In Navnita Chadha Behera’s detailed introduction, she maps the transformation of international relations in the last two decades and the gradual emergence of an Indian perspective. This volume has an ambitious frame to capture how Indian intellectuals have engaged with the world in the realm of ideas. It also broadens the field to include new issues like development, civil society and social movements. It is a shift from the state-centric approach of old style world relations. With globalisation and India increasingly showing global aspirations and an economic growth to seemingly match it, the importance of international relations is undisputed. This volume addresses a range of literature from globalisation to borders.
Jayati Srivastava reviews the exploding literature on global governance and globalisation, which marks a shift from the old Westphalian nation-state system and the rise of new non-state actors. This includes a discussion on a range of literature from cultural studies to capitalism and ideologies of neo-liberalism and welfare, all of which have a strong bearing on the understanding of the emerging world. Major areas like the changing role of nationalism, global capitalism, democracy and global justice, which are central to our times, have not been adequately addressed by the discipline of international relations.
A K Ramakrishnan discusses the normative dimensions of Indian foreign policy, which is otherwise thought to be the domain of realist politics. The normative focus is still Nehruvian, argues Ramakrishnan, centring on nonalignment and the principles of Panchsheel. In more recent times, human rights and global justice have emerged as major areas of research. Neo-liberalism is often seen to be the guiding force of the global order, but the United Nations declarations and deliberations tell an altogether different story, which Ramakrishnan does not address.
Similarly, development is a key global goal and though there is a powerful neo-liberal discourse on development, the two have a deep conflict. Amit Prakash engages with the Indian development discourse in this changing world. He highlights the impact of Amartya Sen’s work on development and freedom, which has fundamentally altered the entire development discourse. However, he does not give sufficient recognition to the burgeoning literature on the environment and its critique of the dominant development paradigm, nor does he discuss the theme of governmentality, which perhaps accounts for the continuing role of the state in development and welfare.
Deep Datta-Ray, in keeping with the promise of this survey, both analyses as well as explores Indian diplomacy. He points to the absence of serious conceptualisation of Indian diplomacy and the continuation of Western hegemony in the way we look at the world. He suggests the importance of the Mahabharata as a text to make sense of both what our diplomats do as well as a way to do theory. He engages with three kinds of literature, namely, academic work, historical writings, and memoirs of diplomats. Datta-Ray shows that the Indian diplomatic discourse is imprisoned in the binary of modernity and anarchy in the world. In the philosophical world of modernity, diplomacy is irrelevant, because both Immanuel Kant and Karl Marx—two of the greatest philosophers of modernity —imagine a world without nations and nation-states. The emergence of the nation and the modern hyphenated category, the nation-state in the West has set this norm for all political communities across the world, though many of them do not share the central features of the unified nation or nation-state of the West. The central question is, can the state speak for all its inhabitants in a single voice? Can the Mahabharata and its idea of dharma be harnessed in the service of the modern nation-state?
Rajesh Rajagopalan’s essay on nuclear weapons and the Indian strategy provides a detailed overview of the literature and the debates. He also makes some points towards the direction of future research. However, the ethical issues or the domestic compulsions of leaders and parties have not been sufficiently addressed.
Non-state actors have now been recognised as having an important influence on global politics, and Mathew Joseph C engages with Indian civil society. He identifies the 1990s as the period of civil society activism; actually it began just after the Emergency. Civil society is the site for raising moral issues and marks the deepening of the idea and practice of democracy, especially through the new social movements. In this essay, he looks at the idea of civil society and examines civil society activism since the 1990s and their linkages with the global civil society. Scholars have not engaged with the theoretical consequences of a global civil society on the old world of nations and states. Does civil society have the resources for realising the world orders imagined by modernity and found in both Kant and Marx? The actually existing civil societies are not based upon the liberal individual or the proletariat; there are many other identities and social bases like community or religion. How then do we imagine global orders beyond the nation-state? Finally, can we trust the state with nuclear arms?
