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  • Dhruv Kumar Jha


Abstract: This book offers a versatile, conceptual overview backed by vigorous research on the analysis of the strategy of India’s schools of thought when it comes to maintaining its stature with respect to foreign policy. Aparna Pande did exemplary work by explaining and clarifying the foreign policy actions of India from the standpoint of execution which includes bureaucracy and strategic implementation at an individual and institutional level.

The book ‘From Chanakya to Modi: Evolution of India’s foreign policy’ is an excellent piece of work by Dr. Aparna Pande. She is currently the Director for the India initiative at the Washington- DC based Hudson Institute. The central idea of this book revolves around India’s Foreign Policy and its evolution over the years. The title of the book fascinates the reader to tag along the aspirational journey of the Indian foreign policy. Even though it is based on history and moreover a factual interpretation, it ensures that the reader shall be on the edge of their seat. It takes the reader through a complete view, starting from Chanakya, also known as the Indian Machiavelli, the 3rd-century, to our Prime Minister in 2017, Mr. Narendra Modi. The author has beautifully presented the evolution of foreign policy, highlighting the influence of a nation’s history and cultural legacy being shaped by its own national experience leading to structuring of today’s India’s foreign policy.

The book serves as an epitome of India's eminence through the lens of a historian's glasses. The author critically analyses various schools of thought under Indian Foreign Policy. Thereafter, it puts forth the observation on how the personality of a State’s leader shall shape the country’s outlook on its foreign policies. For instance, the practices of an idealist prime minister like Nehru shall differ from Modi's vision for the state of foreign affairs. There exists a significant comparison as India’s foreign policy was molded differently in the reign and under the leadership of different political figures. A worth mentioning take of Indira Gandhi and I.K. Gujral doctrine and theories adds to the meat of the book which is a noteworthy point added into this book.

Furthermore, the book proceeds towards institutions like the civil services which play a remarkable role in shaping India's foreign policy. The inputs of career bureaucracy raised concerns for a requirement of expert training in professional matters like trade negotiations in organizations like WTO. Interestingly, the author has raised remarkable issues that we, as Indians, fail to address. Therefore, our people’s representatives do not have a significant say in the foreign policy of the country, which is made obvious as per the author’s comparison of our model with the American model where the people’s representatives have more of a significant say in foreign policy.

The author has applauded the British Raj for haven brought into our country the art of statecraft i.e. civil services, which act as the country's steel frame. Moreover, the author discusses the importance of scrutinizing the impact of South-East and Middle Eastern countries on India's Foreign Policy. Hence, the interaction with our immediate neighbors must also be considered after evaluating the effect of their strategies on the domestic and international policies, especially India’s neighboring countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Countries like China are always ready to sense that if these countries need any help India should be the first point of contact which is not the case at all as china is constantly trying to meddle into state affairs.

The author observes and asserts that global leaders have treaded the same path as Chanakya did centuries ago. One of the best examples shall be the non-aligned movement inspired by Kautilya’s realism, the author analogizes and appreciates the style of working of both the leaders, Nehru and Modi as they prefer to deal with their officers directly. However, these short-term interferences of prime ministers lead to a lengthy sidelining of foreign policy experts and diplomats who are primarily appointed for the job. Subsequently, it highlights that the national struggle of independence had emerged from the British occupation era, and though there were military and economic limitations, our leaders tried to harness India's full potential in foreign policy at the relevant time. The book provides a fantastic conclusion remarking that ‘we cannot sit back and sound great’. We need to address the issues with the highest tier of government authority and stakeholders to achieve the best version of India's foreign policy.

The meritorious aspect of contemporary history perfectly blends with the Buddhist lineage being practiced since centuries.

The author critically observes that both, Modi and Nehru reach out to citizens to elucidate external affairs and engagements.

Furthermore, the author poses questions for the reader to ponder about and to feed on their inquisitiveness. For example, “why were the monarch and princely rulers engaged in their state matters rather than expanding their kingdom to far off places?” The Chola exception was not forgotten and the reason that invoked them to attack modern-day Indonesia, Sri Vijaya kingdom, was discussed—due to their thirst to conquer southeast Asia. This was first in kind, as no other dynasty had even thought to expand its base to other far fledge countries across naval borders.

The most interesting chapter is - ‘Ideas and Individuals’. This piece builds the premise on how the foreign policy has evolved since India's independence, sculpted by the prime ministers and their personality, resembling the manner in which Nehru dealt with his officers directly and Indira Gandhi’s adoption of her father’s tactics. The arguments and observations are presented chronologically to intrigue the reader into the loop. I find this book very interesting as innovative ideas are built into every nook and corner of the book.

However, as a critique, I believe that the author has primarily interpreted history and ventilated over the past without any concrete opinion of her own. Moreover, the author seems to be credulous with the statement- “India has some manifest destiny”. All in all, the objective standpoint of the author makes it a must-read for people interested in public policy and international relations, without any prejudice. It is an attempt at connecting the dots of the narrative by moving backward through the loop to present the chronicles.

My favorite takeaway from the book shall be the proposition of ‘Indian exceptionalism’—the notion that runs through the citizenry believing that India has been unique, is exceptional, and will always remain special. It is incredible when the author annotates the ideas of progression that reflects the past. Therefore, if you are looking forward to exploring India’s foreign policy, this masterpiece gets your foot onto the doorstep.

Author bio - Dhruv Kumar Jha is pursuing B.A (Hons) in Global Affairs. He is very passionate about international Relations and has interned with organisations like International Solar Alliance and National Maritime Foundation. He wants to bring a change in the political spectrum in society.

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