In the great power making, institutions have a vital role to play. Institutions are the backbone of societies as they contribute immensely in their overall progress and development; it becomes more enhanced when it comes to ‘educational institutions’. This is because educational institutions are the centers of knowledge creation.
History has been witness to the fact that those nations which had great centers of learning were always revered across cultures. Be it universities of today in USA like Harvard, Stanford, California, be it great universities of Britain in the last century like Oxford and Cambridge or be it our very own Taxila and Nalanda Universities in the ancient age; all great cultures are build due to their great institutions.
Today, India has many good institutions across fields but yet the country lacks great institutions, which is evident with the fact that India is still not an attractive destination for foreign students. One area which has the potential to produce great institution, is Defence and International Relations. Very few universities in India have courses on these two subjects, mostly some portions of these two subjects are carried in universities and colleges in the course of Political Science, which sadly is not upto the mark
The reason being, that these courses have been seen as ‘elitist’ in nature. By elitist, it means that only select few people have the knowhow of issues like security, strategy, diplomacy and foreign policy. While issues related to security and strategy, were understood to be useful and essential only for those who are in armed forces, the areas of diplomacy and foreign policy were seen academically useful for those who want to be career diplomats.
What happened as a result in the course of time is that these courses became exclusive for a select few from Armed forces and bureaucrats in the Indian Foreign Service. This resulted in limiting the potential of these subjects as a whole because of extremely low participation of civilians in reading the subject. No subject can truly develop unless it is read, researched and analyzed by masses. This is why India for a long time lacked good scholarship in these subjects, which is why India had to rely on the outside academic material to understand the issues related to defense, security and foreign policy.
Critiques argue that is still the case as India’s defense and foreign policy institutions still can’t match up the research done in foreign universities. Now, this has many disadvantages; the first being that apart from importing many products India is also importing ‘knowledge’. This means India is heavily reliant in western viewpoints of security, diplomacy and foreign policy rather than developing an Indo-centric viewpoint. Infact, the situation is pathetic that foreign writers are producing better texts on Indian security and foreign policy than Indian researchers themselves.
This has created a sense of intellectual dependency in these areas. This is ironical in so many levels. Firsrly, because of exclusivity and a shred of elitism in these subjects, a large chunk of students remained unaware of these areas. Secondly, those of the privileged few who were having the reach, access and interest to read these subjects (i.e, armed forces officials and diplomats), it was not their duty to produce academic content for these subjects and one shouldn’t expect them to produce good academic literature.
That is why, one just finds a lot of books written on Indian foreign policy by retired diplomats who basically write their memoirs and autobiographies and try to give it a shape of a book on foreign policy. Other books in these issue areas are written on the subject of warfare, not the theoretical analysis of war but the personal accounts of war by retired army officers. For a long time, this has been the range of literature on these subjects by Indian authors.
As a result, India has historically lost many opportunities to theorize important issues which should have been done, the best example being of NAM (Non-Alignment Movement). India, which was one of the pioneers of the movement since its independence, didn’t work to theorize the concept of NAM. This is primarily because India lacked good institutions and ergo, good experts, a golden opportunity was left to get lost blissfully.
NAM, which as a theory could have defined and outlined the Indian Foreign policy precisely, just remained a concept on paper, on which journalists wrote more than academicians. One could argue that if India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was the pioneer of NAM, then also why NAM was not targeted to theorize. The answer would be that it would be both foolish and naïve for one to expect a Prime Minister to sit back and theorize stuff, it was not his job to do so.
Also, because Indians love examples more than theory, a deeper understanding of crucial issues is lacked by many who are happy to be jack of all trades but master of none. This is the reason why India is still lagging behind in developing good ‘expertize’ on these isssues. Lately, things are changing with the mushrooming of think tanks in cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore who are working as intermediaries between government, academia, media and civil society.
But, one should not remain content with that as educational institutions have their own special place in societies. Nothing else can take its place. The need of the hour is therefore to build universities focusing specifically on areas of diplomacy, defense, security and geo-politics. The proposal of opening Indian National Defence University can prove to be an important step in that direction. Indian policy makers should realize their potential and place in the international system.
India can’t afford to remain naïve in these areas, good research in these subjects are not just a requirement but a necessity today for India to put forward its indigenous Indo-centric views on the global platform. Universities are not only centers of learning, but they are one of the markers of soft power as well. If India manages to build great educational institutions, which attracts academicians, students and researchers from outside, there is no shred of doubt that India’s power as a nation will increase.