The India Way (Strategies For An Uncertain World)
Author :
S. Jaishankar
Category :
Strategies For An Uncertain World
Publisher :
HarperCollins Publishers
Available On :
Amazon India and Flipkart
Quote By Author :
S. Jaishankar
Publish Date :

Review :

Insights & Maxims to Maximize Favourable Effects on Indian on the Grounds of International Relations It is not just the pandemic that has taught all of us immeasurably about immeasurable things, 2020 has also gifted us with a book that exhibits all the phases of a day or a season of international political corridors (dawn break, scorching heat, cooling sunset, wintry nights, and twilight), all encapsulated in a 226-page book. Released in the last quarter of the last year, this book has garnered a lot of eyeballs and brows, fetching hope and a take on promising future for our country for the kind of discernment it provides, which may possibly act as a mighty political tool. “The India Way” epitomizes redemption (a derivative of thrills of identified possibilities of growth and smarter ways of dealing with them while leaning on to the past regrets, mistakes, blunders or lost opportunities, and learning from them). This book has taken birth in the political corridors that thrive on international relations.

“The India Way” is not just a book; it is a binocular to larger perspectives and greater goals pertaining to our country’s footprints in geopolitics, stability, performance, and (most importantly) identity. Currently, the author S. Jaishankar is India’s Minister of External Affairs. He has brought to us a broth of insights based on the history, facts, intuitiveness and experience in these 226 pages. Tracing back to historical and even mythological eras, it moves its torchlights from a decade from the global financial crisis (2008) to pandemic in 2020 - an important part of our timeline.

The author amalgamates his experience and stirs with case studies, creating a mix of analysis for a road map of India’s roads-ahead for its stability, politics, and economy. Even if the mix is immiscible, he has a way out for emulsifying it, so the intended goals can be perceived and achieved the way they should be. He places this thinking ball in the context of history and tradition, appropriate for a civilizational power that seeks to reclaim its place on the world stage. However, despite all this, there is just one question that keeps me pondered, will one frame be enough? Considering the pace at which international politics is changing, you cannot simply put your entire understanding into a single frame as trivial to the largest issues count while setting up a strategy. Everything matters!

With a touch of adage at the beginning of each chapter, this book discusses the options for growth and success that India has, could have had or may have in the future. The author has brought forth his experience in the international relations and politics into one book wherein he discusses the viable ways that can let India fulfil its ultimate goal. These opportunities are abundant and backed by solid analytics, facts, and deep understanding of the scenarios. In the chapter, “The Lessons of Awadh,” we learn that China’s emergence as potential superpower has pinched a stress point on geopolitical issues in Asia and across the globe as well. Like we compare the grass on the other side with ours, India’s rise will not go without passing a thorough comparison with the neighbours. Geopolitics and balance of power make the foundation of any kind of international relations, which are rarely balanced at a steady stride throughout an era, decade or century. The Bandung era of Afro-Asian solidarity in the 1950s serves as reminder of the costs of neglecting hard power. Having a democratic pluralistic society and market economy, India (with a premium due to the tradition of Kautilyan politics) will grow together with others, not disjointedly. “Given these affinities, such an India can exploit effectively search for new partnerships. Values that bring them together do matter, probably even more so in technology driven world.”

Technology is an extended arm of dynamism. Dynamism is a great advantage yet the biggest challenge. In a fast-paced (or I should rather say fastest growing) world, systems, standpoints, conduct, bases and related derivatives like governance, relations, and economy (among others) too change. While dynamic stand of the world belts out advancements that map our road ahead, at the same time, it upscales the expectations and takes competition to the next level. It becomes imperative that we match up with the aura of an era that we are breathing in right now and will breathe in the coming days. The future of any citizen of the world depends on the governance of domestic and international relations of the country of that citizen.

