Jul 25 2014

Book Review: Forged in Crisis: India and the United States Since 1947 by Rudra Chaudhuri

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Rudra Chaudhuri’s book aims to examine a series of crises that led to far-reaching changes in India’s approach to the United States, defining the contours of what is arguably the imperative relationship between America and the global South. Ram Mashru finds this a richly detailed history of Indo-US ties, one that is enriched by providing an “Indian reading” of the relationship and that presents a nuanced but optimistic forecast for its future.

This posts first appeared on LSE Review of Books.

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Rudra Chaudhuri’s Forged in Crisis, a history of India-US relations, is remarkably prescient. Its publication at the end of 2013 coincided with a bitter spat between New Delhi and Washington over the arrest of Devyani Khobragade, an Indian consular official working in New York, for the alleged underpayment of a domestic worker. Since then the book has gained fresh topicality: last month India elected a new government headed by Narendra Modi – leader of the nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party – whose views towards the US and his approach to foreign policy more generally remain largely unknown.

In response to the Khobragade debacle, then Indian cabinet minister Shashi Tharoor asked if “an era of steadily improving ties between the two countries has come to an end?” This anxiousness is certainly not new. “Estranged democracies” was how Dennis Kux chose to describe the relationship in the title of hisseminal 1993 book on the subject, and for plausible reasons: during the Cold War India was understood to be a Soviet sympathiser, the presentation of India in the American press has long been unfavourable and, historically, India has been hostile towards what it considers to be American intervention in its neighbourhood through, for example, the sale of arms to Pakistan.

But, as Chaudhuri reveals in his richly detailed monograph, these concerns are unfounded: India’s relations with the US are the “most comprehensive” that it has had with any country “since [gaining] independence” in 1947. Chaudhuri charts Indo-US ties through the study of crises – moments of high diplomatic risk – and he shows that the relationship has not only overcome these potential pitfalls, but been strengthened by them. These “crisis” episodes include the Korean War, 1962 Indo-China border conflict, and US pressure on India to provide troops for the Iraq War. But the durability is best reflected by the mutual determination to cultivate ties. All of India’s leaders, across party lines, have sought to foster links with the US and as early as 1951 Chester Bowles, the US Ambassador to India, encouraged President Truman to embrace India as part of a “new world”, a view echoed by Bill Clinton decades later when he blamed the US’s “clumsy diplomacy” for keeping India and the US “apart”.

More impressive than this historical re-evaluation however is Chaudhuri’s re-appraisal of India’s foreign policy record, particularly the much-maligned doctrine of “non-alignment.” Non-alignment – the “soul” of India’s diplomacy – traces its roots to Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, who promised to “keep [India] away from the power politics of [global] groups.” The aim of doing so was to “assert India’s autonomous place, in both thought and action, on the pressing issues of world politics.”


Unsurprisingly non-alignment has provoked suspicion and bitterness, both at home and abroad: it was long considered a form communism, dismissed as “post-colonial semi-pacifism” and was interpreted as a refusal by India to engage on the international stage. Even The Economist, in an article published in March 2013, described “non-alignment” as an “out-dated” policy and called on India to “give up” on it.

Chaudhuri sets out to challenge this understanding, an ambitious task that he emphatically succeeds in. He torpedoes the dominant discourse on non-alignment, rejecting it as “simplistic”, “weak” and “uncritical,” and rubbishes the view that by sticking to non-alignment India’s external-affairs establishment is somehow intellectually bankrupt.

Instead he demonstrates that non-alignment is a form of strategic engagement – “engagement without entanglement,” as Nehru put it – that has allowed India to pursue multilateral dealings without becoming ensnared by global alliances. Normatively, non-alignment represents India’s commitment to independence, sovereignty and strategic freedom in its international relations.

These three stands – close US-India relations, the idiosyncrasy of non-alignment and India’s commitment to autonomy – converge most conspicuously with the 2008 Indo-US civil nuclear deal.

