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University of Copenhagen
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Copenhagen to study ‘new’ India

Research centre will find out how emerging global powers reconcile poverty, culture and the space-age

India sailed through the recent global recession with an annual growth rate of six per cent. It has an advanced space programme, the third largest army in the world, and is in 2010 all set to host the Commonwealth Games. In sum: India is moving up the rankings, and it wishes to be considered a global power.

But according to the World Bank it also has over 450 million people below the poverty line.

These are some of the contrasts to be studied by a new University of Copenhagen (U of C) research body, the ‘Centre of Global South Asian Studies’ at the Humanities-based Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies. The collective project ‘Nation in Motion’ has just been awarded nearly DKK 6 million in funding from the Danish Council for Research in Social Science FSE.

Can no longer ignore poverty

According to associate professor Ravinder Kaur, it is basically about how the region’s new-found economic might translates into social, political and cultural change. Unlike the more authoritarian Asian emerging power, China, the more democratic India is known for its poverty, and it cannot hide it from view.

»Indian poverty has been on the research agenda for some time. But what is new is that the country is at the same time a developed country and a developing one. The Indian elite has over the last few years become aware of the poverty in this country. And as a nation with global aspirations it can no longer ignore its poverty,« she explains.

Modern – yet still interesting

Contrasts between the hi-tech, wealthy, India and the low-tech, poverty-stricken, India is one thing: The Indian government campaign to make a better global image is another. The so-called Brand India campaign walks a tight rope between portraying India as developed nation like in the West, and India with its full cultural complexity and difference.

»Take Calcutta airport for example. It should on the one hand be like any other modern airport, but it is also the access point to what is particular about India,« Ravinder Kaur explains.

Focus on global prestige

While the government of India previously focussed on creating an image of India as a nation towards its own peoples, the focus is now on bringing a positive image of a global India to the outside world. The catchphrase here is ‘world class’: India should be world class – in all areas. Controversially in India, Chinese consultants for branding China for the Beijing Olympics have been asked to help out with the global branding of India in connection with the upcoming Commonwealth Games in 2010.

»These global events mean a lot for India, just like they mean a lot for other emerging powers. People perceive a nation to have made it onto the global stage if you have made it to the Olympics, and ultimately this is one of the goals of India too,« Ravinder Kaur says.

Riding on the back of Indian growth

Ultimately, the wider purpose of a new research centre into the new India in Denmark is to educate students with cultural and historical understanding.

Relative to the size of India, Denmark has a relatively low volume of trade with the country. So there is room for improvement, and as a country it is in »Denmark’s interest to ride on the back of Indian growth,« she says.