Redemption is the key to multi-polarity and vice versa. Dynamism is one of the key elements of the book that leads to redemption as countries come forward to claim their spot. Russia is now breaking the shackles and emerging as a growing power. China has one of the strongest military power on Earth and is now an ally of Pakistan. It is world’s second largest economy too.

The power of “multiples” (polarity/ lateral/ national) is intense! Coming to polarity, India is a perfect example of unity in diversity. On one hand, India’s diversity being extensive throws several chances to beautify our glories and strengths. On the other hand, this diversity emulsifies complexities and thickens them. In such a setting, practicing pluralism while being a part of diversity is quite challenging. If you look back, the world was principally bipolar during the Cold War as we can derive from the history. However, with the emergence of USSR, part of the world was apparently unipolar, but the disintegration of the Soviet Union has given rise to multi-polarity.

The author is currently the Minister of External Affairs, Government of India, who draws a high dimension of insights and opinions from his experience, but that doesn’t mean that he has upsized his favourism towards India, hiding the flaws and projecting biases. The author’s critical exploration is never with an ad hominen approach. As you turn the pages, you will find that white is kept as white and black as black, nothing is disguised. It is all out there loud and crystal-clear.

The author cites three major burdens of India’s foreign policy carried from its past. First one is the partition in 1947, which condensed India both demographically and politically – giving an advantageous window to China to imprint more strategic space in Asia. The second one indicates at the delayed economic reforms undertaken a decade and a half after those of China, with more incongruently resulting in a fifteen-year gap in the capabilities continues to put India at a great disadvantage. The third one is the prolonged exercise of the nuclear option, which consequently led India to struggle tremendously to gain influence in a domain that could have been easier, if done earlier. However, looking at these facts with optimism, our analysis can put us into great advantages. By virtue of being in the mix of situations, we can opt for the roads not taken or less travelled. Our experience of operating in the disadvantageous landscape let us see the prospects of any change and welcome it. Here, the author throws a gold card by giving a cue that a “Neighbour first approach” can stir things in our favour by nurturing societal linkages and rebuilding economy. The Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew once complimented India's rise of being the more reassuring one.

There are opportunities of India’s rise. ASEAN’s efforts to retain its cohesion and centrality also creates a demand for India. This is a time for us to engage America, manage China, cultivate Europe, reassure Russia, bring Japan into play, draw neighbours in, extend the neighbourhood and expand traditional constituencies of support. However, first thing that comes in place is creating a stable balance in Asia. In a nutshell, India should be taking on global responsibilities, acting as a constructive player and projecting our distinct personality are elements that can make India liked than just being respected.

Translating it into the terms of foreign policy and its practices, the author mentions that we can begin with advancing national interests by identifying and exploiting opportunities created by global contradictions paying more attention to national security and integrity. Nurturing goodwill, beginning with our immediate neighbourhood would make a stronger sense. Humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) is a palpable platform for demonstrating a forthcoming posture. Indian policymakers may need to assess the merits of more realism in their approach to world affairs. He quoted, “What India and the world mean to each other will change as they develop new equations. An economy that is transitioning to a higher level will hold a different relevance. That will mean striking the right balance between developing stronger national capabilities, making it easier to do business, ensuring a level playing field, and growing with the global economy, new equilibriums between the world, and India will arise in different fields, some of them not without friction.” He mentions that he has seen the world change during his service tenure.

Looking at the significance of ASEAN, the chapter, “A Delayed Destiny,” talks about the contributions of 1991 crisis, and ASEAN in shaping India’s future. “The 1991 crisis transformed India's model of development into an effective one and made it look more towards Asian economic growth of relatively recent origin. ASEAN served as a path of entry into this new syndrome and its institutions helped socialize India into a different world.” But the good news is that since then, India's interface with South-East Asia and East Asia has grown steadily. Also, India’s economic collaborations with South Korea, China, and Japan have expanded under all the governments. ASEAN gave a door to India to participate in various ASEAN-centric forums, further India, started growing larger and enjoying a bigger slice of growth-pizza. With Japan and South Korea, India concluded free trade agreement. India’s agenda of trades, economy, and investments steadily grew. In fact, the journey of India’s growth began when it decided to look more to the East a quarter century ago; it was the beginning of a profound correction in its foreign policy.

