The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, January 14, 2001

The art and the artless consumer
Review by Rekha Jhanji

The revolutionary philosopher again
Review by Shelley Walia

Taliban as they are, not as they are seen
Review by Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon

Mandal laws in USA
Review by D.R. Chaudhry

The "nations" within a nation
Review by Surinder S. Jodhka

Partition revisited by a second wife
Review by Deepika Gurdev

A hill man in uniform
Review by Manmant Singh Sethi

Nuclear bombast and threat
Review by Bimal Bhatia


The art and the artless consumer
Review by Rekha Jhanji

Philosophy of Art: A Contemporary Introduction by Noel Carroll. Routledge, London. Pages 273. $ 19.99.

AS the title of the book suggests, it is an introduction to western aesthetics in the light of recent developments in the western art scene. The author is a professor of philosophy of art in the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His constant interaction with graduate students seems to have given him a great deal of experience in writing this introductory volume. Despite being in touch with the recent trends in western art, he is adept at explaining complicated aesthetic concepts in simple and readable prose.

He begins with an introduction to philosophy and shows how analytical philosophy of art has helped in understanding the problems of art. He states clearly that the role of a philosopher is quite distinct from that of a social scientist, the former is preoccupied with what ought to be the case while the latter is concerned with what probably is the case.

The method of research depends on the kind of questions one is attempting to answer. For instance, a question like "what is pornography" demands a conceptual answer while a question like "how much pornography is there is Glasgo" demands an empirical answer. Thus conceptual analysis and empirical research both have their respective functions and both seem to complement each other in our quest for knowledge.

Analytic philosophy discusses concepts that are fundamental to our life practices. Art is a recurring form of human practice that exists cross-culturally. The purpose of analytic philosophy of art is to explore the concepts related to creating and thinking about art. The subject matter of analytic philosophy of art includes a discussion of general concepts like those of representation, expression, artistic form, creativity, artistic value and interpretation, on the one hand, and the more specific concept related to specific art forms like the nature of literature, dance, drama, music and film, on the other. It could also discuss and explore the concept of certain artistic genres like fiction, tragedy, poetry and the like.

The author holds that clarifying our concept of art is not merely a dry academic exercise. It lies at the heart of our artistic practices, since categorising entities as art works puts us in a position to mobilise a set of art responses that are the very stuff of our activities as viewers, listeners and readers.

In a broad sense there need be no difference between the philosophy of art and aesthetics; they might be taken as interchangeable labels for the division of philosophy that investigates art. But in a narrow theoretical sense the two terms, at least in principle, signal a different primary focus: the philosophy of art is object-oriented; aesthetics is reception oriented. Aesthetics is broader than the philosophy of art, since it studies nature as well. The author thinks that philosophy of art could define "art" without reference to aesthetic experience or audience reception. Such a philosophy of art would not regard aesthetic experiences or aesthetic properties as necessary ingredients in all art, although it might still recognise them as important.

However, he points out that there is also an approach to philosophy of art which maintains that any definition of art must necessarily involve notions of aesthetic experience. Such definitions are called aesthetic definitions of art. On this view, the philosophy of art belongs squarely in the domain of aesthetics, along with the study of aesthetics of nature.

The aesthetic definition of art is particularly attractive because of the way in which it suggests systematic answers to many of the leading questions of the philosophy of art. It enables us to say why art works are good and when they are good. Specifically, art works are good when they realise their presiding aesthetic intentions, when they indeed afford aesthetic experiences. They are bad when they fail to deliver the goods — that is, aesthetic experience. However, the author points out that the aesthetic definition of art neither in its content-oriented account nor in its effect-oriented account lays its hand on a necessary condition of all art. He points out that the aesthetic theorisation of art is not comprehensive because it cannot account for anti-aesthetic art which has existed on the art scene for the past eight or nine decades. A comprehensive theory of art ought to accommodate all art practices.

The author critically examines many conventional concepts of aesthetics. One such notion is that of being disinterested. He points out that cases of disinterestedness are really cases of inattention. However, one may not find his arguments for substituting interestedness with inattention convincing because an interested approach to art is actually a response which is extremely attentive but lopsided.

A jealous husband who goes to see Othello is in complete empathy with all the nuances of Othello’s feelings. One could not say that he is inattentive to what is happening in the play. Carroll says that "disinterestedness" refers to our motivation with respect to certain acts of attention and thus it is not attention proper. One fails to understand how one can separate attention from its motivation without artificially narrowing down the very concept of attention itself.

Carroll holds that there are several ways of responding to artworks. Aesthetic responses to art works represents one family of art responses; it is neither the only kind of art response nor the only appropriate form of experiencing art. In the history of aesthetics, there is a tendency to treat the notion of aesthetic experience as a synonym with experiencing art in general. The author obviously does not endorse this view. He thinks that as a consequence many legitimate art responses have been disenfranchised.

The following arguments have been offered in support of this view:

* X is a legitimate response to an art work if and only if X is an aesthetic experience; * responding to the representational content of an art work and reflecting on its moral message are not aesthetic experiences; and * therefore responding to the representational content of an art work and reflecting on its moral messages are not legitimate responses to art works.

The author says that the above conclusion can only be derived by trading illicitly on these different meanings of aesthetic experience. This kind of argument commits the fallacy of equivocation. Strictly speaking, aesthetic experience comprises the detection and discrimination of aesthetic properties, on the one hand, and design appreciation, on the other. Limiting the scope of aesthetic experience in this way does not disparage it because it is very important for art, but we derive more from art than only aesthetic experience which includes knowledge, moral insight and a sense of allegiance.

I do not quite understand why Carroll first delimits the concept of aesthetic experience to perceptual discrimination and design appreciation and then insists that such a view excludes knowledge, moral insight and a sense of allegiance. The fact of the matter is that the aesthetic experience cannot be divorced from the moral and the cognitive experience. The question is only of the dominance of a particular experience and not its compartmentalisation. In our experience of art, the moral plays a subsidiary role, but it is not altogether negated from it.

Carroll concludes by a critical evaluation of the neo-Wittgensteinian and the institutional theories of art. Neo-Wittgenstenians argued for the rejection of any essentialist definitions of art. They were influential on the western aesthetics scene for nearly two decades. Gradually philosophers came to believe that the arguments of neo-Wittgensteinians in favour of seeing art as an open concept were not as persuasive as they initially thought them to be. A consequence of the defeat of this view has been a return to the project of defining art essentially. Two of these theories are the institutional theory of art and the historical definition of art; both these theories are highly controversial and they have been severely criticised.

The author leaves it to the reader to choose the theory of his or her choice. An introduction to these theories is given to help the reader find his or her own views on the subject.

All told, it is a very good introduction to western aesthetics. It is written in an extremely lucid style. This is the kind of textbook that we need to write on Indian philosophy. However the only problem with analytical philosophy is with its tendency to trivialise issues. Sometimes in its over-enthusiasm for clarity, it turns a deaf ear to serious philosophical debates.



