Book reviews - Conflict Resolution: Asia

India of Our Times
(New Delhi: Gyan Publishing, 2011, 314pp.)

Harish Kapur, emeritus professor at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland has written extensively on foreign policy issues, especially the relations among the Asian "Great Powers" - China, India and the Soviet Union. More recently he has focused on Indian diplomacy with his India's Foreign Policy 1947-1992: Shadows and Substance and Diplomacy of India: Then and Now.

Kapur stresses the importance of history, and so has been concerned with the structure of India at its birth within its domestic, regional, and global context. All states have to adapt their foreign policy to the changing realities of the planet, realities which often escape them and over which they have little control. What control they do have, however, is the result of the decisions made by individuals in positions of power, individuals influenced by their education and experience, by their evaluation of the possibilities for action, and by the domestic pressures which often limit their choices.

Policy-making individuals operate under what we can call "decisional stress". Decisional stress is a combination of three essential parameters: perceived threat, perceived opportunities, and time pressure - the practical constraints under which decision makers operate. Decisions are motivated by mixtures of threats and opportunities and are also affected by the practical context within which the problem is to be addressed. No decision maker has a complete control over the surrounding system in which he or she operates, but every decision has some effect on the surrounding system.

In Diplomacy of India, Kapur had written "One can validly ask what is in store for India in the post-cold war and post-Soviet international system? What can India do to safeguard national security? Where is the threat emanating from? Who are its present and potential adversaries? Can they really be identified? India needs to seriously examine all that goes under national security in order to establish an overall picture of present and future threats, of direct and indirect menaces, of possible external attacks, of externally inspired internal upheavals, and of the possible linkage between ecological degradation and national security."

There is a need for a strong domestic base in order to carry out a successful foreign policy. There are two structural requirements for such a strong domestic foundation. The first is a need for a broad national consensus on the nature of a viable political-economic regime and using this broad consensus to counter disintegrating forces operating within the country such as secessionist movements and caste and religion-based politics.

The second requirement for a strong domestic base is modernisation within a global world economy. As Kapur asks "Will this globalization of the economy help India to tackle the economic problems it is currently faced with? Will all this new ongoing globalization of the economy finally open possibilities for it to grow rapidly, to obtain the necessary transfer of resources, and to become more export-oriented?"

In India of Our Times, Kapur looks at the interplay of domestic forces in his analysis of these two needs of broad political consensus for decision making and economic strengths to prosper in a global world economy. Although he does not deal with the topic in detail, Kapur glances at how China, the other Asian power, also deals with consensus-making and economic modernization.

Kapur deals in an important section with the impact of English colonial policy, its influence and the reactions against it at India's birth as a modern state. Basically, there are five lasting influences from the British period:

1) The sense of Statehood: a loyalty to the State slowly replacing the bonds to tribal, feudal, regional or religious allegiances.
2) Some of the necessary structures for a functioning Statehood, representative institutions at the national level and at the level of the provinces, the development of an educated civil service to administer both the national and provincial levels of government - what Kapur uses as a subtitle "An Experiment in Democracy."
3) A largely non-political army, which, while powerful and with influence, does not play a direct role in politics as the army has in Pakistan and Bangladesh, born of the same colonial administration.
4) An education system, especially at the college level, of good quality and in English which opened the doors to contacts with other parts of the world.
5) An economy with links to the world economy. While during the colonial period, these links were primarily designed for the benefit of London, they could be later transformed to New Delhi development aims.

These five influences provided a base for a strong foreign policy based on consensus around these five elements. Kapur traces how these five elements developed to form a strong domestic base for an active foreign policy, but he also deals with the weaknesses and counter-trends in each of the five areas.

1) The sense of Statehood was under strain at Independence with the breaking off of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Partition left India the question of Kashmir and the northeast states as a continuing part of Indian politics. Kapur does not deal with the counter-factual issue of what Indian politics would have been had there been no partition. Nor does he deal with what is likely to be the disintegration of Pakistan and its eventual re-integration into India. Likewise, he deals only in passing with the problems raised by the migration of Bangladeshis to India, both to the northeast states and the rest of India through West Bengal. As global warming raises the sea level, migration from Bangladesh will increase. For the moment, Indian political decision makers are not dealing publicly with the re-integration of Pakistan and Bangladesh into the Indian State, but the reintegration of both will change the percentage of Hindu-Muslim balance within India.

Currently, the sense of Statehood is under strain as regions within India take on more political importance and regional political parties are necessary for building political coalitions at the national level.

2) The quality of representative government is uneven both at the national and the provincial levels. The motivations and personal links among decision makers forged during the struggle for independence have often given way to more regional or personal influences. The impact of corruption on decision making is real. Political representation of minority groups, in particular Muslims and Dalits, is uneven and is often the result of temporary political alliances. There are still a good number of people who do not have a sense of an Indian Statehood. In some cases, such as that of the Maoists and the Naxalites, this lack of a sense of belonging to a common State has led to violence and the creation of autonomous zones under their control.

3) For the moment, the Indian army has remained outside a direct role in politics. This has created a sense of stability for civilian government, a sense that is lacking in both Pakistan and Bangladesh.

4) The Indian educational system continues to produce well-educated persons both for government civil service and for the private sector. Educated Indians often play important economic roles in countries outside India. The education sector evolves to keep pace with changes in the economic and technological sector. Nevertheless, there are a good number of people who lack basic education and who have difficulties to climb out of their traditional economic-social status. How to deal with the education of this large Indian "underclass" remains a key issue.

5) The links of the Indian economy to the world economy are growing and are likely to play an ever-increasing part in structuring Indian life. Somewhat later than China where "overseas Chinese" have played an important role in investing in the Chinese economy, "non-resident Indians" are playing an important role both in their direct capital investments in India, in facilitating Indian investments abroad, and in opening doors to other Indians migrating basically for economic reasons.

India has a growing "Middle Class" which is likely to be a base for a stable political and economic situation. There is now increasing leadership coming from the economic sector. For the moment, much of this leadership is related to the higher levels of big Indian industries, but we are likely to see a growth of power of the middle class economic entrepreneur.

Already we see in India, the growth of a large number of voluntary non-governmental associations led by educated persons from the middle class. There is a general evolution away from the charismatic leader as was Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru to a multitude of less "high profile" leaders who cooperate to reach common goals.

As Kapur states History is cast in unpredictable moulds. "Unexpected things do happen. Long periods of continuity, to which one gets used to, are often followed by short and tumultuous periods of change, only to be jettisoned for another long period of continuity."
Nevertheless, the basic trends in India are positive. These trends strengthen the two fundamentals of sound politics: a consensus-based broad framework for political policy making in both domestic and foreign policy and vigorous economic development which touches a wide public. Harish Kapur has provided clear analysis of the domestic base for a strong external policy.

Rene Wadlow