Author has mentioned, “There are important lessons from Japanese history that could impinge on the future of Asia, and thus of India. From the Meiji era onward, that country has always leveraged international environment. It has also responded to global power equations and always found partners to improve its position. That tradition surely continues. Japan actually has an India history and its logic may unfold once global impediments are removed.” Undoubtedly, India and Japan are two very different societies, each blushing with its distinct history, sociology and taking pride in the culture. Japan may have a great potential for change; but the gateway to success in the East for India is through ASEAN.

The second chapter, “The Art of Disruptions” emphasizes on the stature of US in the world. US-China relationship has all the eyeballs for four years now. “The lower salience of Russia has been a factor for changes in the US-China relation. When a deep state joins a loud state in the US, a structural shift is well underway. Even before the corona crisis, the influence of global supply chains and domination of technologies had given a sharp edge to growing trade frictions. The high stakes of this competition are underlined by the fact that it is in many ways, about disruption itself.” The author highlights that in the matter of reconstruction or construction of the country’s basis, breaking the discomforts and sociology plays a pivotal role. The author quotes, “In an inter-dependent and constrained world, it can only unfold through tensions and negotiations, adjustments, and transactions. In this process, much will depend on what is allowed to take root. An America that consciously chooses to be higher cost, but more insular economy, nationalistic but innovative technology creator, and self-sufficient but more powerful military will mean a very different ball There will always be voices that would urge accommodation.”

Convergence is also a key ingredient of this political curry. To a question highlighted by the author, what can India do to advance its goals in this disrupted world? The answer would majorly depend on its handling of the two principal actors - the US and China. Quite an epiphany! Chinese attacked in 1962, after which India (adjusting on stressful occasions) turned to the US to the extent of asking for air cover. In 1971, presented with the vision of a US-China-Pakistan axis and a looming Bangladesh crisis, India settled a virtual alliance with the USSR. Whenever crises ebbed, India went back to the middle path. However, returning to the past accentuates the limitations and confidence; hence, an idea of convergence is apt for India. Convergence with the neighbours is equally important as the convergence of technologies with our strategies. The author describes technology as “the great promise” that can make us more connected.

In several chapters, the author has highlighted this, including in “Of Mandarins and Masses,” where he points out that a huge scope exists in the field of technology and human resources optimization. This explanation comes in the context of having a fair share partnership with the West that can result in political and economic benefits. And, by looking beyond the horizon and making a collage of the scopes in the technology, economics and demographics into one picture, India can have the West by its side – portraying the real difference coloured with politics and values.

Now getting back to our previous point, a more nationalistic approach to the strategies for international relations will undeniably weaken multilateral rules in many domains, which will be sharp in respect of economic interests and sovereignty concerns. A nationalistic India is not ready to settle for less, as it is willing to do more with the world; however, our approach to governance and diplomacy is unique. Our history shows that we never follow a 'winner takes all' approach to contestation. The Mahabharata, saga of approaches and choices, is the most brilliant display of Indian thoughts on statecraft. This is what is embraced in the third chapter namely, “Krishna’s Choice.”

This chapter begins with something that I would like to call as “Mool Mantra” by Goethe, “A nation that doesn’t honour its past has no future.” Although on the introductory page of the chapter, I would have liked a mool mantra from Mahabharata itself, which in itself is a book of philosophies, strategies, politics and ideologies, I feel that this chapter is rich in many such formulas of understanding, tactics, and operations. The knot that ties both the chapter two and three together is “realism”. The need for realism is mixed well with a deep sense of understanding. Hence, this chapter belts out a many real life situations with the comparisons of choices, and the conditions under which these choices were made during Mahabharat era, with the present scenario. Realism is also one of the key ingredients in this book.

