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  • Somansh Sharma


How India Became Territorial, written by Itty Abraham, addresses questions like why countries go to war over territorial conflict even when the land is not of keen strategic and economic importance. The author identifies the decolonisation of India in the twentieth century which was the basis for the territorial conflicts, arousing in India, and argues that the consequences of fixed territorial boundaries of a nation were necessary to gain international recognition and consolidate legitimate power in a nation like India. Moreover, the author in this sense concludes that conflicts over disputed lands arise to gain international recognition in a multipolar world and show the legitimacy of the power of any country in the world rather than acquiring land for potential economic gains. The author, in this book, treats the Indian diaspora, the country’s geopolitics, and foreign policy as ways to develop a new pattern of thinking about the internal territorial conflicts in India as well as the tense relations with neighbouring countries like Pakistan and China. The new productive way of thinking is used to think about these territorial conflicts from a different lens and analyze the related problems to gain India’s regional security and changes in foreign policy.

The Introduction of the book deals with defining the main concepts of the author’s thesis so that the readers are aware of the basic concepts and can connect well to the argument posed by him. The first part of the book offers a new way of understanding the territory of India and examines how territorial disputes in India began to rise among the people inside the country and outside even when the land was not of great economic importance for the country. Moreover, this chapter discusses why the net loss of land is considered as a loss of legitimate power in bilateral conflicts even if the decisions regarding territorial disputes are made through mutual negotiations. (p.p.19) The author uses decolonization in India and Asia to answer these questions. The second part of the book examines how the foreign policy of India has played a role in defining the territorial boundaries of India over the last century without considering the Indian diaspora at the time of independence. (p.p.73) Moreover, it offers details on how the factor of geopolitics as foreign policy was used in revising the territorial boundary of India and why Indian geopolitics has a direct connection with postcolonial geopolitics. (p.p.107) The last part of the book offers a conclusion to the territorial conflicts faced by India and how these issues can be resolved through negotiation while maintaining the territorial integrity of India.

The central argument of the book is that the territorial integrity of India is a necessary requirement for attaining recognition in the international postcolonial world to assure its legitimacy over the state. Foreign policy exemplars like the Indian diaspora and Indian geopolitics after the Independence of the country have played a major role in defining and revising the territories of India which may give rise to territorial conflicts. The territorial conflicts discussed in the book are, “the Naga insurgencies in northeast India; the Maoists in Nepal; Kashmir; insurgencies in Baluchistan and Pakistan and the Pakistani Administered Territories; the Soviet and US involvements in Afghanistan; the Sikh insurgencies in India; and the rise and fall of Tamils in Sri Lanka.” The book compares the world that I have known and have read about. The rising tensions between India and China over territorial conflict and the fatalities caused in Kashmir are examples of this type of world.

Being a student of international affairs, I connected with the author’s thesis and argument very well. Due to this, it seems that the book has accomplished the clear provision of information about how and why India became territorial. Moreover, the argument seems to be clearly stated and the research method truly supports the argument. The conclusions offered in the book seem to be appropriate and logical along the lines of diplomacy. In addition, the conclusions offered are seemingly beneficial to India’s interests, while also supporting the author’s argument.

The main sources for supporting the author’s argument comprise factual details of both points of view i.e., the government as well as the views of insurgents. These sources give accurate statistical information and factual understanding, but the analysis offered by the author seems to not be convincing enough. The analysis offered is just based on one reason and that deals with decolonization in India and Asia. Moreover, the book has some grammatical and proofreading mistakes. Though these mistakes do not change the argument, they show some carelessness and lack of attention to detail. The evidence is based on an appropriate method of the application used to gather information even though the analysis could have been more detailed and opinionated. The book, however, is far from the reach of modern conflicts like the rise in tensions in Arab countries. From the use of sources, it can be gathered that this book can be used for factual details as it offers varied information regarding Indian territory, Indian diaspora, and geopolitics even though it is less informative in terms of analysis. Thus, the recommendation of the book is likely for those who want to understand Indian territory and Indian territorial conflicts in detail. As the book offers a clear understanding and provides a keen introduction to the main concepts, it can also be recommended to people who may not primarily have basic knowledge of Indian territory and exemplars of foreign policy. In comparison with The Civil War and Reconstruction in Indian Territory, it can be concluded that both books are of great factual importance. One of the differences is that the Civil War and Reconstruction of Indian Territory explains revising the Indian territory in terms of internal conflicts of India whereas How India became Territorial gives details about defining and revising Indian territory in terms of external conflicts. The first book pertains to the perspective only that of after Independence whereas the second book talks about both colonized India and independent India.

In-Text References

Abraham, Itty. How India Became Territorial: Foreign Policy, Diaspora, Geopolitics. 1st ed., Stanford University Press, 2014. JSTOR, Accessed 30 Sept. 2020.

CLAMPITT, BRADLEY R., editor. The Civil War and Reconstruction in Indian Territory. University of Nebraska Press, 2015. JSTOR, 30 Sept. 2020.

Priyanka Singh (2016) Itty Abraham. How India Became Territorial: Foreign Policy, Diaspora, Geopolitics, Asian Affairs, 47:1, 157-159, DOI: 10.1080/03068374.2016.1130978

Accessed 30 Sept. 2020

Balachandran, G. “Book Review: Itty Abraham, How India Became Territorial: Foreign Policy, Diaspora, Geopolitics.” The Indian Economic & Social History Review, vol. 53, no. 4, Oct. 2016, pp. 561–563, doi:10.1177/0019464616663730. Accessed 30 Sept. 2020

Cover Image: Joshua Olsen/Unsplash

About the author: Somansh, a final year student pursuing Bachelors in International Relations at Jindal School of International Affairs. He is passionate about research and analytical writing. His areas of interests are foreign policy, diplomacy and international law. He strives towards inspiring and educating others in this realm to advocate positive socio-political change.

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