The revolutionary philosopher again
Review by Shelley Walia

Nietzsche and the Rhetoric of Nihilism edited by Tom Darby. Carleton UniversityPress, Ottawa. Pages 205. £ 12.95.

Nietzsche and Post-modernism by Dave Robinson. Icon, Cambridge. Pages 79. £ 2.99.

Nietzsche by Paul Strathern. Constable, London. Pages 77. £ 2.95.

Introducing Nietzsche by Lawrence Game and Kitty Chan. Icon, Cambridge. Pages 176. £ 8.99.

THE perpetuation of a social system and its largely status quo ideology rests mainly on more or less coherent ways of maintaining the power structures which control it. These constitute its foundations which are integral to a closed system. The decentring of these centres involves rethinking of perspectives on values and "reality" that has at its origins the metaphysics of presence.

Michel Foucault, taking his cue from the anti-teleological philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, maintains that "there is no centre, but always decentering, series that register the halting passage from presence to absence, from excess to dificiency". Derrida and after him Lacan tried to retard the process of relegating the contrary opinions to the margins and always endeavoured to find ruptures, gaps or weaknesses in the arguments that privilege "reality" and "values".

Nietzsche’s ideology expressed in his work, "Human All Too Human", was a preparation for ushering in the brave new world, one in which good and evil no longer existed in any transcendental way, a world of no absolute values or divine sanction. The book "Nietzsche and the Rhetoric of Nihilism" which is a collection of essays of prominent scholars from Europe and North America provides new readings and perspectives on Nietzsche’s work, questioning the conventional interpretation of its "nihilistic" underpinnings.

This problem is taken up in Dave Robinson’s "Nietzsche and Post-modernism" which brings out clearly the huge impact of Nietzsche on 20th century philosophy and literature and its well-grounded notions of beliefs and values. Nietzsche casts a "long shadow" on the complex cultural and philosophical central themes of post-modernist thinking and emerges as its radical supporter.

His attack basically was on the subversive notions of Christianity and its slave morality that strategically attempted to emasculate the will to power. His "Beyond Good and Evil" is a superb critique of western civilisation, its values and psychology. The book rebounds from "God is truth" to ‘‘all is false" and I do not think there has been a finer demolition job of philosophy ever since.

Taking extreme positions that everything lacks meaning and that all philosophy is superfluous, he argues, ‘‘All our organs of knowledge and our senses are developed only as a means of preservation and growth. Trust in reason and its categories, in dialectic, therefore the valuation of logic, proves only their usefulness for life, proved by experience, not that something is true." He goes on to trace will to power through human motives which are only acts that are honourably disinterested but are often revealed as "sick and decadent".

For Nietzsche, the individual was advised to take responsibility for his own actions in a "godless" universe. The making of one’s own values in an unfettered freedom became his credo. It was a war on the optimism of logicians and a firm rattling of the iron cage of language that constricts our thinking and is largely responsible for the fashioning and refashioning of truth. "The centre has no natural locus but is itself a function of the structured system, which, since it is always expressed in language, turns out to be language itself." This morality for Nietzsche became the power of the herd and represented those who are individually weak but collectively strong, it was nothing else but an evolutionary urge to survive. "There are no moral phenomena at all, only moral interpretations of phenomena."

The corollary to this was the idea that "God is dead" which apparently was an awful notion, yet dionysic and exhilarating and a daring venture for knowledge. From the post-modernist view, Dave Robinson does not regard Nietzsche a nihilistic. Putting his ideas into such radical and non-conformist expression was a way of opening the world to inifinity where "free spirits" could jostle with the "transcendental signified" that had as its base the logocentric ideology of western metaphysics and the proposed groundings of the reality on which rests existence.

In this endeavour, Nietzsche was only looking at the practical effects of language that Wittgenstein later took up. Meaning for both these thinkers was located in the changing relationships between thought and action and therefore not fixed or timeless. Thus all "truths" become illusions within which each individual was condemned to make choices or take the decision to make no choice which, in turn, becomes itself a choice. Existentialism in the Sartrean or Nietzschean sense depends on our willed freedom and the inescapable fact of human choice.

Thus these books on him suggest a re-evaluation of his works in the present post-modernist scenario. For a clear understanding of his radical "philosophy", a light-hearted and idiosyncratic" book like "Nietzsche" by Paul Strathern or ‘‘Introducing Nietzsche" by Lawrence Game and Kitty Chan are informative and stimulating. Nietzsche’s major ideas are woven into the text in such a way as to be readily accessible to all.

"Zarathustra" and "The Will to Power" are works that pose problems to readers. Is traditional morality just a "useful mistake"? Does "the will to power" lead to the Holocaust?And what are the limitations of scientific knowledge? All these questions have been raised in the works of contemporary writers who have, like Derrida, called for a re-evaluation of all values, a strategy of disruption or deconstruction.

Taking up the Nietzschean idea of the "principal of suspicion". Derrida has tried in his philosophy to "make enigmatic what one thinks one understands by words". This must not be taken as an extreme step at demolishing all knowledge and thought; it is only a step towards relinquishing the age-old dream of foundational truth that western philosophy hijacked after the Dionysion element in Greek civilisation was overpowered by the Apollonian, leading to the "death of tragedy" and the dominance of epistemic violence seen in the working of the state apparatus.

Together with Marx and Freud, Nietzsche, therefore, is one of the main sources of 20th century thought. His formulation that God is dead, that the world is the product of the will to power, and that true value lies in a morality of strenuousness has become part of the European experience in our age. Though he was an antisystemic thinker, he understood and systematically "unmasked" the ethics of praise and blame, of punishment and reward, of the agony of conscience.

Philosophy had tried to produce truth, as Derrida argues, "at the moment where the value of truth is shattered". Nietzschean thought becomes the subversion of empiricism and idealism which smacked of a fundamental immobility and reassuring certitude which is beyond the reach of freeplay.

We cannot however, escape the logocentric tradition since it accompanies all philosophy and we have no language which is alien to it. Therefore, we cannot get outside it, we can only wander about in it exposing inconsistencies and patched up rips.

It cannot be denied that language is an endless interwoven fabric (textile, text) of signifiers with no demonstrable power of direct representation or reflection of a reality external to it. "There is nothing outside the text," as Derrida asserts. Language composes our consiciousness and we stay within its "prison house".



Taliban as they are, not as they are seen
Review by Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon

The Taliban Phenomenon by Kamal Matinuddin. Lancer Publishers New Delhi. Pages xviii+298. Rs 595.

THE author of this book, Lieut-Gen Kamal Matinuddin, has had a long and distinguished military career in Pakistan. He has also been the Director General of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, besides being the editor of a monthly publication entitled Afghanistan Report. He is a keen observer of the international and Central Asian affairs, especially Afghanistan.

