India, (for which I have a constantly renewed fascination, nurtured by deep friendships and frequent visits over the decades), will indeed be subject of discussion in France over the next few days. In fact, the fascination for Indias’s growth has often been put aside; overcasted by China’s innovations.

And yet, in my opinion, we often forget the essential fact about India: it’s not just a future economic and political powerhouse. It’s first and foremost a formidable and precious reservoir of human and natural diversity. A treasure that we must protect.

India is home to 1.415 billion people, more than half of whom are under the age of 30; it is already the world’s 5th largest economy, with a growth rate twice that of China. We also know that corruption is endemic; that almost 90% of its energy comes from fossil fuels; that its two biggest ports, Mudra (Gujarat) and Jawaharlal Nehru (Maharashtra), rank only 26th and 28th in the world. We also know that it has the 127th highest annual per capita income; that more than half of its working population is employed in agriculture, producing just 17% of GDP; that 40% of those aged under 25 and 80% of women are not in work; that inequalities between classes, genders, ethnic groups and regions are enormous; that infant mortality (at age 5) is one of the highest in the world; that this immense country devotes just 3% of its GDP to health and even less to education; that a third of its children leave school before the end of primary school, with very poorly trained teachers in the public sector; and that only 3 of its universities are in the world’s top 250 (around the 150th to the 180th place). And that sadly, public freedoms, women’s and minority rights in the world’s largest democracy, are far from being assured.  

What’s more, the dynamics are quite outstanding: by 2050, India will be by far the world’s most populous country (1.7 billion inhabitants, i.e. around 17% of the world’s population), including the world’s largest Muslim community; only 15% of Indians will be over 65, 40% under age 25, and 37% between ages 25 and 50. At its current rate of growth, its GDP in current dollars should represent slightly more than that of the United States. It thus promises to be one of the world’s largest markets for all goods produced elsewhere and at home.

If it can master its infrastructure problems, it will undoubtedly be one of the most promising powers of the future, along with a possible Community of Middle Eastern States, Nigeria (and perhaps the Maghreb, if it unites). Europe would be better off having an interest in them, even more so than in the Chinese mirage, from which we have nothing to expect in the long term.

However if nothing changes worldwide, the climate will be catastrophic and will call these prospects into question: the major rivers will overflow their banks even more often than they do today; the main cities and, more generally, the coastal states of West Bengal, Kerala, Gujarat and Odisha will be devastated by floods, as it happened in neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh. Furthermore, religious and regional challenges could destroy the country’s recent fragile unity.

But India is much more than that:

Unlike the USA and China, it is first and foremost a place of extraordinary diversity, where 19569 languages and dialects are spoken. An infinite number of religions are practised here: Hinduism (the third most practised religion in the world), Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Vedism, Sarnaism, Animism, Jainism (present mainly in Gujarat, where Gandhi was originally from) and even, in certain rare places, Zoroastrianism, from which almost all other religions draw their inspiration. The country’s unity is more a question of pilgrimages than passports.

This is where India differs from its main rivals, the USA and China, who will do everything to limit its future power:  

Whereas China and the West claim to be uniform, united around a single set of values, India assumes and asserts its diversity. Whereas the West has organized itself around monotheism, and China around the Emperor (replaced, temporarily no doubt, by a single party), Buddhism alone boasts over 300 million deities, with remarkable cosmogonic, Vedic, Upanishic, Vedantist and Puranic variations. There are also immense and infinitely diverse reflections on human nature, violence, relationships with nature and death.

Last but not least, there are countless endemic plant and animal species that modernity and its ravages could destroy, here and elsewhere.

This diversity has always fascinated the West: Judaism, which sees the Indus (a word meaning “river” and which gave India one of its two names) as a major frontier in human history, locates the Garden of Eden, according to certain Talmudic texts, in southern India (on the Sri Lankan side, it seems), while the Indian world has never shown any real interest in the monotheistic world.  

It is in this philosophical dialogue, even more than in material exchanges, that lay some of the keys of what is yet to come.

Image: Shawl weavers’ workshop, Bishan Singh, dated 1874. Kashmir, North India, Punjab, Amritsar.