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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 20, May 8, 2010

State of the IR Discipline in India: A Debate

Monday 10 May 2010, by Seema Narain


An informal round table was held at the Department of Political Science at Delhi-University to discuss ways of promoting the IR discipline in India. This discussion was a follow-up action of the workshop held on International Studies in India. at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore., March 25-26, 2009.1 This report needs to be published in order to share some of the concerns expressed at the roundtable and stir a debate on this very vital issue in order to get a feed-back of suggestions and proposals that can later crystallise into effective policy adoption at the Delhi University. The urgency of a debate is further necessitated in view of the fact that the Delhi University was conspicuously absent at the workshop despite the fact that this university caters to a huge student community. This is a clear manifestation of the depleted state of International Studies at the Delhi University.

The round table was chaired by Professor Muthiah Alagappa, of the East-West Centre, who has commendably led this initiative, and Professor Navnita Behera of the Department of Political Science at the Delhi University. Professor Achin Vanaik, Head of Department of Political Science, also graced the occasion and a substantial majority of Readers and lecturers from the colleges of the Delhi University attended the brain-storming session held on February 10, 2010. The following is a report of the roundtable discussions and some of the proposals made to strengthen the institutional base and pedagogic concerns of the discipline at the Delhi University.

In the meeting, some of the major areas where India lagged behind in IR scholarship were identified. Notable among them was the need for establishing professional bodies in India along the lines of the International Studies Association in the US. It was suggested that in order to circumvent Delhi-centricity, we should complement the national level Indian International Studies Association with regional Indian International Studies Association corresponding to the western, eastern, northern and southern hemispheres. The lacuna of only a few peer reviewed journals would have to be filled by additional and high quality peer reviewed journals to add to the existing but very limited and low quality journals. The need for Indian scholars to contribute high quality research articles to indigenous and international journals was proposed.

Professor Muthiah Alagappa suggested the urgent need to reconceptualise the discipline and address the need for disciplinary location. In India there is an identity crisis of sorts in the international studies dicipline because of its conflation with International Relations, Area Studies and relational studies. In view of this conflation the participants proposed unanimously the necessity of establishing a separate International Studies Department at the Delhi University. A need to reconceive the International Relations syllabus with due emphasis on internationalising the curriculum and the need of making it more multidiciplinary/interdiciplinary was urged with a special focuss on the need to include international trade and economics courses to widen the intellectual base of the IR programmes at the Delhi University. The need to have summmer schools to promote faculty training/skill development and student development was also urged. In particular, training in theoretical and methodological skills was agreed upon. Publishing of occasional papers followed by the goal of having a high quality peer reviewed journal was agreed upon. Links with NGOs and internship programmes for students was highlighted. The need for a periodic and regular syllabi appraisal and revision was urged.

The need to make periodic syllabi revision mandatary to ensure continuous upgrading of IR courses was discussed at the roundtable. The approach to revision of courses at the Delhi University is adhoc and has come after a gap of 15-20 years. The efforts of Professor Achin Vanaik, Head of the Department at Delhi University, to initiate the revision of the political science syllabus, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, should be lauded here. Such efforts will, however, need to be sustained.

To promote policy relevant research and to assist India in facing the challenges of modernisation, it was also suggested that there should be an interface between the academia and the government. Internships and mutual exchanges between theoreticians and practitioners were seen as imperative. The need to have practitioners invited to lecture on vital issue areas was seen as necessary for a more realistic understanding of IR issues. For example, to have Shashi Tharoor lecture on the UN and the likes of Chidambaram on internal security. Links with the MEA for a more need based research and inputs for research areas and programmes from the MEA were also suggested.

The round table concluded with a consensus on the need to concretise the proposals with institutional back-up, funding sources and the goodwill to implement these proposals. Therefore, the adoption of an effective strategy for implementation was urged. The need for being receptive of the West and using their models and constructs for research with a view to modifying them to the Indian context was another suggestion. Identifying research programmes in the under researched areas like India’s Grand strategy or strategic culture were also recommended and the necessity to channelise research in these areas by Ph.D and M.Phil scholars at the Delhi University too come up as a proposal. The need to translate some of the Hindi and Sanskrit manuscrpts to promote research in the Indian theoretical traditions was raised. There was a general consensus on making concerted efforts to revitalise the discipline.


1. Report of the Workshop on the International Studies in India held at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, March 25-26, 2009, by Dr Matthias Alagappa.

Dr Seema Narain is a Reader, Department of Political Science, Deshbandhu College, University of Delhi. She is an alumni of Columbia University, New York and Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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