When Arjuna was grappling in subpoenaing his fortitude and confidence after getting to the battlefield, Lord Krishna convinced him to execute his duties. With respect to international relations, our fear of cost (resulting from the fear of unknown) may refrain us from choosing the key to a locked door. This may lead our nation to enter the “soft state.” One day, this will sow the seed of fatalism disguised as so-called deliberation. It is advisable to channelize the willpower to address and resolve the concerns instead of justifying the inabilities based on the costs, even if the competitor gives a tough fight. Else, monopoly and terrorism will come into play.

Confronting terrorism is a great challenge, especially when it is backed by the state powers. Pakistan is involved in nuclear scare mongering with an objective to create a moral equivalence between a terrorist and a victim. Further, our mistakes like at Havana and Sharm-El-Sheikh accelerate the impact, resulting in “strategic logic” that applies well on the victim, not the perpetrator. The expectation on India conforming to the self-serving logic is highly pressed. Hence, making it a battle of two seems to be a challenging issue. In case of terrorism, no easy plans. This chapter also throws light on method of governance or ruling. Striking a balance in a democratic set-up is not impossible, but quite difficult, and it demands a tactful action plan at each step to practice strong and cohesive establishment, where the capabilities of authoritarian countries in creating a strong correlation between statism and strategic deception is not skipped. The Western experience proves it easier to initiate and implement where there was unity of purpose. In case of Yugoslavia, Russia, Libya or Syria, much has been done that was not spoken about.  The author quotes, “One of India's challenges is that its sense of establishment is not fully developed Competitive politics is so visceral that perhaps the only continuity is that those in opposition can be counted on to oppose. This makes it very much harder to reconcile the gaps between narratives and intent.” India has struggled between declared policy and actual objectives.

Globalism stirred: In “Of Mandarins and Masses,” I would like to talk a bit about one of the interesting essence that the author has painted here. The term, “Globalism” putatively seems all positive and beautiful, but on ground zero, this impacts the nationalistic approaches. For example, Former President of USA Donald Trump rejected the mechanism of globalism in favour of patriotism, at the UN (September, 2018). Electoral outcomes target the cultural and nationalistic sentiments of the citizens; hence, the trends take the sides of “stronger cultural identities and more nationalist narratives.” In this flow, the concept of cosmopolitan is targeted, as it is believed to be responsible for the loss of livelihood and identity, while nationalism is favoured for it underlines the beauty of the society.

Broadly, as compared with Asia, the West has been less comfortable with the lines where it is regarded as the natural corollary of economic headway. However, histories explain why Germany and Japan shy away while Russia and Turkey may flaunt it.  As the author says here, “The linkage between globalization, regime credibility and return history is unmistakable. The real truth about this revival of nationalism that has actually been quite a durable basis for organizing societies. At various times, it has defeated conflicting ideologies that appealed both larger and narrower loyalties. Multinational empires struggled with nationalist sentiment and by and large, lost out. But national entities that encountered sub-national dissensions have usually won. Western imperialism was eventually undone by nationalist sentiments awakening in their former colonies Communism was the next of the transnational ideologies on a global scale. This too eventually foundered when socialism acquired national characteristics. The schism between the USSR and China, and later between China and Vietnam, affirmed the enduring appeal of nationalism.”

Now tracing back to the era of epic fight to understand the joints, and schisms, constraints on a competitor during Mahabharata era stemmed from an array of emotions and partly driven by a belief that a conflict is self-destructive by nature and spares none, which Arjuna carries to the battle. With sharpened intentions, Arjuna sets foot on the battleground. Both Bheeshma Pitahmah and Drona motivated Arjuna and Yudhisthir to play with their full capacity. In today’s world, these constraints are more structural and less behavioural. For example, a more technological world is more vulnerable despite of having promising capabilities. Naturally, all the polities will prepare for the worst-case scenarios; meanwhile the reality is increasingly of sharp responses and narrow window with limited applications. India’s strategic thought is outlined well in Kautilya’s writings, “Sama, Dana, Danda, and Bheda.”

