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India and the Eurasian Geopolitical Space

India - Eurasia: The Way Ahead (With Special Focus on the Caucasus) edited by Paramjit S Sahai;

BOOK REVIEWEconomic & Political Weekly EPW november 1, 200829India and the Eurasian Geopolitical SpaceRama Sampath KumarThis book is certainly a good re-presentation of the environment it reflects. Many a time research trends become apparent through publication of confer-ence papers and it is very much so with this book. This kind of networking through seminars surely enables us to increase knowledge and promotes a sharing of experiences and interaction among experts from different countries. But translating these presentations, especially when a number of participants happen to be career diplomats or bureaucrats, who unlike academics are not into mainstream research, into a goodpiece of scholastic work is a phenomenal task. Besides a seminar paper is notan article and even a very good presentation is likely to requireseveral rewrites before it is ready to be submitted for a contribution in a book. Therefore, besides the usual maladies of edited collections of uneven contributions, the book suffers from this major drawback.Eurasia is used in geopolitics to refer to the post-Soviet states, in particular Russia, central Asia and the Transcaucasian republics. The title suggests the emphasis is on the south Caucasus or Transcaucasus – the geographical region south of the Caucasus mountains, encompassing the independent states of Armenia, Azerbai-jan and Georgia. The book explores an assortment of topics like historical legacy, ethnicity and national identity, religion, politics, culture and society, economics, etc. They are all important issues and are richly detailed but disappointingly there is very little in the book that is not already in the public domain. So credit goes to Paramjit S Sahai (himself a former career diplomat) for taking efforts to package it as a substantial contribution to a variety of themes on Eurasia. The editor’s “Introduction” brings out his aspiration for presenting a volume that addresses and systematises the knowledge produced on Eurasia since the end of the cold war. It also gives a broad vision of what is in store for the reader and each paper in the collection has been intro-duced and presented in a fashion that will draw the attention of scholars and pro-mote an interest to read, understand and analyse the research presentations. Continuing RelevanceIndo-Russian relations have been a topic of intense discussion during the past decade and a half. In the face of many pre-dictions of its decline at the end of the cold war, the Russia-India strategic partner-ship has endured and in certain areas like military cooperation it has deepened over years. There is a consensus in both coun-tries for a strong and stable relationship with each other. Although the authors writing on this are unanimous in their view that New Delhi has to stay close to traditional partners such as Russia, especially when India is trying to move closer to theUS, there is no strong com-mon argument or theme that emerges from these essays thatwill help forge this relationship. ‘Post-Cold War Indo-Russian Relations: Convergence of Interests’ focuses on the common interests of both countries in the post-cold war era. Starting with the not so smooth Indo-Soviet relations, just after the emergence of India as an independent nation, it traces the developments that changed the equation. The mid-1950s ush-ered in a new era of friendship with many common factors in their foreign policy approaches and this lasted till the disinteg-ration of the Soviet Union. The Russian leadership adopted a pro-western foreign policy and at that time Indian foreign policy also came for review because of the end of the cold war and the adoption of the policy of economic liberalisation by the Narasimha Rao government. It was only with Vladimir Putin that new devel-opments took place. He drew parallels between the issues of Chechnya and Kash-mir: “the same individuals, the same ter-rorists’ organisations, extremists’ organi-sations are organising and, very often, the same individuals participate in organis-ing, in conducting and igniting terrorists’ acts from the Philippines to Kosovo includ-ing Kashmir, Afghanistan and Russia’s northern Caucasus” (p 180). As both the countries have been facing the problem of terrorism from much before 9/11, this has become a major area of cooperation. There is a huge potential for conver-gence in other areas like the strategic interest in central Asia, in the field of defence and economic spheres. India’s relations with the eastern and central Asia should develop independently and not be tied to relations with Russia. The balanc-ing of India’s “relationship with Russia vis-à-vis the sensitivity of these countries” is discussed in ‘India-Caucasus and Cen-tral Asia: An Overview’. The chapter on ‘India in Russia’s “New” Foreign Policy: An Assessment’ criticises Russia’s foreign policy for the lack of vision, favouring a greater role for India and Russia. There is an unusual suggestion for the triangular cooperation between India, Russia and France in the new world order.Ethnicity and ConflictThe Caucasus has a distinctive history with a unique blend of geography, culture, religion and politics. Located on the ancient trade and communications routes linking Europe and Asia, it is also a meet-ing place of Slavic, Turk, Persian and the indigenous Caucasian cultures, and of Islamic and Christian civilisations. Politi-cally it is located in the historical inter-section of the Russian, Persian and Ottoman empires and now, regional powers – Russia, Turkey and Iran – wield their influence in this region. This part of the globe is very fascinating for research as continued instability and chaos have resulted in social disequilibria and political divisions. The furious outburst of nationalism in the Caucasus (both north or Ciscaucasus, which includes India – Eurasia: The Way Ahead (With Special Focus on the Caucasus)edited by Paramjit S Sahai; Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development, Chandigarh, 2008; pp 273 + xxiii, Rs 570.
BOOK REVIEWnovember 1, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly30Oxford Ad

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