New Delhi: The world came to notice and respect India after the 1991 reforms. The victory in the Bangladesh War twenty years prior was noted without comment. India’s first nuclear test three years later invited sanctions and scorn and scarcely drew heartfelt admiration. The 1991 reforms transformed the narrative about India.

The late-eighties, early nineties were tumultuous times for the world. The almighty Soviet empire had collapsed because it was, inter alia, unable to economically sustain the Cold War. Voices were raised then, in the West, within India, and naturally in the neighbourhood, about a similar collapse visiting India.

There were all the signs for it. The Afghan jihad had emboldened Pakistan to experiment the same in Jammu and Kashmir. Khalistani militancy was at its peak and being supported from across the border. The mood was grim in those days. At least one Prime Minister had given up on Kashmir. In knowledgeable and concerned circles in Delhi, the situation in Kashmir and Punjab was likened to a ticking bomb.

Ably helmed by P. V. Narasimha Rao, the Central government that commenced its term in 1991 scotched the voices of gloom and doom. But Narasimha Rao could not have asked for a better gift than Manmohan Singh’s 1991 reforms to further assist him to save the country from disintegration.

What made the 1991 reforms special over war victory, a successful nuclear test, and so forth? It proclaimed to the world that India was finally capable of standing on its own feet and catering to not only the needs of its own people but sharing the surplus globally. For a country that had missed the Industrial Revolution, 1991 was indeed a sweet moment. It was truly a time for India’s second independence.

However much the science of economics draws criticism, and however validly markets may be condemned for creating bubbles inevitably leading to the ruin of masses of people, there is still no escape from market economics. Market economics produces surplus which alone can drive prosperity and all-round growth. That India finally got a handle on the market economy through the agency of the 1991 reforms was a matter of celebration not only for the country (although few realized it then) but also for the rest of the world. The world always needs engines of growth. If India could be an engine of growth alongside China, the world would experience levels of prosperity unprecedented in recorded human history.

The 1991 reforms made contributions to India’s geopolitics that all the war victories and nationalism put together could not. The world had a stake in India as never before. This was not about India versus China as strategic illiterates in this country like to think. India’s growth story of itself was important for the world. Capital always seeks new territories to multiply itself. This was the new importance and indispensability of India that the 1991 reforms wrought.

Sadly, either out of ignorance of all this past, or having become overconfident about the invincibility of the Indian economy, the Narendra Modi government has brought it to a sorry pass of long sustained decline from which recovery is difficult if not impossible. The impact of economic decline on India’s geopolitics will come after a small lag, but come it will, and recovery will also be slow and erratic. Being in denial of decline as the Narendra Modi government appears to be assists nobody, and indeed makes the situation worse.

A country’s geopolitical profile depends on three things. These are social and economic investments and military spending. These investments and spending have to adhere to a delicate and severe balance which only a few countries get right. India risks geopolitical imbalance with a slipping economy.