The Survival of the State

The Survival of the State

Globalization is thought to have eroded boundaries and to have significantly moulded the identity of nations. Interdependence and interconnectedness have reduced the state’s sovereign hold over its territorial identity. What it also did was to further complicate the question of ordering. Globalization results in immediacy and promptness. The euphoria associated with those speedy changes becomes starkly contrasting when the long term picture is put into perspective. Globalization has been (now even more so) connected to homogenization, an instrument generating similarities. Similarities may range from the nature of the distribution of power to the eating habits particular to a specific culture. The long term implications of globalization such as producing simple and complex patterns of similarities in the political, social, economic and cultural fields render the short term attributes of it as a mathematical conclusion gone horribly wrong.

The effects of such homogenization are felt strongest in culture. Culture as a concept is unique and thus very complicated. It is malleable but again, it is extremely strong. Culture itself has an identity of its own. It moves freely yet it is tied strongly to the people who exhibit its traits. This complex identity of culture is thus easily affected by globalization.

The purpose of this chapter is to first, trace the relation between culture and globalization and second, develop such relations in the Indian context. The location of state in international affairs following globalization has been put to a lot of academic enquiries, but surprisingly very few have attempted to place the state as a cultural construct as part of the discipline itself. International relations being a subject about politics- ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ has long ignored the cultural side of the state theses. Our main argument here is to show that culture as an all-encompassing entity subliminally dictates similar terms to the political, economic, social and military arms of the state. We briefly develop this argument by discussing the effect of Indian culture in matters of international participation and co-operation, military strategy, economic policies and social culture. Albeit, as Mann (2002) proposed that global interaction networks affect different states differently, national culture, we will see has similar aspirations for all states; only they are manifested differently.

4.1 Culture and Globalization

Culture as an idea, as stated earlier, is multi-dimensional. Different layers of convergence and many divergences are embedded within it. To some scholars it is an ideational instrument for the construction of ‘meaning through practices of symbolic representation’ (Tomlinson 1999, 18). Such symbolic representations can range from the nature of the distribution or concentration of powers in the political dimension, or the nature of production, exchange and consumption of goods in the economic dimension etc. (Tomlinson, 18). Wallerstein (1990: 31) explains that there are three ways in which a person can be described: attributes of humanity as a whole present in him, a set of characteristics defining him as a member of some specific group he belongs to and third, his idiosyncratic characteristics. Culture thus comprises the second category as it is neither universal, nor idiosyncratic. It is a social construct which helps groups of individuals to distinguish between other groups. Culture for Wallerstein also signifies certain characteristics within a single group which are different from certain other characteristics of the same group (1990: 33). This signifies that an individual can belong to many different cultures.

Smith (1990) on the other hand, expresses national culture as ‘ particular, time bound and expressive’. There is no singular culture, but several historical cultures with strong emotional quotients for those who are sharing such a culture (Smith 1990) . Even the images and symbols which help people in imagining a community are time bound and limited in space for him. In other words Smith argues that culture is manifested through a social conglomeration of people sharing a common history and a set of continuing values and feelings moving towards a common destiny. Anderson in his seminal ‘ Imagined Communities ’ also concedes that a culture represents a collective existence based on “a repertoire of beliefs, styles, values and symbols” (1991: 171 ).

Theoretically and sometimes even in practice, culture can be identified with symbols, past histories, values, moralities, styles, beliefs, knowledge, myths, practices etc. This host of different ‘markers’ of culture makes it complicated. Thus when any culture based on any single, both or all markers of it are exposed to globalization the resulting confusion grows exponentially. The effect of globalization on culture thus can be seen from two vantage points: first, how the former is affecting the latter and second, whether such a relation has resulted in a ‘global culture’. We now turn to these two crucial debates.