While carrying out research for his book on Afghanistan called "Power Struggle in the Hindu Kush", he interviewed all important Afghan leaders and went to Moscow and Teheran to assess their long-term interests in Afghanistan. He has kept himself abreast of the day-to-day Afghan situation in all its depth and intricacy.

Through the centuries, Afthanistan’s peculiar geographical location has given it a commercial and strategic importance. Neighbouring countries like Iran, Pakistan, China, Russia and India have always kept a watchful eye on the developments in Afghanistan. In recent years Afghans waged a decade-long struggle against the Soviet occupation of their country. But even after achieving the uphill task of throwing out Russia, the Afghans have been driven from one disaster to another. They have not been able to establish a stable national government. The country has been engaged in a civil war with the Taliban movement adding a new dimension to the crisis.

Who are the Taliban? Where did they come from? What was their origin? Who organised them into a mighty movement? How did they acquire so much military strength and sophisticated weapons? Who trained them to use these weapons? What have been the sources of their strength and weakness? What is the socio-political ideology of the Taliban? What are the apprehensions, suspicions and reactions of the outside powers vis-a-vis the Taliban? Was Pakistan’s policy of being the first country to recognise the Taliban government in its national interest? These are some of the questions which the author has attempted to answer.

Taliban is the plural of an Arabic word Talib which literally means a person in search of knowledge. In Pushto the word Taliban generally denotes students studying in deeni madarasas (religious seminaries). These madarasas not only imparted religious education but also organised students into militant groups who would be prepared to use force to subdue their rivals. Apart from government aid and donations from local philanthropists, the madarasas were reportedly given grants by Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan and some other friendly conservative countries. There are reports of 30,000 students from various madarasas joining the Taliban movement.

The author believes that the rise of the Taliban phenomenon was due to the bitter agony experienced by the Afghan people on account of the fratricidal war and the anarchy which was prevailing in their land. People were made to believe that the warring mujahideen factions were only concerned about grabbing power and were not sincere about the establishment of what they perceived to be a truly Islamic state in Afghanistan. They were disenchanted with the state of affairs that followed the ouster of Najibullah. The moving spirit behind the Taliban movement was a jihad veteran, Mullah Mohammad Omar Akhund. A devout Muslim, Omar stood for an Islamic government and the enforcement of the shariah (Islamic laws) in the areas liberated and captured by the Taliban.

The Taliban emerged on the scene when there were no foreign troops occupying their country. The ruling clique had lost popular support because after throwing out the Soviet soldiers from the land it had begun to behave like an occupation force. War-weary Afghans joined the Taliban movement which promised them peace and security. The movement caught international attention when within a short span of three years between 1994 and 1997, it won a series of victories in four provinces, the most notable being the capture of Kandahar and Kabul. President Rabbani was ousted from Kabul.

Pakistan, which had been providing political and moral support to Taliban, extended official recognition to the Taliban government assuming that it was representative of the country’s all ethnic groups. Only two other countries, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have recognised the Taliban government. Russia, India, Iran and many Central Asian Republics continue to support the ousted regime of Rabbani though he and his allies control less than one-tenth of the country.

The writer critically analyses Pakistan’s Afghan policy in respect of the Taliban. He feels that it would be wise for Pakistan to try and establish normal relations with the major Afghan factions and to work with the United Nations towards a broad-based government in Afghanistan. Pakistan has a high stake in an early and lasting peaceful solution to the Afghan crisis the possibility of the civil war spilling over into Pakistan, the continuing presence of more than one and a half million Afghan refugees in the border areas, the eventuality of the dismemberment of Afghanistan and the perilous ramifications of such a development are some of the issues which have been delineated by the author with remarkable insight and objectivity.

The author has discussed the political and diplomatic consequences of the Taliban phenomenon in detail. He believes that the Taliban factor has had an adverse effect on the historically sound ties between Iran and Pakistan. He thinks that India’s interests are also served by keeping the Afghans cauldron boiling, thereby ensuring that Pakistan is involved on its western front. A new axis comprising Iran, India and Russia has developed to contain the influence of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in Afghanistan. Of late the USA has also joined the front against the Taliban. It has accused the Taliban of harbouring terrorists.

The author has arrived at a praiseworthy conclusion that all countries must resist the temptation to intervene in the civil war in the hope of swinging the outcome in their favour. He proposes that the United Nations should take a deeper interest in Afghanistan. This could be in the shape of an international conference of those powers that have something at stake in Afghanistan. Their aim should be to place an embargo on the supply of weapons and to station a peace-keeping force in Afghanistan.

He has made a brilliant analysis of the strength and shortcomings of the Taliban regime in clear and unambiguous terms. Some of the weaknesses which have made the Taliban unpopular are lack of military expertise, failure to accommodate the requirements of the Shias, an inability to keep pace with modern trends, a posture of self-righteousness, reluctance to accommodate the interests of the other factions in Afghanistan and the enforcement of a very rigid religious code, especially for women.

Among the sources of Taliban’s strength are their sincerety, honesty, simple life-style and devotion to their cause. They have become tough and battle-hardened and have, through trial and error, learnt how to hold ground. With over 90 per cent of the Afghan territory under their control, the Taliban rulers have become a force to reckon with.

Among the sources of Taliban’s strength are their sincerety, honesty, simple life-style and devotion to their cause. They have become tough and battle-hardened and have, through trial and error, learnt how to hold ground. With over 90 per cent of the Afghan territory under their control, the Taliban rulers have become a force to reckon with.

The hypotheses formulated in the concluding chapter of the book are of special interest. The author believes that the Taliban will have to temper their religious extremism with modernism before they can hope to receive financial and technical aid from the world community. The Taliban regime needs to acquire expertise in running a modern state. They and their interpretation of Islam will have to accommodate universally accepted human rights if they want other nations to help them in their hour of need.

As the final solution of the Afghan problem is still elusive, there is need for dispassionate consideration of the situation as it exists today. The author has given a few laudable suggestions that Pakistan should support the territorial integrity of Afghanistan, insist on the policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, make efforts towards a ceasefire and the establishment of a broad-based government in Afghanistan. Pakistan should be content with having an independent, integrated and friendly western neighbour.

The writer should have enlarged the scope of his study by incorporating similar suggestions for the international community as well as the Taliban militia. There is no denying the fact that Taliban does command a mass base fired by religious zeal. Attempts of outside powers to prop up another regime in Afghanistan are bound to invite new militancies and provoke a new orgy of violence. Unabated supply of arms by outside sponsors has worsened the crisis. On their part, the Taliban militia should cease to pose a threat to the entire region and beyond. The Taliban leadership should learn from past mistakes and set their house in order. Their topmost priority should be to restore peace in the war-torn country. This will provide legitimacy to their regime.

The author, though not an arm-chair academician, has carried out a comprehensive and analytical study of the Taliban phenomenon. He has tapped primary sources and has recorded interviews with leading Afghan and Pakistani personalities. This has lent authenticity and credibility to the book. This study could be useful to the general reader as well as those who are desirous of taking up further research on Afghanistan in the future.



