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The Way India Thinks

Suhasini Haidar

Edited by Tobias F. Engelmeier
Foundation Books, Cambridge University Press India, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 273, Rs. 795.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 9 September 2010

What are or should be the guiding principles of Indian foreign policy? At a function of the Ministry of External Affairs some time ago, an IFS officer was reviewing the year, gone by. ‘If I were to sum up the biggest success in our relations with other countries in one word, ‘ he said, with some pride, ‘It is continuity.’Continuity may or may not be a virtue, but there is certainly some intransigence in the way our disputes with countries like Pakistan and China persist. On the other hand there are many cases like the US, UK, Russia with whom we have been able to improve our ties, by shedding old mindsets and concentrating on the future. In a book that combines a study of both the precept and the practice of Indian Foreign Policy, Tobias Engelmeier makes a timely case that India’s identity and strategy are in conflict with each other. Engelmeier’s perspective is sympathetic as he traces the origins of Independent India’s relations with the world, bringing up both Gandhi and Nehru for unqualified praise—giving them credit for the idealism that India’s foreign policy contained at Independence. Even so, Engelmeier holds throughout the book, it is an idealism almost tainted by realism, and by pressures from their opposition at the time, especially groups like the Hindu Mahasabha/RSS and even the Muslim League. ‘The basic identity crafted by Gandhi and Nehru remains challenged by culturalist, dangerous, ideological politics,’ he writes. ‘It needs to be affirmed constantly. This instability and the value-basis of Indian nationalism have a profound impact on foreign policy.’ sixty-three years later, it is ironic that the kind of challenges Prime Minister Manmohan Singh faces—especially with regard to domestic concerns in dealing with Pakistan have not changed that much. In fact the book may have benefitted from aseparate chapter on India’s particularly difficult relations with both Pakistan and China. Throughout the book Engelmeier shows the basic dichotomy in the way India thinks, and the way it does in its foreign policy. Starting with 1947, he traces back the strands of an exhaustive list—India at the United Nations (referring the Kashmir dispute to the UN, yet firmly opposing international mediation), India’s nuclear capability (avowed nuclear disarmament goals, yet a rejection of all test ban treaties), Non-aggression as a goal (yet little opposition to Russia’s intervention in 1956 Hungary and 1979 ...

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