An important aspect that defines the essence of Geopolitics is the highly interconnected nature of its functioning. The events that occur and gradually evolve in one region are likely to have geopolitical implications for other regions. A careful observation of the events that had taken place just prior to the turn of the century and also that took place just after it, when the world entered into the twenty-first century, is interesting to note. It provides a picture of the changing world order which was continuously shaped by those events.
The book ‘Reimagining India – In the Geopolitics of the 21st Century’ edited by Dr. Nanda Kishor and Prashanth Vaidyaraj, in this context, is a deeply insightful and well-researched book that provides a comprehensive picture of India’s foreign policy initiatives, its unique position at the high table of the world politics in the context of the changing world order from being bipolar to a brief period of unipolar and the present multipolar state of the world order. It also delves deep into its vision and strategies for the future.
The book begins with a comprehensive introduction where it strives to explain the major events that occurred around the turn of the century that shaped the geopolitics of that time. The complete withdrawal of the Soviets from Afghanistan in the year 1989 and its disintegration in 1991; the 9/11 twin tower attack on America; and the rise of the Violent Non-State Actors were some of the major events that became instrumental in the understanding of the changing world order and its potential implication on the foreign policy decisions of the states.
Holding this background into perspective, the book also explains the unique position of India. The economic crisis of 1991, the rise of terrorism and the violent non-state actors, the declining nature of international law, the fall of the USSR and the underlying unipolar world order made India’s choice vulnerable; and more importantly, a weak coalition government that since 1989 that resulted in a policy paralysis in the Indian political system.
The book argues that 2014 was a “watershed moment” when after 25 years the BJP government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi came into power with a full majority. A shift in the foreign policy initiative of India resulted from Non-Alignment to multialignment. India displayed a more realistic approach by making decisions based on its national interest and democratic and civilisational values. The balancing of India’s relationship with the US and Russia. It emphasizes the rise of China and challenges its imparts to India.
The book ‘Reimagining India - In the Geopolitics of the 21st Century’ is a deeply insightful and well-researched book that provides a comprehensive picture of India’s foreign policy initiatives, its unique position in world politics and the present multipolar state of the world order. It also delves deep into its vision and strategies for the future.
The editors and writers have focused on five fundamental questions which become the epistemological basis of this book. They are a) types of choices made by India with little or no available options? b) Have these choices changed the imagination of Indians who looked at India’s performance in the international system? c) adjustment made by India in twenty-first-century geopolitics; d) Is India taking calculated risks to navigate the geopolitics? e) Has India’s time arrived in the international system? These are the questions that the authors have tried to answer in the subsequent chapters.
On a thematic note, the book is broadly divided into six major sections that cover a plethora of issues catering to the larger theme of the book i.e. India’s position in the geopolitics of the 21st century. These sections are as follows: a) India as a World Power, b) India and International Agencies, c) The China Challenge, d) India and West Asia e) India and South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia, f) Defense and Technology. These sections strive to analyze India’s position not only from a bird’s eye view at the international level but also go into much detail about specific regions that are strategically important for India’s national interest.
Section I – India as a World Power
Emphasizing three major E3 countries of Europe i.e. Britain, France and Germany, Ms Gargi Shanbhag in her article An Assessment of the E3 Perception of India as a Great Power proclaims that India strives to “balance its relationships” with the E3 Countries at the same time holding into perspective their relationship with Russia and changing dynamics of the ongoing Ukraine crisis. She suggests that India must utilize its G20 precedence to further its ambition of achieving “Great Power Status” (p. 16).
Placing the spotlight on the underlying importance of narratives in international politics, Ms. Poornima B in her article India and the Discourse on Great Powers: Assessing Narratives on Aspirations, Capabilities and Challenges, advocates the view that the great powers are “System shapers” who set the narratives and shapes the systems in international politics (p. 31). She is of the view that India must not only focus on its military and economic strength but also strive to diversify its strategic partnership and “Exercising Strategic Autonomy” which is fundamental to its foreign policy.
