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  • No Strings Attached? India’s Policies and Foreign Aid, 1947–1966
  • Sumit Ganguly
Gilles Boquerat , No Strings Attached? India’s Policies and Foreign Aid, 1947–1966. New Delhi: Manohar, 2003. 431 pp.

By 2004, India's foreign exchange reserves exceeded $100 billion, and its economy that year grew by 6.2 percent. Moreover, India's middle class is now estimated to number more than 80 million people. This assortment of statistics is indicative of a dramatic transformation of India's economic fortunes. India in the twenty-first century is a vastly different country from the near-decrepit state that emerged from the detritus of the British colonial empire in 1947. Under British colonial rule, India's economy had not only stagnated but shrunk.

In the first flush of independence, India's leaders chose to adopt a mixed economy, incorporating many aspects of the Soviet Union's forced industrialization policies, albeit without the viciously coercive features. This economic model was autarkic, and it stifled economic growth and failed to alleviate poverty, leaving the country acutely dependent on both bilateral and multilateral foreign assistance. Curiously enough, despite this dependence on foreign aid, India pursued a policy of nonalignment, refusing to cast its political lot with either superpower. The embrace of nonalignment was hardly unproblematic. India's unwillingness to offer forthright support for the United States, one of its principal financial benefactors, on a series of foreign policy issues often led U.S. policymakers to consider terminating or at least significantly curtailing their bilateral assistance programs. Indeed the Johnson administration, piqued by India's unrelenting criticism of the U.S. war effort in Vietnam and by the Indian government's unwillingness to reform its hidebound economy, linked food assistance to fundamental changes in both foreign and domestic policies. Despite the significant costs imposed by Lyndon Johnson's ultimatum, Indian leaders made only minor adjustments in their policy stances. Moreover, Johnson's harsh tactics actually prompted India to drift toward the Soviet Union and contributed to a long-term rift in Indo-U.S. relations.

A number of political scientists and diplomatic historians have carefully documented the origins and impact of Johnson's "short tether" policies of food assistance. The political scientists Robert Paarlberg and James Bjorkman and the diplomatic historian Andrew Rotter are among those who have written on this period with considerable authority. Gilles Boquerat's well-researched, intellectually measured, and tightly argued book, No Strings Attached: India's Policies and Foreign Aid, 1947–1966, ends with a discussion of this infelicitous episode in Indo-U.S. relations. Boquerat's book does not provide fundamental new insights or any telling new evidence beyond those offered by other scholars who have written about this particularly troubled period. Nor, for that matter, does Boquerat reveal many striking new findings that had escaped students of Indian foreign policy or diplomatic history. Instead the strength of his book lies elsewhere.

The most significant feature is Boquerat's extraordinary ability to weave the warp and woof of Indian domestic politics with its foreign policy choices and decisions. [End Page 152] Few scholars of India's foreign policy, either in India or abroad, have demonstrated such an intimate grasp of the personalities, ideological trends, institutional factors, and social forces that shaped India's foreign policy choices. Boquerat has gleaned such an understanding through the careful sifting of declassified American and French archival sources, perusal of public documents on Indian foreign policy, and extensive use of other secondary sources. As a consequence of his meticulous research, he succeeds in developing an exhaustive account of the impact of foreign assistance on India's foreign policy choices and behavior during the period under examination.

The central finding of the book is that despite substantial external pressures, India's leaders refused to alter their foreign policy in any significant way on key international and bilateral issues. Indian foreign policy under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's tutelage had sought to chart an autonomous course. External blandishments, even crude attempts at pressure on critical issues, such as the vexed Kashmir question, did not make the Indians yield. Indeed Boquerat, to his credit, shows in some detail what Indian commentators have long suspected...