Diplomacy Reviews

‘India’s Eastward Engagement — From Antiquity to Act East Policy’ review: Converging worlds of India and the east

The book, India’s Eastward Engagement, is a timely addition to the literature available on the subject as relations between the two majors of Asia, India and China, while oscillating, is also recognised to be of greater importance than ever before. The task undertaken by the writers, dealing with the subject from the past to the present, is rather too large to be covered in 263 pages (64 pages of annexure excluded), but they have managed to focus on issues that are most relevant.

Changing dimensions

The delicate but crucial Indo-Pacific concept in Indian foreign relations, encouraged by the U.S. but not favoured by China, is explained well in introductory remarks itself. ‘Waves of History’ deals with the past and the ‘Look East’ and ‘Act East’ chapters explain contemporary problems and solutions. ‘India’s idea of the East’ covers a broad spectrum of events and personalities, briefly but pointedly, with special reference to changing strategic dimensions to India’s east.

The third chapter, ‘The Nehru Wave’, elaborates on the changing international political scenario and how India engaged with the East from 1927–1964, especially in the post independence period, when Nehru’s hopes were belied. During his jail terms, Nehru had read extensively about the splendour of the Oriental civilisations and as early as 1927, his commitment to fight colonialism in Asia was seen by his participation at the League against Imperialism conference in Brussels.

Nehru’s South East Asia policy is explained through his speech on September 7, 1946, immediately after forming the interim government, thus giving the reader an insight into his committed philosophy towards the east. They also write about the massive military failure in the 1962 war and how India lost territory and face.

In the significant chapter ‘Look East Policy’, the book deals with contemporary times and how the engagement is being streamlined and restructured. The Look East Policy is compared to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other groupings. The trade war between the U.S. and China, and China’s engagement with countries like Maldives, do cause concern to India. The authors conclude with a loaded statement — India while pleading for cooperation and coexistence, should “...prepare itself for any untoward and unexpected development.” With its heavy subject, the book appears to be a brief for a larger volume to be produced later.

India’s Eastward Engagement: From Antiquity to Act East Policy; S.D. Muni and Rahul Mishra, Sage, ₹995.

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