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Has India’s Time Come for the World Podium? Author Ayres Says “Yes”

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By Pramod Kulkarni

HOUSTON:  In 1700, India’s contribution to the world economy was 25%. In his book Inglorious Empire and a debate at the Oxford Union, Shashi Tharoor has eloquently documented how deindustrialization under the British rule led to India’s economic contribution decline to a  mere 4.2% in 1950. 

With double-digit GDP growth in recent years, there is increasing optimism that India will regain its status as a world’s leader in economic, political and soft power. In fact, both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi have proclaimed, “Our time has come.”

Alyssa Ayres (far right) discusses her book “Our Time Has Come” with Sunanda Vashisht serving as the moderator.

Alyssa Ayres (far right) discusses her book “Our Time Has Come” with Sunanda Vashisht serving as the moderator.

Alyssa Ayres, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the US Council on Foreign Relations, has claimed the phrase, Our Time Has Come, for the title of her book, published in January 2018 by the Oxford University Press. Before her current role at the CFR, Dr. Ayres served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia during the Obama administration.

She is married to Sadanand Dhume, the Washington DC-based journalist, who writes on Asian affairs. Dr. Ayres was the guest of the first book discussion at the the Consulate General of India offices on Wednesday, February 21 evening. About 40 people were in attendance, including students from Rice University and the University of Houston.  

CG Dr. Anupam Ray introduced the book discussion and Sunanda Vashisht served as a moderator for the book discussion. Vashisht is one of the founders of MyIndMakers, a website devoted to optinions, interviews and news about Indian affairs. Dr. Ray was full of praise for Ayers’ expertise in South Asian affairs. “I would be very hesitant to be negotiating across the table with Alyssa Ayres,” he said.

In her introduction, Vashisht reeled off a series of statistics about India’s recent economic achievements. “India is currently the seventh largest economy in the world, but is expected to overtake the UK and Japan to become the fifth largest in the near future. It is the world’s largest democracy with 1.3 billion people, expected to overtake China by 2024.

India has the world’s largest youth population and the third largest military. And now India is taking a leadership role in global issues such as climate change, energy and terrorism.” Speaking about the title of the book, Dr. Ayres said, “The quote captures the ambition of India’s political leaders as to where they would like to see India on the world  stage.” “This is not a new ambition,” Dr. Ayres explained.

“I’ve charted this ambition in my book since Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s writings about the unique role India could play between the two politically aligned blocks durng the Cold War. I agree that today we’re at an inflection point regarding India’s global role.” “My book looks at India’s role in the economic sphere, and in global governance, where I make a strong argument that the United States should be doing much more to help India gain entrance into various international institutions, particularly on the economic side and also the UN Security Council,” Dr. Ayres continued.

“Part of the book looks at my Indian experience, beginning with a semester abroad in the 1990s. Back then, India was very chaotic with events such as the balance of payments crisis. This was a formative period for where India is today. Since then, we’ve had the unleashing of India’s private sector and the resulting change in India’s foreign policy posture,” Ayres stated.

“As a result, there has been an opening between India and the US, going from a difficult and challenging relationship, to working together on common goals, and where US has now as its declared foreign policy goal of supporting India’s rise on the world stage.” An energetic Q&A discussion followed Dr. Ayres’ statement. Deputy Consul General Surendra Adhana gave the vote of thanks with the promise of holding more such book discussions in the future.

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