“The India Doctrine” (1947-2007) as seen by other South Asians

by A.K. Zaman

It is almost two years since the first edition of The India Doctrine appeared on Bangladesh bookshelves to wide acclaim and appreciation. The newly revised edition now titled The India Doctrine (1947-2007) is an astonishing work of exceptional depth and analysis and is probably the first book of its kind not only in Bangladesh but also in South Asia as a whole. It is indeed a stupendous effort by Barrister MBI Munshi. While I had a few words of criticism for the original version of the book which appeared to me to be fragmentary and a little disjointed this revised edition is an exceptional work and its various parts have been finely consolidated and is also far better written and organized. As the author reminds us, he had almost two years to write this revised edition and it was certainly time well spent as the language and style is now much easier to follow and effortless to comprehend.

The Bangladesh Defence Journal (BDJ) has published the book at a price of Tk. 1,200 or roughly $17 and is 636 pages in length. Of those pages one third consists of end notes and references which number in their thousands leaving in no doubt the strong evidentiary grounds on which Barristers Munshi’s thesis is based. The book also contains a useful foreword by the editor of BDJ, Mr. Abu Rushd, who earlier wrote the ground breaking ‘RAW in Bangladesh.’ Mr. Rushd in his foreword contrasts the original version of ‘The India Doctrine’ and the present edition stating that, “The first edition was a turning point in political and historical writing in Bangladesh. The second edition continues this trend with further elaboration of issues … covered in the earlier book but on very recent events such as the causes behind the cancellation of elections in 2007 and new material on the 1971 liberation war and India’s motivations in assisting [an] emergent Bangladesh.”

Mr. Rushd further elaborates on the importance of the book in the context of South Asia’s geo-strategic realities, “The book is certainly a must read for those interested in South Asian affairs, geo-strategy, intelligence and the political, diplomatic and economic influences of an increasingly important region of the world which contains almost a sixth of the world[s] population, two nuclear powers and several more in the near vicinity. The book will hopefully inspire others to explore the subject of Indian hegemony and expansionism and also allow policy-makers in the West to better comprehend the risks of permitting an unrestrained India to dominate the region.” The last remark seems particularly relevant in light of the Mumbai terror attacks in December 2008 and the increasingly hostile attitude taken by India towards its neighbour Pakistan who it accuses of having direct involvement in the incident although only a few weeks earlier a Col. Srikant Pirohit had been apprehended for supplying explosives to Hindu fanatics to carry out similar outrages.

The book cover (front)

The book cover (front)

Mr. Rushd concludes that the book should hopefully, “educate the policy-makers and military planners in Bangladesh about possible threats emanating from our neighbour and the consequences of New Delhi’s influence in our internal affairs as well as the principal cause of instability.” This is probably even more pertinent after the overwhelming victory of the Awami League (AL) party in the recently concluded 2008 national elections. The AL has often aligned itself with the interests of New Delhi in both foreign and internal matters and this has aggravated tensions within the country. It would be wise for the AL leaders to take some lessons from this book and adopt a more cautious attitude to New Delhi since our own history shows that a two-thirds majority in parliament is no guarantee of longevity or permanence in power especially when deeply held views about our national interest are constantly and arrogantly offended.

The obvious reason for publishing this new edition is that the original book had many gaps and overlooked many significant issues principally due to the time limitations placed on the author. Barrister Munshi states in his opening remarks in the preface that, “By all accounts the first edition of ‘The India Doctrine’ was a book incomplete. While it covered the essentials of the periods 1947 and 1971 fairly well it managed to convey only a fraction of the notable events and incidents that were to take place during 2006 and which were to reach a climax in 2007. The years 2006-2007 had much less of the cruelty, violence and bloodshed associated with 1947 and 1971 but nevertheless represents a significant period of transition that witnessed a revival of great power politics in South Asia that was to significantly affect the terms of the India Doctrine.” This short period indeed witnessed immense and often tragic and horrendous events that will undoubtedly have lasting effects on the South Asian perspective and psyche.

The author next deals quite comprehensively with the internal struggles within India and its new alliance with the United States built upon the tenuous foundations of the nuclear agreement passed amidst intense opposition, particularly in India. The author explores how this new strategic relationship affects the regional balance and includes reference to China and Russia and the wider geo-strategic imperatives of the United States and India. The author then surveys the influence of the India doctrine and Forward Policy on the South Asian neighbourhood and the internal conflicts this incited in many countries of the region (i.e. Sri Lanka, Nepal, Sikkim, Pakistan and Bangladesh). The next few chapters on the liberation war and Indian propaganda have been completely redone and large segments rearranged to fit more logically the shape, context and logic of the book. New material and information is incorporated into chapters 4-8 and recent developments on the CHT insurgency and peace agreement is rendered in the last of these chapters.