It is also not justified for us to forget the role of critical players; “Trigarta Warriors” led by Susarma, who were allies of Kauravas, conceived enmity with Arjuna. Their challenge was to fight Arjuna to death. Although, Arjuna wins the battle, he loses his son Abhimanyu in the course. This indicates at the moral of the story that the danger of small adversaries with single-mindedness end up with self-destructing acts that can also wreak damage. India's non-alignment policy has had different sides at different times, where we have remained uninvolved and nevertheless left to face the consequences. On certain instances, we run the danger of displeasing all parties.

Dropping a hint at the power of choice, let us recall the scene, where both Arjuna and Duryodhana went to Lord Krishna seeking his ally. Although Arjuna arrived later, but he was seen first by the Lord Krishna. Between Lord Krishna’s army or personal participation, Arjuna chose his personal participation as he could recognize the game-changing talent of the lord. Such strategies should be applied while executing a plan for enhancing competitiveness of national security. Playing by the rules is the core agenda of all the games. Understanding the mind-set of others will determine your game plan as you can assess their extents and dead-ends.  Much of Shri Krishna's contribution to the Pandavas is resolving dilemmas and addressing the situation when rules stop being a rule.

As is imperative, it is for a nation to grow stronger and powerful, that disruptive is the idea of nation(s) growing to be the potential superpower. Some of the disadvantages of superpower-nations as aptly presented here are: i) transitions between superpowers is stiff; ii) their overlapping co-existence may not be easy during best of times; iii) reconciliation contestation is harder, especially during collaborations; iv) the chase of climbing the peak of superpower summit will result in actions that may mainly affect the people of the respective superpower countries; and v) the ideological bases will bring in discriminations.

Like lord Krishna identifies as the “Game Changing Strategist,” and Arjuna as the “Implementer,” Pandavas, on a broader aspect represent integration. Their complementary skills should inspire greater deliberations of teamwork. This is a crucial point in India’s operations as we are composed of a unique combination of social pluralism and extreme individualism. Our reputation of sub-optimal coordination comes with a greater cost of individualism aggravated by possessiveness, bureaucratism, lack of integration and more that can be resolved by focusing on the manifestations of Indian foreign policy. Nothing better than Mahabharata could serve as a bible for this master plan.

In “The Nizmo-Indian Defence,” you will come across certain answers to longstanding impacts that the present-day India is dealing with. Border conflict judgments are huge in themselves, but a closer look at the potential chances is essential to determine whether executing boundary negotiations in 1950 or the calculations of 1954 agreement in Tibet was more inclined towards hope. The decisions made six decades ago still precautions today, no matter which side is picked.

Looking from the spectacles of India, political and military events have concluded as a larger mistrust of China, which is heavily evident in the public perceptions. With an increase in the power disparity in the past two decades, the relationship between both the countries is now starting to rot. The 1962 conflict has created a lasting wound in people’s trust and has been on public opinion as many times the relation keeps getting assessed. As aptly the author has quoted here, “Indian minds do not have the same ability to move on that the Chinese have shown in respect of their own conflicts with Russia or Vietnam. The loser in the 1962 conflict was not just India but the relationship itself.”

On the other hand, another issue that adds body to the narrative of this era is China’s friendship with Pakistan, the origin of which is worth a back glance. Among all the reasons, the reason for political symbiosis is quite striking. Pakistan needs China to strike a power balance with India, after Western powers zeroed out themselves in terms of interest for this goal. Similarly, China needs Pakistan for its growth-journey to global power. Thinking from the authoritative account as in why a relationship that has no cultural affinity and common values form the basis of alliances. Their super symbiosis will help in keeping India within the South Asia box, and in providing a pathway to the Islamic world. “If India did not see this coming when it first did, it could only be in allowing the first principles of balance of power to be clouded by nobler goals of a better world.”