Mandal laws in USA
Review by D.R. Chaudhry

The Affirmative Action Debate edited by George E. Curry. Perseus Books, Massachusetts. Pages xv+ 368. $ 16.

THE doctrine of white supremacy has been an important ingredient of the culture and policy of the United States of America. The US Supreme Court in 1857 approvingly concluded that both the north and the south regarded slaves "as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white......they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect". Even Manusmiriti, the basic text of the Brahminical ideology, is not as harsh with dalits as this observation of the highest seat of the American judiciary.

Over the past three decades, the USA has struggled to overcome this sordid legacy. The struggle against it was launched by its worst victims — blacks, now known as African-Americans in American society. Out of that struggle came the policy of affirmative action aimed at providing relief to the victims of racial and gender discrimination in American society, the African-Americans, hispanics, Asian-Americans, native Americans and women.

President John Kennedy coined the phrase "affirmative action". He issued an executive order that directed employers to hire workers "without regard to race, creed or national origin". Affirmative action does not involve quotas, and it does not involve preferences to the unqualified.

It is about opening the doors of opportunity to qualified African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, other coloured persons and women. This is an idealistic position about the affirmative action policy. American society has still to go a long way before the ideal is achieved substantially. Its implementation is all the more difficult because American society is the most diverse society the world has ever known. It is a veritable melting pot. In Los Angles alone, for instance, schools teach children who speak 80 different languages.

In spite of all the diversity in American society and the complexity of the issue involved, the affirmative action approach has shown some tangible results. It provides a glimmer of hope to millions in American society who have lived on the periphery. The book under review has collected the leading voices on both sides of the fence in this controversy. A provocative range of politicians, academics, researchers, legal experts and business people debate the issue, some arguing in its favour while others opposing it tooth and nail. The merit of the book lies in the fact that it contains a lot of empirical evidence, data, facts and figures on the result of the affirmative action policy pursued so far and this enables the reader to make up his or her mind about the efficacy of the policy or the lack of it.

Arthur A. Fletcher, the first black person to be appointed Assistant Secretary of Labour for Employment Standards in 1969 by President Nixon, is convinced that if the role of blacks in the economy could be changed, it would lead to changing the nation’s culture. Cornel West echoes a similar sentiment when he lays emphasis on more drastic measures to end the maldistribution of wealth and power.

Some black contributors to the debate who have done well in life are not very enthusiastic about the affirmative action policy. Robert L. Woodson Sr expresses this viewpoint most emphatically. He sees a flagrant abuse of the policy in operation.It is the middle and upper income blacks who are the prime beneficiaries. The basic philosophy is that race in itself is a disadvantage. This premise, in his opinion, undermines the tradition of self-determination and personal responsibility.

Kweisi Mfume does not find much substance in this argument. He is all for federal assistance to minority-owned businesses in the form of contract set-asides, management and technical assistance, grants for education and training. In spite of positive discrimination in favour of minority-owned businesses, more than 95 per cent of the government contracts go to businesses owned by the whites.

While hispanics, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and native Americans comprise nearly 25 per cent of the population; they own only 6 per cent of the operating businesses. These businesses account for just 1 per cent of the nation’s gross business receipts and generate less than 3 per cent of employment.

Judy L. Lichtman, Jocelyn C. Frey and Helen Norton offer a staunch defence of affirmative action for women in American society. Qualified women have been shut out of employment, education and business opportunities solely because of their sex. Women and coloured people make up fewer than 5 per cent of senior managers. 16.4 per cent of white men were high wage earners (earning $ 50,000 or more annually) in 1992, compared to 3.8 of white women, 1.6 per cent of black women, and 1.8 of hispanic women.

Harry P. Pachon laments that the Latino voice is missing in the debate. As recently as 1990, for every Mexican-American male manager in California’s major private sector industries there were 20 white male managers. Theodore Hsien Wang and Frank H. Wu speak on behalf of Asian-Americans. Only some Asian-Americans have made significant strides in socio-economic status. Overall, they remain underrepresented in many areas and continue to experience discrimination. They are better educated than the whites on an average. However, they earn between 10 to 17 per cent less than their male white counterparts. Asian-American women earn as much as 40 per cent less than white men with the same credentials.

Bill Clinton’s speech "Mend it, don’t end it" delivered at the National Archives on July 19, 1995, is an important document in the book. He emphasises that affirmative action must not mean unjustified preference of the unqualified over the qualified, no fixed quotas, no selection or rejection of anyone based on race or gender without regard to merit. However, the area of opportunities must be enlarged for those who have remained deprived so far.

And the deprivation still persists. The unemployment rate for African-Americans remains about twice that of whites. In the nation’s largest companies only 0.6 per cent of senior management positions are held by African-Americans, 0.4 per cent by hispanics and 0.3 per cent by Asian-Americans. Women hold between 3 and 5 per cent of these positions. While white men make up 43 per cent of the work force, but they hold 95 of these jobs.

Undoubtedly, affirmative action policy has provided some relief to the racial minorities in America. Between 1960 and 1990 the percentage of black men in managerial posts has doubled while the percentage of black women in these jobs trebled. Impressive gains if seen in absolute terms. However, seen in statistical terms, the minority groups have still to traverse a long distance.

A piece of statistics given by Jesse L. Jackson Sr would make the point clear. White men are 73 per cent of the population and 48 per cent of the college educated workforce, they constitute 80 per cent of the tenure professors, 80 per cent of the members of the US House of Representatives, 86 per cent of the members in major law firms, 88 per cent of the holders of the managerial-level jobs in advertising, 90 per cent of those occupying the top positions in the media. 90 per cent of managers of the major corporation, 90 per cent of the members of the US Senate, 92 per cent of the heads of the Forbes 400 companies, 97 per cent of school superintendents, 99.9 per cent of professional athletic team owners, and 100 per cent of US Presidents. In the face of such daunting empirical evidence highlighting the hegemony of the white male in every walk of American life — the book abounds in such statistics — the opponents of the affirmative action have been put on the defensive.

The USA is a young nation and the history of racial and gender discrimination is only a few centuries old. But in India, the history of discrimination based on caste and gender is of several thousand years old and hence the problem is much more intractable. Unlike in America, we have a quota system and the same seems to have degenerated into vote bank politics. For instance, the Mandal Commission report lays due emphasis on educational and economic empowerment of the weak sections alongwith providing a quota for them in government jobs. Only the quota was picked up and the two other weighty recommendations were not even considered by the government.

Similarly, nothing substantial has been done in matters of educational and economic empowerment of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes after giving them a quota in government services.

Then unlike in America, the vast field of private enterprises is out of bounds for the weaker sections. What is the percentage of weaker sections in high positions in the media, films, business and industry and other related fields? It is not necessary to prescribe a quota for them in these fields but something must be done to increase their representation in these vital fields.

