The India Way Review
The decade from the 2008 global financial crisis to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic has seen a real transformation of the world order. The very nature of international relations and its rules are changing before our eyes.
For India, this means optimal relationships with all the major powers to best advance its goals. It also requires a bolder and non-reciprocal approach to its neighborhood. A global footprint is now in the making that leverages India’s greater capability and relevance, as well as its unique diaspora. This era of global upheaval entails greater expectations from India, putting it on the path to becoming a leading power.
In The India Way, S. Jaishankar, India’s Minister of External Affairs, analyses these challenges and spells out possible policy responses. He places this thinking in the context of history and tradition, appropriate for a civilizational power that seeks to reclaim its place on the world stage.
The India Way Summary
Jaishankar, the current External Affairs Minister of India, has had a front-row seat to various geopolitical events of the last few decades in his roles as Ambassador to China and USA, and then as the Foreign Secretary in the first term of the Modi government.
His book, “The Indian Way” is a good summary of India’s foreign policy challenges in the face of key global trends since Independence, including a clear articulation of the various foreign policy successes (few) and failures, current challenges, and hence the imperatives going forward.
It is not a general treatise of global events of the past few decades in so much as they were not particularly relevant to India. Hence, it is quite silent on the creation of the Euro Zone or various facets of the Cold War or the collapse of the Iron Curtain to the extent they did not have direct relevance to India.
What is particularly interesting about this book is the articulation of India’s foreign policy since Independence. He borrows from history, quite aptly, when he defines India’s stance towards its own national security in terms of the Panipat Syndrome. It’s the ‘batting on the back-foot’ phenomena that has plagued India for the longest time except for the brief period of the 70s and which, he believes, the current government is upending in a significant way.
Much of the discussion is focused on the rise of China and the naivety that India has consistently displayed in address this challenge. Jaishankar weaves in the importance of dealing with the indifference of Japan as well as engaging the West (Europe and USA) even while continue to maintain our support base within Russia, as just some of the myriad complexities that India must deal with if it is to use foreign policy to bolster its global standing in political and economic terms as well as in the context of national, security vis-a-vis China. The deep understanding of China, the USA, and Japan, in the Indian context, is simply quite insightful.
Where I think the book lags is its over-emphasis on Look / Act East at the cost of ignoring the Indian narrative in the Middle East, including our historic blunders and recent efforts to de-hyphenate that relationship from Pakistan. Similarly, the Pakistan factor gets consumed into the Sino-Pakistan discussion rather than being given the importance that it deserves given the huge role it has played on the Indian psyche and history.
Given the book is focused on broader global trends, it also ends up ignoring the role India and its other neighbors have played in shaping each other over decades and the rockiness which has been the hallmark of most of these relationships at various times in history.
Where the book scores from a penmanship perspective is how it is not afraid to give credit where due even if it was to non-BJP governments in the past. Similarly, it does not overly dwell on the ‘foreign policy blunders’ of the Nehru government which are a pet theme for the current government. However, it does tend to become self-righteous while talking about the foreign policy initiatives of the current government where the author is a senior minister himself.
All in all, a good summary for those looking to start engaging in India’s foreign policy narrative.
Book Discussion | The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World by Dr. S. Jaishankar
About the Author
S. Jaishankar has been India’s Minister of External Affairs since May 2019. He is a member of the Rajya Sabha representing Gujarat. He was India’s foreign secretary from 2015 to 2018. In a career spanning four decades in the Indian Foreign Service, he served as India’s ambassador to China and the US, among other roles, and played an important part in the Indo-US civil nuclear deal.