ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Territorial Sovereignty in India and Its Discontents

How India Became Territorial: Foreign Policy, Diaspora and Geopolitics by Itty Abraham (Stanford: Stanford University Press), 2014; pp xviii + 217, price not indicated.

As India and China prepare for their 18th round of border talks, Itty Abraham’s How India Became Territorial provides a timely reminder of why this border dispute has been so intractable. Territorial control, as Abraham notes, continues to lie at the centre of modern political identity and this is a lasting legacy of the colonial origins of the modern international system. How India Became Territorial is a long overdue account of the history of territorial sovereignty in India that explores how and why the territorial principle became the standard of national self-determination and the implications that this has had for India’s domestic development and foreign policy. Others have explored these themes; however, Abraham usefully draws together literature from several disciplines to produce some interesting and novel insights.

To make his arguments, Abraham draws on critical approaches to International Relations (IR), but he is critical of these approaches for focusing on critiquing mainstream approaches, rather than offering a tangible alternative, and for failing to “take on the big issues of the times” (pp xvi–xvii). These criticisms however, are not entirely fair, for in recent years there have emerged a number of studies that offer alternative histories of the international and explore the “big issues”, such as nuclear weapons.1 How India Became Territorial adds to this growing corpus of work which seeks to bring to the fore issues of hierarchy, the ongoing legacies of colonialism and decolonisation, and the possibility of finding a “decolonial option” (Mignolo 2011). In this vein, the focus of this book is a critique of territorial sovereignty and possible ways to move beyond it. As I argue below, however, territoriality may not be the root cause of the problems Abraham identifies, nor might moving beyond territoriality be the ultimate solution.

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