From a Bangladesh perspective the most controversial sections of the book will probably be Chapters 9 and 10 that deal with India’s project to have Bangladesh declared a failed state. The chosen method to achieve this objective has been through propaganda with the labeling of Bangladesh as a ‘hotbed’ of Islamist terrorism. The media campaign orchestrated by India has been so successful that many voters in the 2008 elections actually believed this nonsense not realizing that such malicious canards were being propagated by Indian intelligence (i.e. RAW) via our local media. Another method favoured by India to have Bangladesh rendered a failed state is through economic sabotage and as Barrister Munshi explains, “For India to secure its political and military supremacy and control over the South Asian region it has become necessary for it to continuously maintain and protect her lead over other economies even by unfair means such as sabotage, fomenting and encouraging political instability in neighbouring countries and most obviously through propaganda.” However, it is interference in the political sphere that India has been most successful in undermining Bangladesh’s democratic institutions and Barrister Munshi traces the chaotic events surrounding the transfer of power to a caretaker government in 2006 to the release of Sheikh Hasina from custody in June 2008 with each event being heavily influenced by external actors and in particular India. Barrister Munshi provides a convincing argument and analysis on all the above issues and his contribution to the book stands as an extraordinary achievement that will set the standard for such works in Bangladesh and probably elsewhere in South Asia. The 557 pages written by Barrister Munshi will hopefully gain widespread readership in Bangladesh since the issues raised in the book are incredibly important to the continued independence and integrity of the nation against the hegemonic and domineering tendencies of India. The chapters written by the author will likely stand out as the most important to be written on South Asian affairs for the last 60 years at least. It presents a completely new perspective on South Asia rarely seen in writing from this region and hardly discussed in western literature on the subject.

The final two chapters of the book are authored by two Pakistanis and this is a major development on the first edition which had no chapters on Pakistan and this is probably the only collaboration between writers of both countries on this type of subject matter. Chapter 11 of the book is titled ‘The Peace Charade’ and is written by Mr. Ahmed Quraishi. Mr. Quraishi is a prominent media personality in Pakistan and his background as an investigative journalist, columnist, roving reporter and head of a private, independent think tank are all very impressive and raise his credentials as a highly respected and informed writer. According to Mr. Quraishi, India had by early 2008 been conducting a massive intelligence operation with Pakistan as its target. Afghanistan was being used by New Delhi as a springboard and the Islamists were the tools of this operation. Israel is said to have provided help and the US position as Pakistan’s ally is described as somewhat ambiguous. This brief summary sets the tone for a very interesting and well researched chapter with its premise based on the discovery of a document that reveals a conspiracy ‘to break the stranglehold of the intelligence agencies, the bureaucracy and the military in Pakistan’ as these are believed by India to be responsible for keeping the Kashmir issue alive. Chapter 12 of the book is written by Dr. Prevaiz Iqbal Cheema who has an outstanding academic career. He obtained and M. Litt in Strategic Studies from Aberdeen University and a Ph.D. from Quaid-i-Azam University in Pakistan. He has been a teacher for almost 28 years with posts held in Pakistan, Australia, Singapore and the United States. His excellent and lucidly argued chapter discusses the Kashmir dispute and Pakistan-India relations. His chapter initially discusses the origin and nature of the Kashmir dispute highlighting the policies of both India and Pakistan followed by a discussion on the internationalization of the dispute. Finally the paper focuses on the new developments that have impacted upon the dispute and the current status of Indo-Pak relations. Dr. Cheema concludes his survey of the issues by commenting that, “Without the resolution of [the] Kashmir dispute, not only India and Pakistan would never enjoy proper fruits of peace and cooperation but South Asia would also be deprived of much desired peaceful environment.” It is, therefore, unfortunate that India has not shown the requisite sincerity in negotiations for this sensible and desired outcome for regional peace and security.

Overall, this book, The India Doctrine (1947-2007), is an extraordinary and astounding effort requiring not only immense dedication but also a significant amount of courage, boldness and resolution. Writing in the hostile and threatening atmosphere created by India in Bangladesh and Pakistan the writers have shown admirable willpower and fortitude. The book not only deserves success but also our respect.

This reviewer could be contacted on e-mail akz5153@gmail.com

One thought on ““The India Doctrine” (1947-2007) as seen by other South Asians

  1. I wrote a review of the first version of the book:

    Adorned in a saffron red jacket and embellished with a detailed map of South Asia the concept of an India Doctrine has been introduced to the readers in Bangladesh recently. The book ‘The India Doctrine’ has been published by the Bangladesh Research Forum and edited by Barrister M.B.I. Munshi and is priced at Tk. 300. Munshi’s contribution to the book constitutes the largest section with several other writers from Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka providing some useful and informative chapters.

    The book comes complete with a foreword written by esteemed scholar, Professor Ataur Rahman of Dhaka University who sets the theme of the book. We are reminded by Prof. Rahman that while India might have its own rationale for framing its regional policy compatible with its national interests, the fact remains that constant apprehensions, mistrust and tensions between India and the smaller neighbors including Bangladesh had its negative effects on any meaningful cooperation and security in the region.