As we travelled through the time and reality, here we are landing right at the doorstep of the fourth chapter, “The Dogmas of Delhi – Overcoming the Hesitations of History,” which highlights the theory of relativity and theory of insanity of Einstein. Doing same thing over and again and expecting different results is unlikely to produce enhanced results. Our actions must align with the world’s way of conduct. Dynamism! Here also the author points at technology being the heart of new contestations, along with connectivity and trade. The climate change is also factor contributing to geopolitics by the opening of an Arctic passage.

Embarking on realism, the author showcases in this chapter, the evolution of India foreign policy since independence. The same has been divided in to six phases. First phase (1946 - 62) characterized an optimistic non-alignment where the setting was of a bipolar world, with camps led by the US and the USSR. As were the objectives, India resisted the constraining of choices and dilution of its sovereignty as it rebuilt its economy and consolidated its integrity. As the first of the decolonized nations, India’s parallel goal was to lead Asia and Africa for a more equitable world order. This phase saw spirited Indian diplomacy from Korea and Vietnam to Suez and Hungary citing promising future and position on the world stage seemed assured and all tumbled down with the 1962 conflict with China that significantly damaged India's standing.

The second phase (1962 – 71) is considered as a decade of realism and recovery when India made more realistic choices on security and political challenges while addressing paucity of resources. The global context remained bipolar, but it now saw the emergence of limited cooperation between the US and USSR. The third phase (1971 – 91) was one of the periods of greater Indian regional assertion. It began with the decisive dismantlement of an India-Pakistan equivalence through the creation of Bangladesh, and ended with the IPKF misadventure in Sri Lanka. Broadly, the environment by now was, “dramatically different”, with the Sino-US rapprochement of 1971 upsetting the strategic landscape. The Indo-Soviet Treaty and the adoption of more pro-Soviet positions on international issues were India's response to this challenge. It was a complex phase as the US-China-Pakistan axis, which came into being at this time, threatened India's prospects. The dissolution of the USSR and the emergence of a unipolar world characterized the fourth phase of evolution of India’s foreign policy. It encouraged a radical rethinking and shifted the focus to safeguarding strategic autonomy.

During the fifth phase, India gradually acquired the attributes of a balancing power increased its relevance to the world. It is reflected in the India-US nuclear deal and as a better understanding with the West. India also made common cause with China on climate change and trade, and consolidated ties with Russia while helping to fashion BRICS into a major forum. A number of developments happened by 2014, initiating the sixth phase. China gathered more momentum, and the terms of engagement it offered to the world progressively hardened. The American trumpet sounded uncertain and US resource limitation was aggravated by risk aversion in the aftermath of the Iraq war, among others, carved this phase.

6 & 5 are the keys: First six phases, then five baskets. In the same chapter, the author has pulled out the strings to explain the existence of five-baskets-theory (of issues) that capture the lessons of the past for India. The first basket relates to the necessity of realism on a broader scale, pertaining to policies, especially in the phase of optimistic non-alignment. A few blunders that took place during the phases: i) misread Pakistan’s intentions and ii) reluctance to have high priority for securing borders immediately and the same being done a year later. Although the challenges of 1962 were not unanticipated, but a large spectrum of focus was rendered in world politics, with a deep-rooted belief in India’s high standing in the world affairs was protection against global turmoil and competitions. However, the application of force has never troubled India, reactions to Kashmir attacks, 1948-Hyderbad and 1961-Goa issues would suffice this.