Globalization affects culture as the latter is amenable to changes through increased connectivity. Tomlinson explains this clearly: “(…) Globalization alters the context of meaning construction: how it affects people’s sense of identity, the experience of place and of the self in relation to place” (1999, 20). Culture being constitutive of complex connectivity (Tomlinson, 1999: 22) it is through communication it is mostly influenced by globalization. Greig (2002) questions whether communication while affecting culture results in homogenization or polarization. He uses the adaptive culture model in his simulation to examine the hypothesis that globalization results in cultural homogeneity. The model focuses on how cultural similarity shapes human interactions (Greig, 226). Interactions occur not only when there is communication but there is also some degree of commonality, such as similar values.

Expansion of communication has indeed become a key source of socio-cultural change. Inexpensive transcontinental communications with the help of the internet, telephones, fax machines, air travel, televisions etc have broadened the scope of interactions between different geographically non-contiguous cultural groups. For example, someone in Nepal can exchange thoughts and ideas with someone in Brazil over the internet and can be sufficiently influenced or can influence his Brazilian counterpart. In common terms a music album from New Zealand can influence millions worldwide. Such influence can be permanent (depending on the nature of the album, its popularity, its musicality etc.) or temporary. For example ‘The Beatles’ as a rock-and-roll band single-handedly had created a unique musical and social culture and have influenced millions worldwide. Such influences have been embedded in specific sections of some societies, be it Western or non-Western. Homogenization of culture results from such communicational upsurges.

However, this homogeneity is not complete and total in nature. In some respects globalization manifests a sense of similarity to the Hegelian triad of thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis i.e. the proposition, the negation of the proposition and the creation of a new proposition reconciling the truths of the earlier two. Globalization with its attributes clashes with the ‘national’ or ‘local’ attributes and creates a ‘hybrid’ synthesis. Then, why do we say that globalization breeds homogeneity? This is because globalization maintains its influence on different cultures in the same homogeneous way. This means that globalization injects the same ideas, values, thoughts, and perceptions etc to different cultures and societies who react differently and produce hybrid cultures. The power relations behind globalization thus become clear. To retain the power of influence and to sustain the change in the new culture the imposing culture needs to be superior. As nations help ‘imagine communities’ on the basis of their national culture the durability of such a culture rests upon the strength of the nation. This is why even though a country like Chad, (for the sake of the argument) may influence US in this globalizing world—it cannot forge new cultural traits on the American national culture. But this is precisely why, on the other hand, US can influence a nation like Mauritania and mould its culture to suit its globalizing needs. Appadurai’s statement at the start of the chapter emphasises this truth that the smaller polities are always afraid of cultural absorption by larger polities.

This differentiation is possible through the manifestations of their hybrid cultures. In other words, societies which are rational enough to understand that their cultures may not stand the wrath of the sweeping globalizing forces would rather choose the reformist/transformationalist model of hybridizing their cultures in order to attract capital and survive in the world-system. But societies which are built on a strong national cultural sentiment would involve itself in globalization completely differently. That is the chief argument. States survive and will continue to survive because of this strength. The following section would emphasize how the Indian state has acted when faced with the question of globalization.

4.2 The state of globalization in India

“After all, the saying goes that India does best what it regulates least: producing movies, microchips and Miss Universes”

– Khanna, Parag (2005: 17)