    This introduction neatly moves us into the chapters written by Munshi which are a series of discussions that covers the relations between India and East Pakistan/Bangladesh from 1947 to the present. It attempts a historical and geo-strategic appraisal of relations between the two countries but also offers a more wide ranging analysis involving the Indian external intelligence operations in Bangladesh and outside. The central idea of the chapters when taken as a whole appears to be that the India Doctrine as implemented by successive administrations in India is not limited to simply harming the economic interests of [its neighbours] but also has a historical and intellectual underpinning that comes from the thoughts and writings of Jawaharlal Nehru and Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar amongst others. The idea of a United India (or an ‘Akhand Bharat’) according to the author is still a goal of Indian policy making in South Asia.

    Prof. Rahman is forced in his foreword to contend that this thesis may seem implausible and ‘far-fetched’ but also points out that Munshi supplements his ideas with an exhaustive and elaborate set of references and notes to back up his argument. However, a defect in this intricate framework of references is that the chapters lack a bibliography which would have made it easier to verify the arguments advanced by the author. The chapters also seems to be hampered by the fact that they were written originally as a 3 part article and the author clearly has had some difficulty in framing his arguments within this constriction. However, as we all know Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington both started their seminal works in a similar manner with articles in prominent journals before they were rendered into book form and this does not seem to have affected the stream of their discussion and thoughts.

    As this may be, the principle cause of disquiet will certainly be Munshi’s interpretation of significant historical events and his commentary on the motivations of characters such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Ayub Khan who are all now long dead. I was certainly surprised by some of his findings but it was difficult to find fault here as most of his views are backed-up with thorough research and investigation. His chapters on the 1971 war and the insurgency in the CHT are probably the most tantalizing in terms of historical data and comparisons.

    Some of Munshi’s arguments are further buttressed by a short chapter by Khodeza Begum who makes reference to events that occurred during the 1990’s related to clandestine meetings held in Dhaka concerning the reunification of the subcontinent. In her chapter, there is an extensive discussion on the policies being pursued by the Indian government that according to her is detrimental to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bangladesh. She analyses the concept of a United Bengal that has featured in some of the Indian political literature in recent years. She has also summarized the tactics and strategies adopted by the Indian government and its intelligence agency to undermine the unity of Bangladesh and to inculcate the population of the country with a perspective adverse to the nations integrity.

    Although solidly written there is a problem with the length of the chapter as well as the dated materials used by the author. A more contemporary approach may have served better but the evidence seems irrefutable and the author should update her research before a second edition is considered.

    In a sudden change of location Brig. Gen. M. Sakhawat Hossain inexplicably takes us all the way to the Indian Ocean and the emerging strategic scenarios being played out in the area. One may legitimately question the relevance to the overall context and theme of the book but the author makes this abundantly clear when he remarks that rivalries in the South Asian region are primarily based on events in 1971 and India’s intent on dominating the region has had to appreciate the ground realities that this cannot be achieved alone. Hossain expertly explains the intricate alliances being forged in the region and the importance of the Indian Ocean in the strategic thinking of India , China, the USA and Pakistan. His comments on the North-East insurgency and the recent uprising in Nepal are highly commendable and very insightful especially in the latter case where he had visited prior to writing the chapter.

    Following the chapters by the Bangladeshi authors mentioned above come the section written by the Nepali writers. In the case of Madan Prasad Khanal, Nishchal Basnyat and Sanjay Upadhya their contributions to the book are highly articulate, elegant and almost near impeccable. Each author discusses differing aspects of Indian interference and intervention in Nepali internal affairs and in some cases provides possible solutions to these problems. But with a clear conception of the implications of Indian domination on Nepal Dr. Shastra Dutta Pant appeared a little confused in his expressions.

    The final chapters of the book are by two Sri Lankan writers Dr Rohan Gunaratna and Arbinda Acharya(*). Both writers collaborated to produce a single chapter on the Sri Lankan attitude to Indian interference or as the authors themselves put it, “India’s involvement in Sri Lankan ethnic imbroglio has been one of the most controversial, ironic as well as tragic aspects of New Delhi’s foreign policy.” While concentrating on the Sri Lankan situation the writers also manage to draw in examples from Bangladesh, Pakistan , Nepal and Bhutan to back up their case on Indian aspirations in South Asia. Of significance is the Indian involvement in the protracted and apparently insoluble conflict with the Tamils. The chapter also involves a geostrategic appraisal of Sri Lanka and its growing relationship with China and Pakistan. It is unfortunate therefore that the authors were not as forceful about Indian interventions in Sri Lanka especially during the time of the premiership of Rajiv Gandhi. The chapter seems somewhat apologetic about Indian intervention rather than condemnatory which would have been an appropriate response from Sri Lankan nationals.


    Isha Khan
    (*) Please Note of the two, only Rohan Gunaratne is a Sri Lankan. Archarya is perhaps Indian though he had collaborated with Gunaratne to write on SL.

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