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  • A Changing India's Search for Leadership
  • Harsh V. Pant (bio)

In more ways than one, India stands at a crossroads today in its sixth decade since independence. Politically, democracy in India is thriving as new alliances emerge virtually every election cycle and governments, at both the regional and national levels, are thrown out at regular intervals by a populace that demands better governance from the ruling elites. Economically, the country continues to perform well, despite the inefficiencies of the government, primarily due to the dynamism of its private sector. And increasingly India is not shy to assert itself on the global stage as a power that can shape and possibly transform the emerging global balance of power.

But beyond the hype of a "new" India, there is another story. Despite all the claims that India is a rising power, the country is passing through a serious crisis. The government in New Delhi is facing a credibility test as the nation has been besieged by a plethora of corruption scandals in recent months. From the Commonwealth Games to telecommunications, there have been scandals galore, and the government has found it difficult to operate amid demands by the opposition and the civil society for greater accountability. The Indian government is paralyzed to the point of looking like a lame duck, given that there is no political will to make tough decisions and follow them through. Dark clouds are gathering on the economic horizon, with many questioning the ability of the Indian government to initiate the much-needed second generation of economic reforms.

India has always been a land of myriad contradictions, but these contradictions have been accentuated over the last three fateful decades. In India Since 1980, Sumit Ganguly and Rahul Mukherji, two of the most prolific and perceptive observers of contemporary India, tell this fascinating story of the momentous changes underway in the country by using the conceptual frame of what they term the "four revolutions": the deepening of Indian democracy, secularism, economic reforms, and changing Indian foreign policy. These are huge themes to cover in a single volume, and the authors should be commended for presenting a succinct and rigorous analysis in an eminently readable form. [End Page 114]

Given my research interest in Indian foreign policy, this discussion will largely focus on those parts of the book that delve into changing Indian foreign policy priorities in recent decades. The authors rightly highlight the crucial role that structural changes and key individuals at critical junctures have played in allowing New Delhi to make some significant changes in its foreign policy priorities. The impact of the end of the Cold War has been evident in almost all spheres of Indian foreign policy, with the authors focusing particularly on India's outreach to Israel, the transformation of U.S.-India relations, India's emergence as an overt nuclear power in 1998, the ushering in of a cautious change in Sino-Indian relations, the maintenance of an important defense relationship with Russia, and the extension of relations with Southeast Asia.

A broad overview of these changes succeeds in bringing out the choices that India has been making over the last three decades. It is in the last section of the chapter on foreign policy that the authors present some of their most important and interesting insights. They exhort Indian elites "to begin a discussion of the principles that might undergird Indian foreign policy" (p. 55). I have also commented along similar lines in my own work. It is not that there are no debates in India on the foreign policy choices facing the nation, but rather that these debates are happening in an intellectual vacuum with the result that micro issues dominate the foreign policy discourse in the absence of an overarching framework. A major power's foreign policy cannot be effective in the absence of a guiding framework of underlying principles that is a function of both the nation's geopolitical requirements and its values. In India, that big debate is still awaited, though a few recent attempts to articulate broad intellectual principles to guide foreign policy priorities suggest that the idea of nonalignment continues to enjoy wide support among members...


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pp. 114-117
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