IR Studies in India

Prof. Chintamani Mahapatra
July 7, 2019

The University of International Relations (UIR) in Beijing recently organized an international conference on “International Relations: A Centennial Retrospect and Prospect” in the wake of hundred years of IR Studies that began with the establishment of the first Chair at the University of Wales in 1919.

Significantly, the UIR in China was established in 1949, the very year China’s civil war ended, and the People’s Republic of China came into being. India’s IR studies programs began with the establishment of Indian School of International Studies in 1955– about six year after China’s and about eight years after India’s independence.

Both the Chinese and Indians are aware that IR studies cannot be one hundred years old when International Relations have existed for millenniums and thinkers in India and China have cogitated and written about war, diplomacy and empires centuries ago. As a formal subject in a Western sense, centennial celebrations and discussions on the subject is acceptable.

But the Western domination in IR studies programs around the world, including in contemporary India and China is a fact nobody can deny. And this fact is voluminously reflected in both IR theories and empirical studies. The good news is that there is an awakening in China, India, and perhaps other non-Western countries to promote indigenous studies, research, theory buildings, and even empirical works. All these efforts need to go beyond mere critiquing Western works and aim to develop alternative approaches to understanding international relations and global affairs.

It needs underlining that when American scholars in the midst of Cold War were developing various theories, such as liberalism and realism and debated the idea of a liberal/realist world order, adequate theorizing or conceptualization of the socialist world order was not done in the Socialist bloc. India, Indonesia, Egypt, former Yugoslavia unleashed a non-aligned movement through the Cold War, yet scholars in the developing countries were not able to theorize a third order in the globe. The notions of liberal and socialist orders dominated discourses on international orders.

For IR historians, there is still time to look back both critically and constructively to describe, explain, and conceptualize the evolution of international orders after the end of the second World Order.

Having said that, when one observes the state of IR studies after one hundred years of its formal evolution, one witness that this field of study is facing a crisis that needs attention and timely resolution.

First, the issues and dimensions of IR taught, written, researched and deliberated upon in workshops, symposia, seminars, and conferences have enlarged so much that no one knows the meaning, scope and academic limits of a subject called IR. The interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches have added to the owes of the subject, and IR studies have become increasingly amorphous.

As a result, the difficulties for students to seek academic jobs after completing their degree courses have compounded, because IR in many countries, including India, constitutes only a fraction of Political Science discipline.

The Indian School of International Studies was merged with Jawaharlal Nehru University and has since evolved into a highly credible institute that conducts studies and research on IR. A large number of students completing their degree programs, including a doctorate, however, find that even the UGC does not recognize IR as an independent discipline. When they apply for teaching jobs in Political Science, they do face considerable disadvantage.

It is important to note that the School of International Studies set up in Central Univerisity in Pondichéry could not sustain itself and shrink into a mere department. Simultaneously, Area Studies programs in various universities across India have been facing existential threats.

More significantly, as IR studies in various manifestations have exponentially grown in China, USA, and many other countries, the trend in India is reverse its performance is less than desirable. There is no international studies association that is effective and vibrant in India.

The globalized world has come to stay. India’s engagements with the rest of the world have deepened and expanded greatly. India is seen as an ascending country in the global hierarchical order. India itself aspires to become a rule-making community in the world rather than remain just as a law-abiding nation. Yet, the educational system in India has not taken measures to allow IR to evolve as an independent discipline.

The liberalization of the Indian economy, growing Indian international trade investments abroad, India’s ambitious bid for permanent seat in the Security Council of the United Nations, rising non-traditional threats to Indian security, presence of a large Indian Diaspora across the globe, and many more factors require that the Indian Higher Education system make International Relations an independent discipline. The current crisis in IR Studies in India need urgent intervention by the University Grants Commission and the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

The Ministry of External Affairs should also intervene at the official level to realize this goal. The expertise that is required in the era of globalization to handle diplomacy and the need for a strong community of IR scholars plus institutions has never been more.