Those who are fighting for such sections in Indian society must do a good deal of home work instead of relying on rhetoric, Here the debate on affirmative action in American society can be of great help to them.


The "nations" within a nation
Review by Surinder S. Jodhka

Nation and National Identity in South Asia edited by S.L. Sharma and T.K. Oommen. Orient Longman, Hyderabad. Pages xxii + 226. Rs 300.

"Nation" has once again become a contentious theme. The political happenings in different parts of the world during the past two or three decades have made us rethink what we had assumed to be the obvious or "natural" units of the global political geography. It was in the 1970s that the western world experienced what Anthony Smith called the "ethnic revival", and India and some other Third World countries saw the emergence of "new" social movements during the 1980s. The distinctive feature of these "new" mobilisations was that many of them gave primacy to the question of "identity" over "class". The collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent political reorganisation and ethnic conflicts in Eastern Europe during the 1990s further added to this "crisis of the nation".

It is in response to these developments that social scientists the world over have once again started talking about the underlying assumptions of nationhood and the related questions of citizenship, democratic rights of communities and cultural identities. Conventionally speaking, subjects like nation and citizenship were viewed primarily as political phenomena and hence had been the concerns only of political scientists and statesmen. However, in the new context the questions being raised in relation to nation go much beyond the conventional notion of "politics". The collection of papers presented in the book by two distinguished sociologists of India, Prof S.L. Sharma and Prof T.K. Oommen, convincingly show the relevance of looking at these questions in the broader social and cultural context. The specific focus of the volume is the South Asian experience.

Apart from introducing the volume, Professor Sharma in the opening chapter of the book makes a substantive comment on some of the issues that have been raised by the authors of different papers. He also points to the problems that social scientists have encountered in defining terms like nation and ethnicity. Though many formal definitions of "nation" were available, it was difficult to find a definition that would be universally applicable. Quoting Nazir on this, he points out that "there is not, and there cannot be, a general definition or universal definition or a general theory of nation, nationality or nationalism". Language, religion, ethnicity or a shared history of colonial domination could all provide a basis for the formation of a nation. It is this context of the experience of nation formation in South Asia that most of the papers in the volume try to address.

Prof Oommen and Prof J.P.S. Uberoi emphasise the need to recognise the pluralistic nature of South Asian societies. Prof Oommen offers an overview of "the different modes of conceptualising nation and national identity" in contemporary Indian history. He is critical of those who tend to equate Indian civilisation with the Indian nation. The two are conceptually different categories. Several nations or states could co-exist within a civilisational region. He also makes a crucial distinction between the "state" and the "nation" or "citizenship" and "nationality". Citizenship "alludes to membership in politico-legal entity — that is, the state and the entitlements thereof". Nationality "refers to membership in a cultural entity — that is, nation and the identity that it implies".

Nations, according to Prof Oommen, were essentially cultural categories and it was not natural for a nation to establish its own state. Such theories and experiences were European and did not fit in with the realities in the South Asian context. "South Asian states should be viewed as collectives of nations co-existing within federal states".

In his paper, M.N. Karna too characterises India as a multinational state. India’s different nationalities vary in size and are at varying degrees of development. The critical point that he makes is that along with the regional national consciousness, there also existed a consciousness or an identity of what he calls "pan-Indianness".

Prof S.L. Sharma is, however, not convinced by the characterisation of India as one state with many nations as is done by Prof Oommen. In his introductory note, he argues that such a distinction between "nation" and "state" assumed that the two were fixed entities or fixed categories. Nations, he argues, were fluid categories, always in the process of making (or unmaking) and so was their relationship with the state.

Prof Uberoi looks at the history of the concept of "civil society" in the western and Indian context. Disagreeing with classical western understanding, he suggests that the civil society was not only a category of bourgeois society but was a category of what he calls "universal human society or of historical civilisation as against pre-history". The establishment of the civil society required "new forms and concepts of pluralism, mediation of one and the many and of the common usage or custom of the people to sustain it".

Using this framework, he suggests that the civil society in India was established when the post-independence Indian state institutionalised a system of pluralism through the introduction of vernacular democracy or multi-lingualism when the states of India were reorganised on linguistic lines.

Writing on a related theme, V.N. Pandey looks at the manner in which the relationship between the state and civil society has been viewed in the West and in India. He is critical of the "fallacious understanding of the relationship between state and society as mutually hostile, and its consequent polarising effects". He argues that such discourses not only marginalised concerns for questions like social equality and justice, but also resulted in "a retrogressive romanticisation of traditon/culture and civil society".

In another well-argued paper, Dipankar Gupta offers a sociological theory of the emergence of nation-states. He agrees with Marx who had argued that the development of capitalism dissolved the older types of social ties and gave rise to a new type of class society where money alone mattered. However, according to Gupta, "what has not been adequately theorised is why the impetus that dissolved the old solidarities and parochial ties did not go far enough." Or, in other words, why did capitalism need another kind of limiting ideology — namely, nationalism?

He offers a rather interesting answer. He argues that like other economic systems, capitalism too requires "a politics of commitment". However, since in principle the modern capitalist economy was based on an open system of stratification (continuous hierarchies), it could not fuel a politics of commitment from inside like the old systems based on caste or kinship could do. Capitalism had to thus take "recourse to creating supra-local allegiances based on territorial attachment to the nation state". This gave the continuous hierarchies of class more space to realise themselves and, at the same time, fashion an exclusivist identity based on the principle of repulsion.

Apart from the broader questions of the concepts and history of nation in the sub-continent, there are several papers that look at the specific categories of people and their place in the "nation agenda". Jagannath Pathy provides a critique of the ways in which social science and development discourses of the Indian nation have treated the so-called tribal population of the country. Similarly, G. Aloysius looks at the question of caste and Maitrayee Chaudhary at the question of gender in relation to nation.

In her paper on "gender in the making of the Indian nation state", Chaudhary focuses on the history of women’s question in India in relation to nationalism and development. She examines the relationship between the Indian nation-state and women at three levels: women as agents and recipients of development as politically equal citizens and as cultural emblems. Chaudhary argues that though as a liberal state, India was formally committed to the economic, political and cultural rights of individuals, it treated women rather differently. History of the Indian experience shows that the state has tended to relate to them through the given collectivities — namely, family and community. She also identifies the major shifts in the state policy towards women over the last five decades and their various implications.

Though the volume focuses largely on India and the issues emanating from the Indian experience, the last two papers deal with the other parts of the sub-continent. In a wellresearched paper Tanveer Fazal looks at the dynamics of "religion and language in the formation of nationhood in Pakistan and Bangladesh" and the problems they have had in negotiating the questions of majorities and minorities.

In another interesting paper Kalinga Tudor Silva explores the shift from caste to ethnicity in the process of the formation of national identity among the two major communities of Sri Lanka — namely, the Tamils and the Sinhalas. Though caste has remained a relevant source of identity, particularly in the private lives of these communities, their nationalist mobilisations have also strengthened ethnic identities among them. The process of ethnicisation though encourages exclusiveness in relation to the other communities, it also promotes egalitarianism within the communities, undermining the fundamental values of caste and the hierarchy.