The Indian nation-state, even during the British colonial period wasn’t homogeneous. Religious and caste divisions did create different sub-nationalities within the country itself. The most crucial of this distinction resulted in the Partition of the state in 1947 to two different countries. However, the national sentiment that ran through all these individual nationalities was the thought of an independent nation free from the British bondage, which was above everything else culturally distinctive. Chatterjee (1994) explains how the cultural distinction played the most crucial part in planting the nationalist embryo in the hearts of the middle-class Indian. The inner domain of the Indian citizen was the container of their purest and most sacred existence, which held such concepts like the ‘Sati’ or ‘the gracious self-sacrificing woman’, religion, beliefs, superstitions etc. This inner domain was preserved so fiercely that once the colonizers tried to encroach upon that territory it sparked the nationalist fervour amongst them. This fierce affinity towards their culture best defines the Indian state. Even today, this sentiment is central to every single decision the state makes, be it in terms of economy, politics or otherwise. The Indian state didn’t succumb to a ‘closed-door’ international discourse; rather, by displaying its strong cultural attributes it carved a place for itself in the international field. Although this entailed a lot of cultural adaptation on part of the state itself, but that was readily agreed to as it was not equated with assimilation, which corresponded to total submission of the independent cultural identity. Times change and so do attitudes and this adaptive nature particularly helped India to survive through globalization. The crux of the argument presented in this paper revolves around the notion that “countries that can leverage globalization—rather than being circumvented by it—can advance their growth and status” (Khanna: 16). Accepting globalization as the modern international phenomenon is the prerogative of the government and more a matter of policy choice than inevitability. States choose to enter the globalization game and try different measures to use it to their benefit. Narlikar (2006: 64, 71) argues that the post-colonial Indian state used the strict distributive or value-claiming strategies in international negotiations, even in the post-Cold War era when almost all other Third World countries have conformed or started conforming to a ‘liberal solidarist consensus’. Such strict distributive strategies comprise of ‘a set of tactics that are functional only for claiming value from others and defending against such claiming, when one party’s goals are in conflict with those of others’ (Odell, cited in Narlikar, 2006: 62). This particular negotiating strategy of the Indian state which is offset by adaptive affirmations in terms of some international agreements has helped India in maintaining a distinctive sovereign existence.

India’s response to globalization came from four different planes. On the economic front after the end of the Cold War India opened up its economy. This was a conscious decision by the national government as the need to join the world was felt strongly. So joining the globalization movement by becoming a part of the global economy was the first step towards showcasing its new stance and aims towards becoming a major world player. India’s second major thrust towards carving an independent foreign policy came from its decision to go nuclear in 1998. This shift from an idealist state to a realist one was crucial in displaying its military sinews, underlining its self-sufficiency and proficiency in protecting its international sovereignty. Third, with the quickly developing and booming economy, greater political presence in south Asia as well as with increasing ties with other non-Asian countries India’s bid for a permanent UN Security Council membership proved to be its most bold step forward. And finally, riding high on its knowledge, creative and entertainment resources, which Khanna (2005) calls ‘Bollystan’, Indian culture has globalized itself rather than being globalized by extra- territorial forces. The following sections develop these arguments and abstain from developing a historical account of the growth of the Indian powerhouse.


During the Cold War period India was sufficiently detached from the bi-polar power politics and followed the geopolitically ‘soft’ Non-Aligned stance under the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Much of India’s economic policies were protectionist in nature and focused mostly on import-substitution-industrialization, heavy state interventions and a centrally planned economy which followed strict Five Year Plans for sustained development (Varshney, 2007). But with the end of the Cold War and following the tremendous pressures on its balance of payments due to immense protectionism macroeconomic stabilizations were found wanting to tide over the looming debt problem which amounted to US $ 70.2 billion in 1990 (Basu, 2005: 46). Thus, in 1991 with the introduction of the New Economic Policies (NEP) the Indian economy was liberalized. This welcome change was reflected in the foreign reserves as it quickly reached US$ 127 billion by November 1994 (Basu: 48). In 2005 India had a GDP of US$ 805.7 billion (Source: World Bank Data, 2007: April) and today accounts for 2% of the world’s GDP at current prices (Winters and Yusuf: 1). Riding high on a 6 percent annual growth rate (Bava, 2007; Brummer, 2005; Varshney, 2007; WTO Statistics Database: April, 2007) for the last 10 years the Indian economy has started integrating itself with the world economy. The economic liberalization, which was more a forceful emergency measure, following the fiscal crisis, than a conscious rational policy led India towards globalization.

In terms of competitiveness, the service sector provides India the maximum revenues and as such, has helped to put India in the global market. With an average annual growth rate of 9.9% in the last ten years services like information technology, business process outsourcing etc. have helped this sector provide half of the national GDP (World Bank Data, 2007: April). Such growth rates have earned India a lot of respect in WTO and to further consolidate its position as a growing international ‘Giant’ (Winters and Yusuf, 2007), one who is ready to play key roles in developing and fostering regional and international economic co-operation and integration, India has signed the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) as a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in January 2004 which should help engender new regional trade systems, move towards complete removal of trade barriers, new regional dialogues etc. (Brummer, 5). Also, trade agreements are underway with the Andean Community following preferential agreements with Mercosur (Brummer, 6).

