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Exploring ‘The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World’

‘The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World’ is a compilation of lectures by Dr. Subramanyam Jaishankar published in 2020. While the contents of the book have been hotly debated and been a source of great debate and controversy, one can gain immensely from his learnings from his four decades as a Bharatiya diplomat posted in different countries and more recently his position as the minister of external affairs. The book aims to discuss Bharat’s approach to foreign affairs in this post-COVID world, and its interplay with the everchanging global dynamics and power plays.

The book is divided into eight chapters and through the means of the lectures he has conducted over the past two years, gives the reader great insight into the thought processes and the conversations of the Bharatiya leaders that mould our policies. The three prominent traits that emerge as patterns in these policies are the unwavering defence of Bharatiya interests in a pragmatic mode, which is supported and legitimised by a strong ethnic nationalism; the certainty of achieving some level of power; and the corresponding refusal of alignment with any nation in order to maximise one’s transactional advantage. According to Dr. Jaishankar and the majority of people, this trifecta represents a break with the past brought about by Narendra Modi.

What makes his approach to the field unique is his grounding to his Bharatiya roots such that he relates our policy to our cultural symbolisms. It is clear from what he writes that he opposes Bharat entering any alliance system. He also opposes the traditional non-alignment position. To illustrate his position, he uses Balarama and Rukmi of Vidarbha from the Mahabharata. Both chose to keep out of the conflict, but they still had to deal with the fallout.

In order to help Bharat reconcile its national interests with its international commitments, it is important to give potential policy solutions for dealing with global concerns. Dr. Jaishankar uses history and tradition to show how to draw inspiration from the past and establish a stronger presence on the global stage, through an allusion to a Satyajit Ray film in which two Indian nawabs lose their prosperous empire in Awadh to the British East India Company while playing chess to drive home the need for Bharat to be equally aware of an emerging China in its neighbourhood as well as other such “momentous shifts.”

Through his trifecta approach and socio-cultural analysis, Dr. Jaishankar lays out the broad framework of Bharat’s policy-making, all the while relying on its realism and pragmatism. However, Dr. Jaishankar tends to look at the world through a lens tinted with Bharat’s romanticisation. While he commends Bharat’s ambition as reflected in its policy, he disregards the mobilisation of resources that such endeavours require, and might one say is indifferent to the realistic and practical means required to support his strategy building.

Furthermore, while going through the chapters, one realises that the book does not quite answer for the readers as to how and even if Bharat will manage to tackle uncertainty when presented with it, instead being left with vague and often open-ended ‘solutions’ such as “if India can handle the uncertainty, its rise can also be faster.”

Dr. Jaishankar’s book, while a great endeavour, jumps around timelines, and requires the reader to have some prior understanding of international affairs. While the book itself provides valuable insight to those who are already pre-disposed to the subject matter such as those studying international affairs at the university level, whom the lectures were originally conducted for, it may be slightly above the comprehension levels of the layperson with its deep dive into the subject matter.

This aside, his work is compiled beautifully in the format of a book and made more accessible to public policy and international affairs enthusiasts, and his incorporation of Bharatiya culture in the work to help provide a background for the framework is refreshing in this day and age where most in the field of academia worship the West.


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