Priyanka Jaiswal in her article India’s World View – Debates on India as a Great Power, places multiple views and definitions of power ranging from different schools of thought. She also refers to Arthashastra in the context of Indian strategic thinking which she considers a more “comprehensive concept”. She strives to draw a parity between the Indian and Western Scholar’s approach to the concept of Great power and argues that India in the last few years is set to move ahead on the path of becoming a great power provided it lets go of the “historical baggage and self-doubt” (p. 48).
In his article Understanding the Changing Nature of Geopolitics in the Contemporary World, Abhishek Kadiyala speaks about the idea of Geopolitics from a historical evolutionary perspective and explains the four stages of geopolitics (p. 50). He emphasizes the centrality of human beings that is fundamental to the functioning of geopolitics and holds the view that this will continue as long as humans persist.
Focusing on the importance of neighbours Vishwapramod C. in his article Understanding the Relevance of India’s Neighborhood First Policy focuses on the ambition of India to create a consolidated and prosperous South Asia which witnessed a downward trend due to the slow progress of SAARC countries (p. 62). He categorizes the neighbors of India into three broad categories Unstable neighbors, Conflictual neighbors and Unfriendly neighbors and suggests that the stability of the region is of great importance for India’s rise.
Bringing a feminist perspective, Innocentia in her chapter Gender Mainstreaming in India’s Foreign Policy advocates to look with the vision of providing “equal opportunities” to women. She emphasizes the increasing number of women candidates in the Indian Foreign Services and argues that they must be taken to the highest rank. She holds the view that this will help India attain great power status (p. 73).
Section II – India and International Agencies
Emphasizing the importance of international agencies this section comprises three insightful articles presenting the Indian perspective. Induja JS in her paper India and Multilateralism: Engagement with the United Nations throws light on the importance of the United Nations. She argues for a “constructive engagement” of India with the United Nations, especially with regard to the security front (p. 88). The role of multilateralism, as argued by her, would lead India on the path of great power status.
The issue pertaining to the reforms in the UN Security Council and India’s place as its permanent member is discussed by Nikhil Gowda in his article Time for India to claim its rightful place in the UN. He argues for the much-needed structural reforms that India’s UN needs to make itself relevant to the changing needs and dynamics of the 21st century. The civilisational legacy, the democratic principles, and the rise of India as an economic power make it a rightful claimant of a seat in the UN Security Council (p. 94).
The Indo-Pacific region has gained much prominence in recent times. In her chapter The Rise of Minilateralism in the Indo-Pacific, Dnyanashri Kulkarni focuses on the importance of minilateralism. She argues that due to various factors like asymmetry in geography, political systems and diversity of perceptions, multilateralism has not proved to be an effective tool for functioning in this region. She also advocates for countering the rise of China with a Minilateral mechanism (p. 105).
Section III – The China Challenge
China is a major player in the international system and the rise of China as a revisionist state with hitherto claimed to be peaceful has proved otherwise. Spanning across four insightful articles this section caters to the challenges that emerge from China. Dr. Sriparna Pathak in the chapter China’s 20th Party Congress and Increasing Chinese Aggression argues about the aggressive political consciousness that China has deliberately tried to perpetuate among its people of not viewing India as a ‘friend’. The chapter also talks about how China has projected India as an ‘enemy’ among its domestic audience (p. 118).
Holding an alternative and optimistic perspective Sonam Bhavani in her article China’s Belt and Road Initiative and India’s ‘Project Mausam’: The Changing Dynamics of Cultural Diplomacy in the Contemporary Era is of the view that the two civilisational states i.e. India and China cannot afford to ‘ignore each other’ to rise at the international level. She suggests that the two nations must count on the use of soft power through cultural diplomacy. Emphasizing the Indian Project Mausam argues for reviving the lost linkages with the countries along the Indian Ocean (p. 132).