But how do such integrative activities by the Indian state help build its defence against globalization? India’s main interests lie in developing its international economic stance in order to garner more respect from the international community. To this effect it utilizes its phenomenal growth in services and vigorously pushes liberalization, attracting more FDIs and private investments to showcase the burgeoning talent-pool. On the other hand, to underline its specific individuality, as being separate and ‘non-aligned’ from the industrialized West, India uses its leverage in WTO and leads the Third World countries through such groups as the Like Minded Group, the G-20s etc to the tables of trade- negotiations for fair and just trade policies. The LMG failed to garner any form of concessions for the unwarranted cost associated with the Uruguay Round of talks at the Doha Ministerial Conference in 2001 and India was left stranded due to its strict ‘no- saying’ policy (Narlikar: 65). Undaunted, India continued its strategy of negotiations along with the G-20 at the Cancún Ministerial Conference in 2003 and called for “substantial reduction in trade-distorting domestic support” (Argentina et al 2003: 2). Narlikar (2006: 75) argues that first, India’s hard negotiations in the GATT and WTO have helped consolidate its leadership among the developing countries and second, with the credibility of a threat to block treaties by India increasing, its payoffs are higher to continue doing so.


Like any other post-independent colony, India attached major significance to its immediate economic development. To this effect it was felt that scientific advancement was also intrinsically linked to such growth and development. India’s tryst with nuclear physics started thus, as a scientific endeavour under nuclear physicist Homi Bhabha. Along with Nehru he was more concerned to showcase the Indian scientific knowledge and use nuclear power for social development and not as military weapons of mass destruction. But, it was still Bhabha who ‘sought to build a completely indigenous nuclear process with scope for weaponization’ (Narlikar: 66) if the need ever arose. However, the growing uneasiness resulting from the bloody war with China in 1962 didn’t help the Nehruvian cause for strict civilian domestic use and it was increasingly felt that a proper military nuclear program was needed. In 1968, even when being a constructive member of the Eighteen Nations Committee on Disarmament, drafting the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the treaty failed to discriminate between the nuclear haves and have-nots. India used its distributive strategy of nay-saying and underlined its preference towards and independence in making national decisions without being dictated the terms by anyone else. Thus, in May 1974 India conducted its first ‘Peaceful Nuclear Explosion’ (PNE) which was developed following an upsurge in nationalist sentiment with the successful war just concluded against Pakistan (Oza: 112).

Following the first PNE, till 1998 India managed to balance its adherence to the non- proliferation agreement even as it ignored NPT. With the end of the Cold War and with the liberalisation of the economy, the country realised that surviving the globalizing times needed stronger self-asserting measures. Thus, under the BJP-led coalition government Prime Minister Vajpayee conducted the second PNE in 1998 and finally displayed the Indian nuclear prowess. Years of secrecy by the government in order to protect such an identity was thrown to the wind as a ‘realist’ ideology was necessitated by the growing power imbalance in south-Asia. This reassertion of one’s sovereignty demanded that “the nation be given international recognition as a postcolonial state in the throes of modernity” (Oza: 125). Such a demand was rewarded when the US and India signed a historic civilian nuclear partnership deal (Baker, 2006). Sovereignty of the Indian state thus received a major boost from its ‘masculine’ show of a democratic, restrained and responsible military prowess which coupled with its economic growth provided the basis for India’s application for a UN Security Council Membership.