In 2005 India and US agreed to “full civil-nuclear energy cooperation,” a pact that would allow India to realise its goals of “promoting nuclear power and achieving energy security.” Until this point India had been a global nuclear pariah. In 1974 it tested its first nuclear bomb in contravention of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a document that it refused to sign on the grounds that it perpetuated “nuclear apartheid” between those states the treaty granted “legitimate” nuclear status and those that it did not. In the face of international condemnation India brazenly conducted its second nuclear test in 1998.  The civil-nuclear deal, announced in 2005 but finalised in 2008, marked a “ground breaking” shift in global attitudes towards India as a nuclear state, and made nuclear commerce between India and the rest of the world possible for the first time.

Earlier negotiations, between the Clinton and Vajpayee administrations, had failed principally because of the US’s failure to respect India’s bargaining position. In 2005, by contrast, President Bush insisted that “international institutions” had to change to reflect “India’s central and growing role,” and followed through by securing the waivers necessary to bring India into the global nuclear fold.

Throughout this period India was a leading advocate for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Chaudhuri reconciles this seeming paradox – between India’s development of nuclear capabilities and its rhetoric of nuclear restraint – by highlighting the seamlessness with which India has negotiated its “material needs” (military and technological parity with the West) and its ideational commitments, of which the negotiations over the nuclear deal is but one example.

Chaudhuri ends by looking to the future of Indo-US relations. Early on in his presidency, during an official visit to India, Obama described the Indo-US relationship as “one of the defining partnerships of the 21stcentury.” The relationship is a live one, characterised as much by divergence as it is by accord. India is key ally in Asia, where China, Pakistan and Afghanistan each pose grave challenges to the US’s interests, but on such issues as climate change, defence procurement, and trade, India and the US remain at odds. On balance, Chaudhuri concludes, these conflicting positions will do little to halt the momentum that has gathered over decades of mutual engagement.

Relations between the US and India, the world’s most powerful democracy and the world’s largest democracy, respectively, have attracted a great deal of scrutiny, and Chaudhari’s monograph is a major contribution to the literature. In particular it succeeds on two levels. First, it is a richly detailed history of Indo-US ties, one that is enriched by providing an “Indian reading” of the relationship and that presents a nuanced but optimistic forecast for its future. Secondly, it is a formidable re-analysis of India’s foreign policy, one that rehabilitates India’s much denigrated diplomatic record.

About the Author

Ram Mashru is an author, journalist and researcher specialising in the politics, development and human rights of South Asia. Human InSecurity, his first book, was published in December 2013 and explores India’s contemporary human rights and security challenges. He read Law at the University of Cambridge before obtaining an MSc in Area Studies from the University of Oxford. Read more reviews by Ram.

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Jul 23 2014

India’s silence over the conflicts in the Middle East points to the prioritisation of economics over politics

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Deepanshu Mohan argues the (lack of) response to the current situation in the Arab world highlights that economics is too often given priority over politics. He calls for the emerging powers of the developing world to start taking a more active diplomatic role in clashes such as the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The art of diplomacy is traditionally defined as the practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of recognised states. The practice involves the conduct of  international relations through the arbitration of professional diplomats with regard to issues of peace-making, trade, wareconomicsculture, the environment and human rights. In practice, diplomacy involves the successful use of tact to gain strategic advantage or to find mutually acceptable solutions to a common challenge.

The Camp David Accord and the Treaty of Portsmouth are examples of such successful negotiation: processes that were convened by nations to settle a dispute between specific parties. However, if we look at the current state of the Arab world, it would seem that negotiation processes have failed or have been consciously allowed to fail. Hundreds and thousands have died in Syria, Iraq and Gaza, concurrently endangering lives of many more fleeing or living at the edge of the chaos. This raises questions about the nature of diplomacy today.