The volume on the whole makes good reading and raises some very interesting points, all of which could not be covered in this review. It would have been desirable if the editors had solicited some more papers on the question of nation and national identity from comparatively less known regions of South Asia such as Nepal or Burma. The Indian experience may not necessarily apply to these nations.


Partition revisited by a second wife
Review by Deepika Gurdev

What the Body Remembers by Shauna Singh Baldwin. Harper Collins, New Delhi. Pages 540. Rs 195.

IF I were to use just two words to review this book, they would be, read it!

This happens to be one of my last buys during my India trip, my India collection, as I refer to it. Expectedly it also happens to be one of those books for which I have wished an unhurried ending. Little wonder then that I have spent over a week being transported back in time to the Sardarji land, my land…in a time not so long ago. As I went through page after carefully written page by Shauna Singh Baldwin, I could not help but be surprised that there was so little pomp, pageantry and hype to usher in this novel when it promised so much more than some of the recent Indian writings in English.

That is possibly why "What the Body Remembers" makes for such a poignant and memorable read. In fact, it is a novel to take note of. So if you are looking for that almost perfect read to end the year 2000, I recommend to the reader to tuck into the razai with warm cups of tea and peanuts to keep you company in chilly Punjab nights and relish every written word of Baldwin’s masterpiece.

Here she is — an Indian writer in English — who displays emotional intimacy with her story and does not seem to be an outsider to the story she is narrating. Here is one author who writes with the sole reverence for the characters in her novel not that of her audience. She has no obsessions and makes absolutely no qualms of making an exception to any audience — western or otherwise.

The novel is richly peppered with Punjabi phrases but there is no glossary to explain those words. As a reader you just have to learn to flow with the words or you must forget about reading let alone enjoying this book. Quizzed about the lack of a glossary, Baldwin remarked it was deliberately amiss as "I feel these break the spell of the story. And this book is not an attempt to explain Indian culture. Indian culture just is in this book — and it is for the rest of the world to figure it out and enjoy it."

For all the resident outsiders who are drawn to their motherland wondering where the home really is, Baldwin answers in no uncertain terms: ‘‘Where the heart is.’’ That is something she would know best because the Indo-Canadian writer was born in Canada, brought up in India and now lives in the USA. Quite like the transcontinental life she has led, her career has been multi-faceted as well. The writer, who won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for the Best Book from the Canada and Caribbean region this year, has had a very varied career as author, IT consultant and erstwhile radio show host of ‘‘Sunoo’’.

The idea for her novel was born out of a short story titled ‘‘Satya’’ which won the 1997 Canadian Literary Award. Obviously, there could not have been a better beginning than this. ‘‘What the Body Remembers’’ certainly marks the transformation of a fledgling writer into a better known debutante. ‘‘Satya’s’’ story that just "refused to be put down", led Baldwin on a three-year journey to "reclaim women’s stories from partition". Though the author is modest enough to admit that without the Internet this could have well taken 10-12 years to complete.

The year is 1937, the setting is a small village in Punjab, India, aptly called Pari Darwaza. From this Darwaza the readers witness the beginning of the tense and tumultuous decade that culminated in the violent and still controversial partition.

At the heart of this powerful saga of a Sikh family set against the independence movement are three unforgettable characters. There is the rich, 40-something Sardarji, Rawalpindi-born, UK-educated with a degree in engineering, a man caught in the midst of transition on more than one front. He reads among other classics ‘‘The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire’’, builds canals that criss-cross Punjab, and makes energetic blueprints for a modern canal-irrigated India.

Then there are the two women who drive this powerful and poignant tale. The story truly begins when the Sardarji takes a 16-something village belle Roop as his second wife. Roop’s mother had died in childbirth, her father is deep in debt, her brother is in the Army, she spends her days hoping to find a way out of Pari Darwaza, to break free from her trapped world and knows that marriage is the only passport out of there. So when she learns that she is to be married to a wealthy Sikh landlord, she is expectedly elated. She is aware that she would be a significant other in his life, but is willing to trade her present life to the unknown as the second wife.

Childlike Roop, the Sardarji’s ‘‘little brown koel’’ imagines the first wife will treat her as her younger sister. Little does she realise that she will end up belittling her and will look for ways to get rid of her. This would include bearing children for Satya, going through the pain and the agony, watching the children till their naming ceremony and then handing them over to childless Satya. For young Roop, the marriage turns out to be a nightmare.

Satya, the Sardarji’s first wife, is introduced as a fierce, beautiful childless woman, who is well beyond the child-bearing age. She manages most of his properties. She is pained that the Sardarji chose to get married quietly without caring to take her into confidence. Brilliant, manipulative and beautiful, she is his political conscience and his connection to his ancestral landholding.

Her character is complex, shaded and resonant with ironies. She is introduced as a woman born well before her time into a feudal patriarchal world, fatally unable to lower her resolute eyes in front of a man. Satya is a strong woman whose quarrelsome, mocking intelligence he seeks out, rejects, then misses with an ache when he can no longer have it.

The more experienced of the two, she knows how to bring the Sardarji around: "She offers him crumbly pinni sweets impressed with the mark of her fingers." Satya’s inability to bear children combined with jealousy has turned her heart "black and dense as a stone within her". Her rival is not only 25 years younger, but of considerably lower social rank, and her husband’s obvious infatuation with Roop rankles considerably: "How can a young woman know how to manage his flour mill while he is hunting kakar with his English ‘superiors’? How will she know that his voice is angry with the servants only when he is tired or hungry?"

What follows is predictable: the struggle between the two women for control of the children to be born and for the husband’s attention. Eventually Roop demands the ouster of the elder from the household, and Satya is sent away. But her spirit is not exiled and years later, when Roop and the Sardarji find themselves swept in the bloody partition of India, it is memories of the elder woman’s strength and wisdom that Roop draws on to survive.

While Roop’s story immediately pulls the reader into her world, Satya’s story that runs parallel also makes for compelling reading. But the novel is not just a struggle for power between the two women. It is the Sardarji’s story as well. Somewhere neatly in between his story fits, as the India he knows and understands begins to change. The escalating tension in his own family reflects the religious and political dynamics that will lead to the cleaving of India — and trap the Sikhs in the middle of a horror wrought by the wresting of land. In a dramatic, terrifying conclusion the tragedy and strength of Roop, Satya, and the Sardarji’s lives reflect the greater world in which they must survive. Thus, at one level, this is a story of family ties, and on another, it is social history capturing the customs, traditions and mores of rural Punjab.

This novel is definitely of a woman’s perspective. And because women suffered most when their homes were uprooted, the novel is turned into a more intimate account than just the story of Roop and Satya. Deeply imbued with the language, customs and layered history of India, ‘‘What the Body Remembers’’ tells the story of partition for the first time from the Sikh women’s point of view, shedding light on the largely undiscovered canvas of what we know now as India and Pakistan.

