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Stephen Cohen Festschrift

Rajesh Rajagopalan

Edited by Swarna Rajagopalan
Routledge, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 263, Rs. 595.00


Stephen Philip Cohen, the American South Asianist, has produced a generation of students who are gradually becoming as prominent and well-recognized within the field as he is. There can be no greater tribute to his influence on South Asian studies than this. The volume under review is a well-deserved festschrift in his honour by his former students.   No volume such as this can expect to have consistency in themes or perspectives. This is no exception. On the positive side, the contri-butions are consistently good, though I do have disagreements with some of views, methods and arguments presented here. Not surprisingly, given Cohen’s own interest on regional security issues, five of the eight substantive contributions deal with security matters, two on the Indian defence industry itself.   Rajagopalan’s essay seeks to carry the debate about security beyond its dominant and narrow military focus by looking at how security was understood in traditional Indian thought, as exemplified in the Ramayana. Rajagopalan hints that Cohen might have disagreed with the thrust of her piece (p. 27), and I share Cohen’s discomfort with such effort. Though the essay is well researched and written, there are some methodological issues here. Why the Ramayana should be privileged over other traditional Indian writings such as the Mahabharta or even Arthasastra is unclear. In addition, interpretive works such as this essay suffer from a more generic problem: there are many ways of interpreting such stories and traditions, and it is unclear what an appropriate way of judging between interpretations is. For example, the Ramayana could be interpreted as a classic Realist text: it is as much a story of conflict and power, of force and alliances, in which combat and death is endemic, as it is of ethical rules and moral conduct. It is also unclear why Rajagopalan has chosen to ignore other works on Indian strategic culture which seek to answer similar questions, such the well known essay by George Tanham and the responses to Tanham by Indian scholars.   Indian strategic culture is the subject of Kanti Bajpai’s essay too. Bajpai attempts to categorize Indian strategic cultural views into three sets: the Nehruvians, the neoliberals and the hyperrealists. To illustrate the differences and some common points between these perspectives, he looks at how each of these perspectives view Pakistan and India-Pakistan relations. As he admits, such taxonomies are never perfect, and one can quibble with ...

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