The safe return of 46 nurses from the ISIS in Iraq back to India might be seen as a victory for India’s diplomatic negotiations but is that all a nation’s responsibility towards its migrant residents is about? The diplomatic success of sovereign authorities should not be measured merely by the ability to successfully combat hostage situations within conflict zones or ensure backchannel arrangements for the same. For example, the security of the million Indian migrant workers working in Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Oman is the responsibility of the same Indian authorities. It is also their duty to take a diplomatic stand against what is transpiring in Israel-Gaza conflict. Unfortunately, in the case of India and many other nations, being “diplomatic” has become synonymous mistakenly with taking a neutral side or being politically dormant when it comes to international affairs.

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Jul 21 2014

Can film offer an(other) authoritative source of development knowledge?

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David Lewis, Dennis Rodgers, and Michael Woolcock discuss the depiction of development in film and outline some of the potential pitfalls associated with film as a representational medium for development concerns.

In recent years, relatively popular films such as Blood Diamond (2006) and The Constant Gardener (2005) have told stories that attempt both to entertain and to engage audiences with important global development issues. What is distinctive about how development issues are rendered in such films, as compared to scholarly publications and policy reports?

Our recent chapter aims to introduce the subject of cinema and development as a potentially fruitful area for future research. We draw on a range of personally selected historical and contemporary examples of dramatic (rather than documentary) forms of film in order to explore the power and limitations of cinematographic representation as an(other) authoritative source of development knowledge.

Film and development

Few feature films have been concerned directly with development interventions or projects led by NGOs. More common are films that engage tangentially with a variety of broader development issues – war, conflict and violence, humanitarianism, commerce, poverty, politics and more – as part of their setting or plot. One trope that emerges frequently, however, is contentious interaction between people from rich and poor countries. Indeed, the divide between rich and poor – or more precisely, between Westerners and “locals”, as most of the films we discuss tell their stories from a Western point of view – is arguably the key concern in most films that can be categorised as “development films”. Recent films such Blood Diamond (2006), The Constant Gardener (2005), The Hurt Locker (2008), or even Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008), fall into this category. In addition to focusing on the divide between rich and poor and outsiders and locals, their narratives are soon complicated by additional storylines that centre on exposing and exploring the tensions within certain key groups – such as pharmaceutical companies, the military, the media, aid organisations, governments or citizen groups.

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Jul 18 2014

India fights for a pension: a campaigning success story

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Penny Vera-Sanso explores the successes that the Right to Food Campaign and others have achieved in pushing for pensions and greater security for older people.

India is home to around 104 million people aged over 60. Despite producing at least 50% of India’s GDP and despite contributing to the 4.5% growth rate – 90% of workers in India are trapped in low paid, insecure and pension-less work.


Image credit: Penny Vera-Sanso

So, it is good news that, after many years of side-lining, social pensions returned to the political agenda; appearing on the manifestos of several national and regional parties during the 2014 election campaign.  This is a giant step forward but not one that is widely publicised.

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Jul 16 2014

Photo-notes from Varanasi: Reflections on youth engagement in the 2014 elections

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Tommaso Amico di Meane looks back on his experiences in Varanasi and reflects on the involvement of young people in the Lok Sabha elections.

Walking along the Ganges River for the first time was like visiting an outdoor cathedral hundreds of meters long. The people lining the banks interacted with the sacred waterway in their own manner: some meditated on the banks, others used it for washing and purification purposes while children played and enjoyed themselves with the vivacity typical of their age. The Ganga is not static as other sanctuaries or religious symbols, rather, it is alive, changing colour and even mood as it flows.


Young playing cricket on a rooftop by the Ganges river, May 11 2014

I was in Varanasi (or Benares) to follow the last phase of India’s great elections. Chance decided that the city “older than history” (Mark Twain) would be the site of the last duel of the 2014 Indian Lok Sabha elections. On the Ganges rivers “David”, Arvind Kejriwal (Aam Aadmi Party) contested the seat of “Goliath”, Narendra Modi (Bharatiya Janata Party). The temperature – already around 45°C – further climbed after the unexpected Rahul Gandhi (Congress Party) “revenge” roadshow in Varanasi. This was launched after Modi broke the unwritten agreement of not campaigning directly within a rival’s constituency and staged a rally in the historical Nehru-Gandhi seat of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh. The atmosphere was vibrant as the eyes of India turned to focus on Varanasi once more.