Baldwin’s portrayal of partition is made even more poignant in the smaller stories that deserve equal attention. As the country is in flames, the personal tragedy is played to full scale. Mani Mai feels no remorse when Roop and her children leave Rawalpindi, the trains are brimming with people, but most heart-rending is the chilling story of Kusum, Roop’s dutiful sister-in-law, who has never said nahin-ji to her elders, especially her father-in-law even when a kirpan is held over her submissive neck in honour of the quam.

Through her memorable metaphors, Baldwin achieves an artistic triumph in ‘‘What the Body Remembers’’. In developing the characters in the novel the political blends perfectly with the personal as India’s struggle for independence unravels in the light of the ensuing conflicts between Roop, Satya and the Sardarji.

Baldwin’s next book should be concluded fairly soon; insiders say it is going to be a wonderful blend of the 21st century techniques married to stories as old as India itself. She is, clearly, an author who has achieved a lot by the artistic blend of fact and fiction. I would definitely be watching out for her next work, hope you do too.



A hill man in uniform
Review by Manmant Singh Sethi

Storms and Sunsets in the Himalayas: A Compilation of Vignettes from the Experiences of a Moun-taineer by P.M. Das. Lotus Publishers, New Delhi. Pages viii+184 including glossary. Rs 250.

WHAT is a bureaucrat’s favourite sport? Paperweight lifting or is it the paper pin tathelon? Or someone who has an ice axe to grind? Is he a disgruntled bureaucrat with a frigid boss or a genuine adventurer?

Well, be a little surprised. Mountain madness attacks even the police. The book starts with an introduction of the author and some reasons for this affliction. The first, he confesses, is his father. The next major reason is probably his schooling under many illustrious mountaineers like Gurdial Singh (Guru) at the Doon School. The author has a classic public school profile. Climbed mountains in the midterms under teachers with the barest of equipment. Went to the venerable St Stephens College in Delhi. And that is where the bug bit him the hardest.

His expedition in 1972 to Zhanskar where the party ran afoul of the Delhi bureaucracy but were looked after well by the local police probably tilted his choice to eventually join the IPS.

The books contains vivid accounts of the 25 years of climbing set in a chronological order. The chapters are based on diary notings maintained during each trek.

The first chapter (expedition) is aptly titled, "Initiation to high altitude: a youth’s trek to Harki Doon and the Banderpunch Valley (Garhwal)". The expedition starts out with the author and his school buddy, now in college with him, taking off to the Garhwal Himalayas. It becomes abundantly clear that the author is of a scholarly bent of mind and not just ogling at the hill girls (though he freely admits to their beauty) on the expedition. He is also aware of the hill’s flora and fauna and reels off the correct botanical names of most that he encounters.

But unfortunately an expedition rarely consists of just the real climbing. So we will never know how they met Mr Gurdial Singh on Camp 1 of Bunderpunch or Black Peak. Was it preplanned or serendipity?

A public school or a college of a similar bent of mind is supposed to make a complete man of you, not, as is errantly believed, common brand of men’s drapery. For a man who has everything, you ought to send him among the less fortunate, so that he acquires humility and is able to contribute to society in any measure. So St Stephens sent out in 1970 a team of five boys and two lecturers to Namik, a small village in the Pithoragarh district, far from arc lights and television cameras, to distribute wheat, medicine, clothing, etc. and carry out a socio-economic survey.

The author, by now, addicted to the hills, took a hike to a nearby glacier. It is amazing to read that these villagers live within a day’s walk of the inhospitable glaciers, where death is just a misstep away. In these inhospitable terrain these simple people eke out a living, heroically and unsung.

His next expedition to the Zhanskar valley (western Ladakh) was his brush with the cussedness of the great Indian bureaucracy. That in true reckless spirit of youth they proceeded without permits only to be welcomed and assisted by the local officials wherever possible.

The expedition to the Bhagirathi II was the scene of a tragedy. Three climbers, all skilled — Pratiman, a JCO in the ITBP, Nirmal, a mushroom farmer and Das, the author — attempted and climbed a technically simple mountain. But in mountaineering, reaching the top is only half the job. The real task is staying alive on the way down. Just when they thought they had put the worst behind them, a simple slip by one of them dragged the other two who were roped with him. They fell 400 metres before coming to rest in a tangle, just short of a steep drop. Nirmal died immediately while Pratiman suffered serious injury and the two were tangled badly. Das was the least injured and managed to extricate himself from the rope.

All night, he sat by the side of a dead and a dying companion, ill-dressed for the night out in the open. Knowing that falling asleep would be fatal for him and Pratiman, he stayed awake, coverning his bare hands with spare socks, hallucinating and forcing himself to stay alive and awake. Early morning he set off down and roused help which was unable to negotiate the terrain in the night. They brought down Nirmal who was long dead and Pratiman who was alive but died half an hour later.

More climbs made with both Indians and foreigners follow with lots of colour and black and white photographs. In one chapter we read about his expedition with the London Metropolitan Police. In response to the appreciation showed by the expedition to Das’s human and climbing skills, Mr Ribiero, the then DGP of Punjab, wrote a letter to the superintendent of the force in praise of Das. The latter states that Das, unlike many of his colleagues, fought the terrorists from the trenches and got a bullet in the ribs for the effort.

The book provides a touch of the author’s literary talent in the form of a short play and some mountain poetry. The author also makes an impassioned plea for more exposure of the police to adventure (and I guess the bureaucracy in general) and also of the youth of the country. He asserts that such exposure has led to remarkable changes in hardened criminals and handicapped people in the USA. And as a true nature lover, he makes an impassioned plea for the conservation of environment and wildlife.

The high point of the book is the first successful Indian expedition to the Everest from the North face, of which the author was the senior deputy leader.

The ties that bind those who challenge death are strong. A poignant tribute to those who fell to the wrath of the mountain. The book is a wonderful memoir but falls a little short of weaving the magic of story telling. If only the author had pushed his "literary neurons" a little harder than his "literally neurons".


Nuclear bombast and threat
Review by Bimal Bhatia

India’s Nuclear Security edited by Raju G.C. Thomas and Amit Gupta. Vistaar Publication, New Delhi. Pages 323. Rs 595.

"YOU may not believe this. Over a dozen people on both sides advised the use of nuclear weapons during the Kargil war," a former Indian chief of Naval Staff told his stunned audience in Colombo a few weeks back.

If this demonstrates the type of short fuse that India and Pakistan may provide in the context of South Asian security, this is a welcome book that debates various facets of the nuclear issue. The nuclear and missile tests conducted by India and Pakistan in 1998 substantially altered the security environment, both in the region and globally. Examining the complexities and dynamics of this new strategic framework, this timely and significant book examines the claim of many Indian strategists that stability in the region is better served under conditions of declared — rather than covertly deployed — nuclear weapons.