Dr. Sriparna Pathak in the chapter China’s 20th Party Congress and Increasing Chinese Aggression argues about the aggressive political consciousness that China has deliberately tried to perpetuate among its people of not viewing India as a ‘friend’.
The article, China’s Expansionism: Zheng He in the Indian Ocean by Isha Tripathi takes a historical perspective of China when Zheng He took a trip from the South China Sea and came to India. She talked about the importance of the Maritime Silk Road as a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and its close links with the one-pointed pursuit of the Chinese policy of expansionism to achieve its ambition of global superpower. She suggests a strong relationship between India and Japan as both are directly at the receiving end of China’s expansionism (p. 140).
Amidst the crest and trough of India China’s relation trade remains a stable perpetual link between the two. In his article named, Outlook of India – China Bilateral Relations from the Trade Perspective, Rahul Ajnoti traces the history of India – China Bilateral Trade. He states the yawning gap in trade that exists between India and China and the benefits China has gained over the years. He articulates the view that China’s foreign policy has often perceived India as a “weak player with limited global influence” (p 154-155). The coercive steps taken by the Chinese in the form of supply chain disruptions, breaches of data security, dumping practices etc. have severely harmed India’s national interest.
Section IV – India and West Asia
West Asia remains to be a region of critical importance for India. Although, having a complex geopolitical scenario in the region India’s ties with West Asian states is significant both from economic as well as strategic perspective. In his paper named India’s Relations with West Asia in an evolving multipolar World, Anmol Kumar has focused on four major countries and their ties with India. They are Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. He states that there exists a “complex interdependence” between India and this region that caters to the emerging economic conditions of India (p. 161). Anmol covers a wide spectrum of relationships by tracing them historically and showing their present-day relevance. He argues in favour of India’s “Link West” policy that helped bring this region closer to India (p. 171)
Emphasizing Iran, Arun Mathew in his Chapter Understanding the Dynamics between India – Iran Relations traces the historical origin of the relation dating back to the southward migration of the Aryan and talks about the cultural ties with the country (p. 177-178). Arun focuses on the importance of the “Look West” policy of India and the various MOUs signed with Iran ranging from infrastructure, trade, and connectivity to energy security. Keeping the geopolitical dynamics into perspective in the context of the US, Arun argues that India will have to walk the tightrope to maintain its relationship with Iran.
Focusing on Israel, the time-tested friend of India, Rushita Shetty in her article Locating the Mazel Tov Moment in the India – Israel Relations argues how after the Abraham Accord the Palestinian issue was gradually placed on the back burner. This has helped India to build stronger ties with Israel without much concern on the Palestinian issue (p. 197). She states that the Narendra Modi Government was able to “de-hyphenate” Israel and Palestine and the relationship has witnessed an upward trajectory ( p. 199)
Section V – India and South Asia, Southeast Asia & East Asia
The Act East Policy of India squarely caters to this region. India had deep cultural, religious and economic ties with this region. In this regard, Mayank Dalvi in the article India-South Korea Relations – A New Friendship on the importance of South Korea. Historically tracing its relationship with India Mayank argues about the upward trajectory of the relation witnessed after the Economic reform that India underwent in the 1990’s and the multiple investments and companies that came to India for business after the visit of PM Rao to South Korea in the year 1993 (p. 205-206).
Priyadarshini Baruah in her article, India’s Act East Policy: A Critical Assessment opines that the Narendra Modi government transformed the Look East Policy to the Act East Policy in the year 2014 to promote deeper cultural and economic ties with this region (p. 218). She has placed special emphasis on linking the Act East Policy with the Indo-Pacific Region in the context of India’s Strategic Interest in the region. She argues that through this policy India can “manage” China’s rise (p. 225)
Dr. Manoj Panigrahi in his article, India - Taiwan Ties: An Evolving Relationship, argues about the geopolitical dynamics of this region with China being a central player and talks about the multiple voices in the context of a tit-tat approach by supporting Taiwan and setting the narrative against the One China Policy.