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Jul 14 2014

Assessing India Inc.’s next target destination: Central Europe

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It is a stated fact that Indian private companies on their own are making great inroads in not only developed markets (UK, USA, Canada etc.) but also across emerging economies in Central Europe. Deepanshu Mohan explores the detail of India’s involvement in the region.

The Deloitte-CII report on Doing Business in Central Europe & India provides some great futuristic insight into the potential market strategies for the leading Indian businesses looking to expand their base in Europe through Central Europe. Which European countries have been considered as priority countries/covered in the expansion plans of these Indian businesses? What are the parameters largely influencing the decisions of these firms? These are some pertinent questions that I would be looking into here.

Source: Deloitte-CII Report p.25 (NB In the study done by Deloitte and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), only the 10 major Central European economies have been considered).

Source: Deloitte-CII Report p.25 (NB In the study done by Deloitte and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), only the 10 major Central European economies have been considered).

As evident from Figure 10 above, Switzerland, Poland and Czech Republic are considered as the top three priority markets by the Indian businesses looking at exploring this region for business development or by the companies already having some establishments in this area. Not surprisingly, these economies top the GDP figures among the Central European economies along with Austria and have fairly good growth prospects in the near future.

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Jul 11 2014

Regional distrust is fuelling water conflicts in South Asia

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The lack of a domestic vision for water in South Asia reinforces the zero-sum nature of international water disputes, argues Chatham House’s Gareth Price.

This post first appeared on The Third Pole blog.

Disputes over water threaten to aggravate tensions between countries in South Asia. Large parts of India and Pakistan already suffer from water stress and these pressures are likely to increase in the future.

A new report from Chatham House based on interviews of over 500 policymakers and senior representatives from the media, academia and the private sector across South Asia provides a snapshot of elite attitudes towards both domestic water management and international rivers. Chatham House worked with local research institutes in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan to establish how debates about water are framed in each country, and attitudes towards other countries sharing the same rivers.

Image Credit: flickr/Gary Denham

Image Credit: flickr/Gary Denham

Most of the people interviewed were downbeat about the current state of water management, and many were fearful for the future. Some of the challenges – such as pollution – are worsening because of industrialisation; others – declining per capita water availability, for instance – stem from population growth. Neither trend is easily reversible. With seasonal water availability already more variable, the human impact of climate change in the region could be momentous.

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Jul 9 2014

Book Review: Constitutional Nationalism and Legal Exclusion: Equality, Identity, Politics, and Democracy in Nepal (1990-2007), by Mara Malagodi

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This book presents a thorough case study of Nepal’s post-1990 constitutional experience. Mara Malagodi looks to trace the evolution of Nepal from a constitutional monarchy to a republic by analysing the drafting of the 1990 Constitution, the impact of the Maoist insurgency (1996-2006) on demands for constitutional change, the relationship between conflict and demands for recognition, and the role of Nepal’s Supreme Court in the articulation of identity politics. Amanda Snellinger finds that the book will be a  striking read for scholars interested in legal exclusion, Nepal’s political history, and constitutions and national identities.

This post first appeared on LSE Review of Books.

For the last six years, Nepal has been drafting its sixth constitution since the nation’s struggle for multiparty democracy began in 1950. The criteria for the current process is remarkably different than the past. This time an elected body of 601 constituent assembly members is restructuring the state to be a multiparty democratic, secular republic. Thus the publication of Mara Malagodi’s book, Constitutionalism and Legal Exclusion, is timely.

