Technology and India’s Rise: The Missing Link in Indian IR Teaching
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepares to embark upon his state visit to the United States later this month, a new paradigm of bilateral cooperation on critical technologies is gaining mileage. As the world stands at an inflection point, and the birth pangs of a new world occupy policy and academic debates, nothing more than emerging technologies, with its lure and pitfalls, amplifies this sense of uncertainty. As a complex competition-cooperation dynamic ensues among major powers to shape the contours of technology governance, it has become imperative to infuse an informed understanding of how technology has affected international affairs in general and the rise of India in particular. While there exists a generic knowledge of India’s multifarious achievements in Science and Technology (S&T), a sharper knowledge needs to be imparted of the synergy between these S&T advances and its role in the kind of power India has become and what she envisions to be.
India has waded through some tricky geopolitical waters during its 75 years of independence. The country, even in its early years of independence despite serious adversities coming from lack of resources, always exuded an aspirational scientific temper, and some towering personalities helped shaped its early venture into technological breakthroughs having both civilian and military implications. The advent of breakthrough military technologies and their acquisition have had a pivotal role in the global balance of power. Not only in terms of application, some consequential technologies are also acquired as a matter of status in the international system, as in the case of nuclear weapons. Along with nuclear weapons and several categories of missiles, different technologies operating in land, sea and air domains, also lend strength to a country’s deterrence.
Technologies are quintessential eyes and ears of national security, adding to the intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities. The growing military applications of outer space, cyberspace and artificial intelligence have opened new boxes of opportunities and risks. Moreover, technologies in their several civilian avatars are at the centre of a country’s economic growth and development. Therefore, quite simply, advances in S&T are the most tangible components of a country’s national power. While the role of advances in S&T to India’s rise to a power of global reckoning is apparent and visible all around us, there is a need to infuse this understanding in the International Relations (IR) teaching curriculum of Indian universities.
Globally, the role of S&T in the IR discourse has seen a steady increase. This coincided with the rise of a new interdisciplinary field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) during the 1970s and 1980s. Since the advent of IR as a discipline post-World War II, nuclear weapons and their role in strategic stability was a key focus area. However, it was with the coming of the Information and Technology (ICT) revolution that elements beyond nuclear and military technologies started forming a greater part of the IR discourse. The IR curricula, particularly in the West, evolved to incorporate elements learnt from STS in both methodological and epistemological terms. The continuity in area studies focus in IR curricula is understandable, given the state centric analysis of the discipline. New opportunities and threats such as globalisation, transnational terrorism and climate change have occupied recent relevance in Indian IR teaching. However, there is still remains an evident gap in analysing and disseminating as to how evolving technologies remains a subterranean force in these issues of national and international consequence. The interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary of IR teaching cannot be adequately captured without a more acute understanding of the interface between technology and a country’s national power.
Across the world, advances in S&T have played a fundamental role in shaping IR as a discipline. India, a leading technological power in the 21st Century, must not be left behind in incorporating such understanding into its IR pedagogy. Such a change should begin with a relook into the academic curricula in IR being taught across the nation and incorporating the role that S&T has played in India’s rise. At present, the ways and means through which advances in niche fields of strategic and critical technologies have enhanced India’s power status receive scant attention in a majority of Indian IR courses. The role of S&T in equipping India with system-shaping capabilities is largely taken for granted. Such an attitude runs counter to the very spirit and purpose of interdisciplinarity that India’s education reforms have tried to introduce by means of the National Education Policy, 2020.
The gap in curriculum in this regard severely limits the ability of Indian scholarship to make a credible case for India’s rise. Consequently, the Indian narrative is left short in examining the notion of power and power status – concepts whose qualitative and quantitative parameters have been set by the West and more recently, China. What needs to be emphasised upon in this context is the realisation that global power dynamics in the 21st Century is defined by an increased intertwining between technology and geopolitics.
The exact ways and means through which niche critical and strategic technologies have catapulted India to the top rung of the international power hierarchy become important to incorporate in IR curricula from the undergraduate level. The resilience of India’s organisational culture further becomes significant to study. The legacy of institutions such as the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) despite severe limitations only in terms of resources to work with, but also external efforts to stunt India’s rise are worth studying as a key facet of India’s burgeoning power profile.
The continued rise of India amid the fourth industrial revolution is dependent on its ability to prevail as a global hub of cutting-edge technologies. In addition to technological advances seen in terms of patents or publications, convergence and policy synergy is key to capitalise upon the advances and to project power. Article 51-A of the Indian Constitution states the development of “scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry” as a fundamental duty of every citizen of India. It is high time for IR education in India to make tangible efforts towards infusing S&T advances into its curriculum and account for their symbiotic relationship. It is imperative to take this discourse out of elitist circles and work towards the noble goal of interdisciplinarity in knowledge. Education on this front may be imparted from the undergraduate levels towards the end goal of evolving a critical mass of young scholars who can confidently articulate for a rising India.