Focusing on the “one missing piece” in the Far East, Dr. Manoj Panigrahi highlights Taiwan in this region. In his article, India – Taiwan Ties: An Evolving Relationship argues about the geopolitical dynamics of this region with China being a central player. Dr. Manoj talks about the multiple voices in the context of a tit-tat approach by supporting Taiwan and setting the narrative against the One China Policy (p. 230). He argues, that in the context of various issues, China claiming Arunachal Pradesh as its own territory is a prominent one.
In the last article of this section, Kiran Bhatt talks about aid diplomacy by India. Her article named Emergence of India As An Aid Donor: Perceptions On Aid Diplomacy In South Asia, talks about the centrality of India in the South Asian region and its critical role in winning the “confidence” of its neighbours. However, she is also cognizant in her argument about the mixture of positive and negative perceptions that are built in this regard. She states that these are mostly built by political parties or regimes of the region (p. 243-244).
Section VI – Defense and Technology
The last pertains to Defense and Technology which constitute a fundamental pillar for achieving India’s ambition of great power status. This section contains three insightful articles. Beginning with the technological domain Malavika Madholkar in her article Evolution of Civilian and Military Space Technology in India argues about the importance of outer space activity for achieving the great power status. The geopolitics on space has gradually attained much focus and she explains how the ASAT missile test by China in January 2007 came as a “wake-up call for India” (p. 254). Malavika argues for strong multilateral space ties with the US and states that because of its cost-effective and cutting-edge technology, India can become a driver in the global space economy.
Viswapramod C. in his article Revisiting India’s Nuclear Doctrine: A Quest for Revival has emphasized India’s image as a responsible nuclear power at the international level. He argues that since 2014, India has witnessed a gradual change in its strategic thinking and is required to come out of its strategic paralysis and reconsider its no-first-use policy (p. 269). He suggests that India needs to come out of its ‘track of ambiguity’ and build a more robust policy that caters to the present geo-political scenarios.
Dr. Ragotham Sundararajan in his article Emerging Science and Technologies and Their Role in Society highlights the larger question of impact on merging science and technology. She questions the geopolitical implication of these technologies (p. 272) Ranging from the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence to space technology Dr. Ragotham considers these technologies as a part of comprehensive national power for India to provide quality of living to people and also to achieve great power status (p. 277).
Viswapramod C. in his article Revisiting India’s Nuclear Doctrine: A Quest for Revival argues that since 2014, India has witnessed a gradual change in its strategic thinking and is required to come out of its strategic paralysis and reconsider its no-first-use policy
It can be rightly advocated that India has emerged as a major figure at the high table of world politics which no state can afford to ignore. Its foreign policy fundamentals have remained strong and have stood the test of time since the days of the Cold War era. However, 2014 proved to be a point of inflexion. Under the broad vision of PM Narendra Modi the foreign policy of India is moving with its strategic vision and ambition. The ‘Amrit Kal’ as stated by the honourable Prime Minister is the time when India is set to rise and places its view with confidence at the international level.
The remarkable success of the G20 meeting clearly articulates that India has acquired a position where it now has the power to shape the global order. Championing the cause of the global south and emerging as its leader is an emblematic example of the same. Spanning twenty-three chapters and six sections this book comprehensively covers India’s position, its challenges and opportunities on various fronts and is bound to make the reader reimagine India in the geopolitics of the twenty-first century.
(Abhishek Kumar is a research intern at the Indian Council of World Affairs, ICWA. He has completed his M.A. in Politics and International Relations from Pondicherry University. Views and opinions expressed are the author’s own)
Book: Reimagining India – In the Geopolitics of the 21st Century
Edited By: Dr. Nanda Kishor, Prashanth Vaidyaraj,
Publishers: VSK Karnataka
Price: ₹ 600 (Hardcover)