This book provides an in-depth analysis of the drafting of the 1990 constitution and how it entrenched a path of legal exclusion during the last decade of the 20th century—which fuelled the civil war and political disintegration that led to the overthrow of the Shah monarchy and Nepal becoming a secular federal republic in 2006. Malagodi –  British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the Law Department at the LSE – uses a historical institutionalist analytical approach to demonstrate that despite the aspirations of the 1990’s People’s Movement for broader inclusion, the 1990 constitution did little to broaden the definition of ‘We, the People’. Malagodi argues that the previous constitutional arrangements shaped the choices available to the makers of the 1990 constitution in regards to what defined the nation, which led to the reinstituting of three national pillars: the Shah monarchy; Nepal being a Hindu nation; and Nepali as the national language. The re-enshrining of these institutions into the 1990 constitution allowed state actors to perpetrate legal exclusion and undermine the fundamental right to equality.

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Jul 7 2014

Looking forward to Thursday’s Budget

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The new government is set to present its first Union Budget this week. LSE alumnus Siddharth Ramalingam considers the context and suggests key areas where action should be taken.

Clearly, we aren’t rational beings. When the BJP swept to power in the recent elections, people expected the “acche din” (good days) to begin almost immediately. The stock market went into a tizzy, industry moguls were all gung-ho about what this government could achieve, and economists were waxing eloquent about what the government “must” do to get India back on the path to double digit growth. Everyone acknowledged that tough decisions would have to be made, but no one quite discussed how tough taking decisions really is in this country. One can’t really be certain if even the government knows how to balance the ‘toughness’ the BJP brings to the parliament through sheer numbers, and the exigencies of national politics that will be mired in populism for the foreseeable future.

Image Credit:  flickr/add1sun

Image Credit: flickr/add1sun

The ailments of the Indian economy are not new news. The hope this time around is that the government can and will deliver what is required to inject some energy into the economy. Here is a short list of what needs urgent attention:

  1. Get a handle on inflation: The biggest bugbear for any government is persistently high inflation, especially in food prices. The current government has rightly identified supply side bottlenecks like hoarding and poor storage facilities for inflation. Frankly, the government cannot do anything in the short-term to turn things around, and a poor monsoon will not only push inflation higher, but also make people wonder when those halcyon “acche din” will come.
  2. Rein in the fiscal deficit: The deficit for the last fiscal year was 4.5 percent of GDP, just a shade below the target of 4.6 percent. For much of the year, it looked like it would be well over the target and it is believed in some circles that the government only managed to get it below 4.5 percent due to some fancy accounting. Just two months in to the current fiscal year the deficit is already close to what it ought to be mid-fiscal. The finance minister has a tricky job on his hands –should the Government borrow more and suck potentially productive capital out of the market? How will the government finance its welfare schemes?
  3. Make businesses feel good: the manufacturing sector has been anaemic the last several quarters, and the government needs make a strong statement on tax reforms, infrastructure and power sector development. Job creation and skilling is a major concern for the government. Skilling initiatives by past governments have been ineffective, and it remains to be seen if the current government has the foresight and ability to develop a nationwide skilling program.

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Jul 4 2014

Debating “Why India Votes?” at the House of Lords

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Last Wednesday Why India Votes? a book by Mukulika Banerjee, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the LSE, was launched at the House of Lords. The panel featured Jonathan Spencer, Regius Professor of South Asian Language, Culture and Society at Edinburgh University, Salil Tripathi, journalist and Director of policy at the Institute of Human Rights & Business, and Dr Banerjee herself. The event was hosted and chaired by Lord Bikhu Parekh. Sonali Campion reports.

Why India Votes? explores the motivations of ordinary voters across India through detailed local ethnographic research. The evening featured a lively panel presentation, which explored the value of anthropology as a way of understanding elections. Professor Spencer illustrated this by recounting his own recent experience of voting in the European elections in Edinburgh. He talked of arriving at his polling station to find an old friend standing outside campaigning for the NO2EU party, or “doggedly handing out leaflets for a lost cause” as Spencer put it. He emphasised that this kind of commitment is part of the beauty of elections and that anthropologists offer a unique and important insight into why someone will devote a day to promoting a party that will inevitably come last or, in the case of Banerjee’s book, why the Indian electorate votes enthusiastically and en masse despite the fact each individual vote counts for so little.

HoL launch

Image Credit: Ahona Palchoudhuri

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