The second basket refers to the concerns that thickened the shattering of bonds with neighbours. Are you wondering what the concerns are? Some of them are: a) lacking the understanding of polities’ behaviour due to overemphasis on diplomacy. b) India betting for an optimistic outlook on Pakistan, in 1972, in Shimla. And, this resulted in the situations worsening in Jammu and Kashmir, and nourishing an aggressive foe i.e. Pakistan. c) lacked awareness on the moment of truth of 1950s that we were dealing with “battled-hardened neighbour to the North” or of the strategic significance of POK. d) It has taken us a long time to have talks with Pakistan to have cessation of terrorism. And at the end, the kind of economic impact and counterpart these factors have on us till date constitutes the second basket. Needlessly, there is a huge demand for more grounded Indian approach to international relations for us. Considering all the major growth stories after 1945, a common feature that emerges here is the extraordinary focus they put on leveraging the global environment for national development. China did this effectively with the USSR, USA, and the West.

Convergence rocks! The saga of development and politics can never play individually as single players, it has to be mixed doubles; hence, multiple players are required for optimizing the options and expanding the space naturally. As the author depicts, the third basket is given in the Indian foreign policy by virtue of basic consensus for fostering our freedom. The global circumstances, sometimes, ask us to pick a side. We did well during the first decade of bipolar world and the next phase got us worried about the danger of being left out on all accounts. The willingness to go beyond the dogmas and for convergence can steer us through. To the dilettante or the anachronistic, the pursuit of contradictory approaches may seem arcane, but it can be resolved with convergence. Reconciling a Howdy Modi gathering with a Mamallapuram or a Vladivostok Summit, the RIC (Russia-India-China) with JAI (Japan-America-India), Or the Quad and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) is undeniably a major issue. An Iran with the Saudis, or Israel with Palestine? Risk-taking mechanics of diplomacy affects the policy judgments. The fourth basket showcases that a low-risk foreign policy is likely to produce limited rewards. Although, not all the risks are dramatic, they require a strong analysis, and great daily follow-ups that can improve global positioning. The fifth basket is like returning to the primer, “reading the global tea leaves right”. This will reflect an assessment of opportunities, compulsions, risks involved and rewards. A clearer definition of interests is the next step and its determined pursue the one thereafter.

In one of the chapters, maritime power is portrayed integral and significant with security. Indo-Pacific is an “arena for the contemporary version of the Great Game, where multiple players with diverse ambitions display their strategic skills.” For India, focusing on Indo-Pacific is a wise step besides Act East program and a surpassing of the confines of Southern Asia. The trigger for Indo-Pacific is a change in the American stance and the rise of China as the former is more mercurial. Author highlights, “A decade ago, China debated the role of maritime power in its future. Part of that was to address a traditional strategy dilemma posed by the limitations of its eastern seaboard and multiple island chains beyond.” However, by 2009, there was also a larger quest, which subsumed this argument. Chinese policymakers had already recognized that whether/ if that nation was to emerge as a global power. It must inevitably be a maritime one.  

The impact of global developments on the Indian Ocean could not have left India unaffected as the coastal line binds India and other countries together. Indian Ocean is at the core of global trade and development, covering one-fifth of the world’s total ocean area and splashing across the coastlines of around 70,000 kilometers. The maritime exploitation of the Indian Ocean was always below par. A greater naval activity unfolded gradually, and India also had to put up with the connectivity initiatives related to maritime implications as for India, it is about the pathway of its own steady growth. This has, gradually, also resulted in SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) in 2015, which aims at ensuring safe and secured Indian Ocean, safeguarding islands and mainland; defending our interests; strengthening economic and security cooperation with maritime countries; collective action for peace and security and response to emergencies, and carving sustainable development. An oceanic focus being stretched and modified! The security challenges faced by the Indian Ocean are addressed by each player in their own convenient way. “In case of India, they are essentially an outcome of national capabilities, buttressed by participation in relevant regional bodies.”