Developing states had long questioned the equity of the composition of the UN Security Council. In 1992 a UN General Assembly resolution (UN General Assembly, 1992) asserted the need for an expanded Security Council so that the changed international scenario, following the end of the Cold War was reflected in the membership. Following this resolution India formally launched its bid for permanent membership in 1994. The reasons behind such a bid were both simple and logical. India being the largest democracy in the world, with nearly 15% of the world’s population requires a larger representation in the Council and be granted veto power as well. However, by 2005

India started emphasising only on the composition and size of the Security Council and aimed for a permanent seat, leaving the call for veto power to be followed in a foreseeable future with even more increased international participation. As Mathur (2006: 5) contends:

“India’s commitment to the UN Charter and maintenance of peace and security—a guiding factor in the selection of additional Council members—is evidenced by the fact that India has been an energetic and influential participant in the UN debates on peacekeeping, as has contributed more than 67,000 personnel to 37 out of the 56 UN Peacekeeping missions established till 2003”.

Also, India’s nuclear prowess which became evident in 1998 also made its bid logically sound. A democratic nuclear power which has no history of civil war, or corrupt and incapable governance should be granted a permanent seat. More so, when it is the largest functioning democracy holding 1/5th of the world’s population and one of the top ten economies in the world it is only natural that India would aim for a permanent membership. Such a demand again shows the nature of India’s relation with the international society. By asking for a permanent membership India is slowly demonstrating its bid to be called a major power to reckon with. Also, it is acting as a major spokesperson for the rest of the developing countries by calling for inclusion of other developing countries in the Security Council in order to protect weak states and to work towards reforming existing economic institutions which are controlled by the industrialized and advanced West (Mathur: 13) Thus, the creation of a successful niche for itself is preconditioned by its admittance into the Security Council.


Consider the following facts: the Indian diasporic culture, which projects the new India to the global audience, comprises of a population of over 20 million spread out in 48 countries and boasting of such eminent office-holders as several British Lords, the president of Guyana and at least 200,000 millionaires making them the wealthiest ethnic community in the USA (Khanna: 18-19). The Indian claim to ‘great power’ emanates not only from such a participatory model of Indian foreign relations through their working foreign national class of people i.e. its diasporic international community, but also through its cultural radiance signified mostly in terms of entertainment. Globalization purportedly results in homogenization and consumes the cultural traits of the globalized state. In India, however the most popular culture, that of films, “has not been undermined or devalued by the recent influx of Western product as some expected and multinational companies have not succeeded in dominating the prize Indian market” (Tyrrell, 2004: 312). Hollywood movies, being the frontrunner in global entertainment failed to grapple the Indian market as Bollywood movies still dominate the Indian film culture simply because cultural disparity has a stronger basis on nationalist sentiment, and works as a deterrent to external influence. Internationally thus India’s popularity, riding on the diasporic successes and the profitability of Bollywood, has grown tremendously. These in turn has helped India forge and reshape a strong national and international culture protecting it from the threats associated with globalization.

The Indian example shows how nation-states can manage to survive the globalizing times without losing their sovereign power of governance. To announce the death of the state is premature and naive as it does not take into account the cultural aspect of a nation-state. However, questions may be raised about the uniqueness of the Indian example. But such questions will not be true to the nature of the enquiry as the investigation does not hope to underline why the Indian state may survive; rather, it shows how following the Indian example other states may try facing globalization. In fact, such measures are already in place for many countries. For example, the British culture is sympathetic to the mélange of other international cultures residing in Britain. But, even while accepting and assimilating with such differences the national culture is true to the British society. In a crude cultural example, the origin of the British national food, chicken tikka masala, was in the Indian spicy curry dishes. However, the addition of cream and onions make it essentially British. Such a dish is qualitatively different from any other Indian dishes. Further, chicken tikka masala is now being exported to India and Bangladesh, where it is treated as British food (BBC UK, 1999). Thus, a strong nationalist sentiment moulds the globalizing agents into new cultural symbols as preservation of the society assumes primacy over anything else. Culture, as argued at the start of this chapter, has similar aspirations for all states. This is the claim to the national society. Higher the strength of such a claim, the more nationally bounded the state becomes. As the territorial attachment and sentiments increase with such cultural claims, globalization finds it even more difficult to perpetuate its concomitant homogenization. But, if such a homogenization is always subject to the strength of the existing national culture then the aspirations of the globalists for a global culture needs to be reassessed. The concluding portion discusses this question.

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