policy and project director of the Bi-national Task Force on Enhancing India-U.S. Cooperation in the Global Innovation Economy.

The new Global Trends 2025 report by the U.S. National Intelligence Council highlighted the ascent of China and India as part of a fundamental global power shift that will play out in the coming decades. A series of events occurring within a week of one another in October sharply illustrated India’s potential for great-power status as well as the distance the country still has to travel to fulfill its global ambitions. The events also threw light on the U.S. strategy, so evident during the Bush administration, of building up New Delhi’s capabilities to serve as a geopolitical hedge against Beijing.

The first event, the successful launch of India’s first unmanned lunar mission, literally signified the country’s upward technological trajectory. Designed to create a sophisticated atlas of the Moon’s mineral resources, the mission propelled India into the very exclusive fraternity of space-faring countries. Both the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the European Space Agency approached India to collaborate on the mission, granting New Delhi an important seal of foreign validation. To Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the launch “demonstrated the nation’s growing technological potential.” From the perspective of Barack Obama and the editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal, the mission was a wakeup call that the U.S. was in danger of losing its scientific edge. The newspaper even went so far as to fret that India may be “going to the moon just as the U.S. is headed into the sunset.”

Coming in the wake of the country’s successful delivery of 10 satellites into orbit on a single rocket in April 2008, the lunar mission underscored India’s emergence as a major competitor in the lucrative satellite-launch market and satellite manufacturing industry. On the heels of the lunar mission, the Indian Space Research Organization, which operates the world’s second largest fleet of remote sensing satellites (behind the United States), announced the launch of an online satellite imagery service. Dubbed Bhuvan (Sanskrit for Earth), the project will reportedly provide much sharper and fresher satellite images than offered by Google Earth.

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