Raju Thomas is Allis Chalmers Professor of International Affairs at Marquette University, Milwaukee, USA. His numerous publications include — "South Asian Security in the 1990s" and "Democracy, Security and Development in India". Amit Gupta is associate professor of political science at Stonehill College, Massachusetts, USA. He is the author of "Building an Arsenal: The Evolution of Regional Power Force Structures".

Bringing together original essays by a diverse group of scholars, this volume discusses a number of important issues. Stephen Cohen and Sumit Ganguly attempt to explain the rationale for India and Pakistan going nuclear. Cohen argues that a set of medium-term factors which emerged since 1990 influenced the decision to test, including the deterioration of the strategic environment caused by the rise of China, the reluctance of the USA to become a declining power, the break-up of the Soviet Union, and Pakistan’s arrival at nuclear parity. Further, with the coming in of the BJP the bomb issue became more salient, for the first time in decades the economic cost of going nuclear was viewed as a minor issue by most Indians.

Sumit Ganguly discredits the idea that a jingoistic BJP tested nuclear devices to appease the more radical elements of the party and to gain political mileage. External threat perceptions and the absence of a security guarantee from friendly nuclear states are among the reasons offered by him for India going nuclear.

Having once been an advocate of India’s signing the NPT as an avenue of optimising India’s strategic and economic interests Raju Thomas now argues that an Indian deterrent may be a necessary evil. His earlier argument rested on the premise that India going overtly nuclear would compel Pakistan to follow suit and aggravate the Chinese threat, apart from imposing an economic burden. Signing the NPT, he had argued, would compel Pakistan to follow suit and in turn give India the conventional edge required to subdue the threat to Kashmir and stabilise Indo-Pak relations. Regarding the Chinese threat, India had lived with it for over 35 years.

As for vertical proliferation, the world has lived with it. So could India was Thomas’s previous stance India’s exercising the nuclear option would lead to further proliferation in West Asia, Central and East Asia, thus making the world and India less secure.

From this "regional-to-global" security prespective. Thomas now takes a "global-to-regional" view, arguing that a nuclear weapons deterrent may be necessary in a unipolar military world where an unrivalled and powerful US-led NATO is expanding and threatening to intervene in the internal affairs of sovereign states on human rights grounds. Thomas gives the example of NATO’s use of massive conventional force in the former Yugoslavia, with Russia watching from the sidelines, unable to come to the aid of Serbia, its close ally. Although Russia’s nuclear arsenal may deter another "humanitarian intervention" by NATO in Chechnya, Moscow will be unable to deter a western military intervention in Kashmir. Thomas thus reasons that although a regional analysis suggests that going nuclear may be expensive, a global analysis suggests that security concerns have shifted in favour of a credible Indian nuclear deterrent.

Deepa M. Ollappy takes a move optimistic approach to the doctrinal issue, arguing that India must move away from a position of ambiguity in its strategic doctrine to one that explicitly states its objectives and the force structure required to achieve them. In giving practical shape to the contours of India’s nuclear posture, the political decision-makers who are placed Janus-like at the intersection of the domestic and international spheres will have to balance both internal and external factors. This involves a delicate trade-off between military expenditure and economic development.

In defining the desired level of weapons that India must possess for its security, ambiguity still prevails. If the draft nuclear doctrine released in August, 1999, is taken as a statement of "general principles", as some members of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) have said, nothing definitive about the configuration of the nuclear force can be concluded. In a statement to parliament, Prime Minister Vajpayee made an oblique reference to China: "We are not going to enter into an arms race with any country. Ours will be a minimum credible deterrent which will safeguard India’s security." Thus the draft doctrine does not seem to be country or threat-specific, but it certainly is open-ended even as it reflects India’s aversion to risky and expensive military solutions.

Farah Zahra, a freelance defence analyst based in Washington, examines Pakistan’s nuclear rationale and the costs and consequences of Islamabad’s actions to match India, bomb for bomb and missile for missile. Pakistan’s nuclear policy remains India-specific despite periodic rhetoric or allegations about its development of the Islamic bomb in support of Islamic causes. Although it is in Pakistan’s interest to dispel such suspicions of wider nuclear objectives, there are few in that country who will argue that Pakistan unilaterally give up its right to nuclear weapons without an equivalent Indian response.

Thus, according to Zahra, irrespective of India’s claim that its nuclear policy is globally oriented and not directed at Pakistan, it cannot avoid the complicating Pakistani nuclear factor. Under such locked-in and predetermined circumstances and with little room for manoeuver, she argues that for the sake of regional nuclear stability it would be important for the West to ensure that democracy and political and economic stability prevail in Pakistan.

Dinshaw Mistry reviews the history and development of India’s space programme, analysis the capabilities of its space assets, and examines their political, economic and geostrategic implications. The space assets and programme — developed for commercial purposes — have found military applications. The draft nuclear doctrine formulated by the NSAB specifically calls for space-based communication and reconnaissance systems.

An improved reconnaissance capability would upgrade India’s strike potential which would in turn dilute the Pakistani deterrent. However, with the Pakistani nuclear delivery systems becoming more susceptible to an Indian first strike, it could make Islamabad more likely to consider a pre-emptive first strike of its own. These factors have significant implications for regional security because they decrease the stability of deterrence in the subcontinent.

Although it would take at least until 2003 for India to develop a modest nuclear deterrent force against China, India’s satellite reconnaissance systems will enable New Delhi to counter Chinese conventional threats in the short term.

Ben Sheppard examines the issue of ballistic missile proliferation in South Asia. He says that the risk of an inadvertent nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan has increased. The centrality of nuclear-tipped surface-to-surface missiles to India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine is likely to increase as their security perceptions spur further augmentation of their missile capabilities. A threat perception that could lead to full weaponisation is India’s fear of Chinese encirclement and the belief that a significant nuclear capability is required against China.

Missiles also serve as weapons of terror against the civilian population. In the Indo-Pak context the targeting of the adversary’s population centres with conventionally armed missiles could cause problems for the government by triggering major population movements and lowering morale.

Valluri, a scientist, reflects on the futility of nuclear weapons in general and for India in particular. He invokes the dread and despair expressed by Robert Oppenheimer, one of the first to develop the atom bomb. On seeing the destructive power unleashed by the bomb in 1945, Oppenheimer recalled a line from the Bhagwad Gita: "Now I have become death, the destroyer of the world."

Clifford Singer and Amit Gupta focus on arms control. Gupta proposes the development of both a regional and an international arms control agenda to help India to achieve the goals of deterrence and cope with the post-test environment in a new international system in which nuclear weapons are no longer the sole currency of power.

There is a lot of meat in this book for scholars, academics, the military brass and policy makers to chew on. But because the draft nuclear doctrine and the Kargil Review Committee Report have not even been debated in Parliament, there is little to hope that a wholesome debate will take place to address the entire spectrum of security concerns India faces in the regional and global context.