The last chapter, “After the Virus,” offers a magnanimous vision of the greater truths experienced and realized during the attack of coronavirus. The way this pandemic unfolded, fed into a US-China dynamism, which is in flux. Technology and strategies came to our rescue, post COVID situation, there are high chances that we will get to see regionalization, de-globalization, de-coupling, scarce or shorter supply chains, and self-reliance (Atmanirbharta). The damaging impacts of coronavirus demands a strategy of national revival that in turn, warrants a fundamental rethinking about our growth model. Author mentions, “As India has discovered in the past, economic strategies have to be in consonance not only with its own national situation, but the global one as well. If we are significantly out of step with the world, as we were by 1991, then they are difficult to sustain. Three decades later, India's capabilities, competitiveness and trade are under stress, this time for very different reasons. The post-1991 belief that we could rely on the costing of others abroad to build our own businesses at home clearly has a high price. A lowest bidder syndrome and obsessive quest for profit margins has ended up eroding domestic capabilities. Even more, the efficiency of others, instead spurring competitiveness, has actually led to putting off further reforms. Openness abroad ironically has led stagnation at home, discouraging innovation and killing MSMEs borne the brunt of the damage. While the pandemic may have brought out weaknesses pertaining health security, it has also exposed this larger strategic complacency.” Exploring straights and reverses, the author targets both the opposites, fear and confidence; break down and awakening; problems and solutions; and hopelessness and hope.

The narrative mode makes one feel like experiencing allegories throughout. It certainly was thick in the mentions of examples from Mahabharata. The richness is blown into this elaborated critical analysis through sublime blends or juxtapositioning of aphorism, globalism, realism, convergence, and more. No biases or circumlocution, the author keeps it all, the way he means it. Yes, the diction has been distinct throughout that compliment the intended messages.

Another literary beauty of this book is the announcement of intentions through exclusive introductions of each chapter. I like the first chapter, “The Lessons of Awadh,” which begins with a clever hint at the political performance and expansionism. Referring to Satyajit Ray’s film, where two Indian nawabs are engrossed in a chess game (indicating India’s self-absorption depicting present political scenario), while the third person i.e. British East India Company took over the kingdom of Awadh, it pulls our minds to the pre-independence eras. What happens in Awadh form a base of learning various lessons. One of them is that international relations should always be anticipated and analysed so the doors to success can be identified and opened at the right time. In this chapter, the author underlines the missed opportunities for economic development, when we turned our back on the global progression. “While the 1971 Bangladesh War, the 1991 economic reform, the 1998 nuclear tests, and the 2005 nuclear deal were exercises in strategic retrieval, it nevertheless told on your overall standing. It is only more recently that a stronger realpolitik has overcome a complacency based on entrenched dogma.”

Each chapter is delineated really well and their content is seem to be having a coherence when put together. While going through the book, you get an exposure to various elements of underlying analysis that form a unique dais of understanding international politics.  Students, Indian polity might be one of the subjects during your undergraduate programme, but if you want an experiential learning then this book is a perfect medium. The India Way is apt for students too. (A piece of advice from me to the undergraduate and postgraduate students or those aspiring for civil services, and other government exams.) Trust me, while going through the book you would rarely not want to read the rest or leave a page unturned. Another possible effect on the readers would be that the critical-analysis switch of your brain would switch on automatically and actively every time you watch news or read news. You would try reading between the lines; browse the related content, their references and their histories. I can write more, it is difficult not to do so, and the author has made it so – one of the impactful (and mitigation-oriented) books of 2020. This book is not meant for a pleasure reading. It is for serious thinkers who have an eye for details and strategies of polity. Beware Leisurely-ies!

The India Way is a book that talks of realism, real life incidences and experiences, all told straight-faced. It is like an intellectual drill that prepares us for the future of the international relations, cross-border politics, security and uncertainty. Agonistic agnosticism or analysis of contexts and pragmatism, which way for India, would you design? Find an answer in the book itself. The author has presented the past as an anthology of apologues that can give a well-powered and framed spectacle to us to define our roads-ahead, all the way, India way. Grab a copy of the book. You can buy a physical copy of this from Amazon or read it on Kindle. Read it and let us know your reviews.


Signing off

Smruti S Samantray

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