The history of Indian international relations
Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar recently criticized international organizations which criticized India’s strained democratic credentials, calling them hypocrites and “self-proclaimed guardians of the world”. This remark was not surprising given India’s natural sensitivity to external criticism. But the commentary demonstrated the multiple ideological sources of nationalist and internationalist thought in India, most of which remain underestimated in the still Western world of international relations.
India has played a central role in the development of knowledge about international relations both as a practice and as an academic discipline. As one looks beyond the worldviews and influences of Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, and tries to gauge the ideas and global impact of figures such as Veer Savarkar and Subhash Chandra Bose, he becomes imperative to systematically unpack the multiple sources of India. intellectual contributions in this field.
One of the sites for the development of this knowledge was the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), India’s first independent international affairs think tank. From 1943, as with the revolving door between American think tanks and the United States State Department, ICWA became an institutional powerhouse that generated foreign policy knowledge not only for a decolonizing state. , but for the world in general. Prominent figures, such as Angadipuram Appadorai, were part of a new cadre of scholar-practitioners playing a substantial role in the design and implementation of the non-aligned movement that fundamentally challenged the Cold War binaries. . The generation of such useful foreign policy knowledge for independent India provides a lineage for Indian international relations, but we should not stop there.
Other, deeper stories can be found in unlikely places. Since its creation in 1919, the League of Nations has been the target of criticism from a large section of the Indian intelligentsia. Often regarded as an imperial club, India’s membership in the League was overseen by the colonial state, which selected moderate delegations to the League assembly favorable to the interests of the British Raj.
One of the functions of the League, under the auspices of the International Commission on Intellectual Co-operation (ICIC), was to develop the “scientific” study of international relations. Recently searched archival documents at the League’s Geneva repository show how these efforts included the establishment of League societies in India and the ICIC’s attempts to encourage Tagore to further the League’s mission in India.
These efforts have attracted academics such as Lucknow political scientists Vangala Shiva Ram and Brij Mohan Sharma. They have actively expressed Indian perspectives on reform of the League of Nations and the world federation in new scholarly journals such as the Indian Journal of Political Science.
A third lineage can be identified in the worldly exploits of activists, scholars and revolutionaries who advanced the cause of Indian independence through travel and encounters abroad.
Generations of Indian schoolchildren know about freedom fighters and their role in advancing the interior liberation of India. But, through their travels, activists-academics among them have often developed an international outlook as well, disseminating their works through media such as the Calcutta-based company. Modern journal.
In many ways, India’s freedom was the product of transnational advocacy. University of Calcutta sociologist Benoy Kumar Sarkar’s long research trips to East Asia, Europe and North America, for example, included publications in major American political science journals. He advanced ‘Hindu’ interpretations of the world order, including the Kautilyan mandala conception of geopolitics, later adopted by Nehru. Although seemingly moderate in his views, Sarkar’s collaborations with the peripateticist Taraknath Das hinted at more revolutionary connections. Das’ academic profile included work on Japanese foreign policy and the history of India’s role in the world.
The history of reflection on international relations in India is therefore that of multiple intellectual lineages, both deeper and more complex than the existing accounts often allow. It is the story of a field of thought deeply entangled with world affairs and global developments in the systematization of knowledge of international affairs in the first half of the 20th century. A more holistic history of the stories of Indian international thought is possible, as now shown by scholars such as Raphaëlle Khan, Vineet Thakur and Rahul Sagar.
Not only would a renewed attention to these stories offer a more faithful retrieval of Indian international thought, but it would also provide a broader tapestry from which to unravel the lineages of international relations thought that characterize contemporary debates on Indian foreign policy. . The active geographical imagination of the Hindu right of a “ great India ” – Akhand Bharat – the rhetoric of India’s “human bridge” through its relations with the diaspora, and Jaishankar’s anger at Western institutions – all have their roots in visions of a world order shaped throughout the early twentieth century. century.
India’s contributions to the reflection on international relations are substantial and continuous. Its current global role can be better understood through these more detailed historical surveys.
Martin Bayly is Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, The London School of Economics and Political Science
Opinions expressed are personal