Priyankar Upadhyaya engages with the crucial issue of Indian peace perspectives in the new millenium. The peace discourse has expanded to include rights and justice. He has addressed the literature on peace and its relationship with gender and ecology, and has also studied conflict zones in India like Kashmir and the North East. India has now moved beyond the idealism of Gandhian non-violence and the Nehruvian principles of panchasheel. The end of the bipolar world and India’s growing conflicts with her neighbours and internal disturbances, and finally with the exercise of the nuclear option and the aspirations of the Indian elite, the old idealist frame has become irrelevant. However, peace studies and the peace movements and initiatives have brought back the relevance of Gandhi. A large range of perspectives on the relationship between violence, science, and the state and capital have emerged, which has opened up new questions for scholars of world affairs. However, the relationship between democracy and peace has not been well explored, especially in internal war zones like Kashmir, the North East or extensive parts of tribal middle India. After all, democracy is a government by debate and reason, hence violence cannot have any role here. Democracy respects the reasoned views of the overwhelming majority with a guarantee for respecting the opinions of the minority. If that is the case, why have democratic options like referendums not been a part of the peace agenda in troubled regions? Social science scholarship must be prepared to raise questions beyond the security interests of the nation-state. If serious scholarship eschews such questions, they would come in the form of campus slogans to attract charges of sedition.
V G Hegde discusses a growing body of work on Indian perspectives on international law, which is pertinent given the time of globalisation, the rising aspirations of India, and the unequal world order. He expands the scope to include the civilisational aspects of India, intellectual property, trade and environmental issues. Again what is absent is the question of global justice, and questions related to historical wrongs, like slavery or colonialism and the legitimacy of states to claim ownership over nature, especially dictatorships.
Finally, Shibashis Chatterjee engages with the vexed issue of borders, which is so central to international relations but hardly ever interrogated. His command over political theory and world politics has enabled him to handle the subject with mastery. With colonialism, capitalism and globalisation, the old Western idea of the congruence of the nation, territory and state with clear borders is no longer valid. Today, nation and territory seldom coincide. Borders are arbitrary lines created to arm states and encourage violence. Yet, all states zealously guard their borders and enact Chaplinisque rituals to glorify the belligerence as happens each day in Wagah. Territoriality has always been important, but it was forever fuzzy and shifting and, hence, could never be fenced. Shibashis refers to important writings in recent years by Sanjay Chaturvedi, Samir Das and Ranabir Sammaddar that theoretically pose new ways of imagining borders, though he is pessimistic about the situation in South Asia. Reflecting on borders reminds me of Ranjit Hoskote and Ilija Trojanow’s remarkable book on the idea of confluence of civilisations. So, drawing from it, the future of borders can only be imagined as a confluence, a place of economic, cultural and social exchange and a pilgrimage, where two peoples meet.
Holding Up a Mirror
This voluminous survey is in a sense holding up a mirror in front of us and we do not seem to cut a pretty figure. The lack of relevance and excitement is because we have skirted some of our crucial issues, like justice, human suffering, constitutional and fiscal aspects of the state and the kinds of social and political change happening before us. This review does not address issues where politics meets culture, especially films, literature or art and architecture. Some amazing books come to mind, like Arvind Adiga’s The White Tiger or Gautam Bhatia’s Punjabi Baroque and Other Essays[(sic!)]. The context of research, namely our universities and the English-speaking classes, could also have been explored.
The greatest obstacle that is holding back exciting work is the Chinese wall, which separates doing Indian politics or even political science in India, and doing theory. The latter is seen either as a preserve of the West or a subject unto itself. Unless we make the two inseparable the discipline cannot flourish. For that to happen, we first need to be seduced by the wonder that is India and then combine all our intellectual and imaginative faculties to grapple with this gigantic puzzle.
It has been a daunting task to review this entire range of literature; I am sure angels would have feared to tread this path.