Author: Alyssa Ayres
Publisher: OUP USA, 2018, pp 360
Book Review by:
Richard N Hass, an American diplomat and President of the Council of Foreign Relations in his conversation with Alyssa Ayres, author of the book ‘Our Time Has Come: How India is Making Its Place in the World’ refers to the phrase ‘Indo-Pacific’ and says, ‘…Indians like that’. To this Alyssa explains, ‘it is a very welcome phrase…a welcome phrase in Japan, Australia and India…that gives India a stake of being part in this larger region which it doesn’t have while talking of Asia-Pacific…India is core central geographic fact of the Indo-pacific’. ‘Our Time Has Come’, is a book on India’s rise in the past twenty-five years that the author Alyssa Ayres has witnessed as a Harvard junior, via her work at the Asia Society, at the U.S. Embassy in India, and as Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asia at the State department during U.S. President Obama’s administration.
The book is a practitioner-scholar’s account with deep insights for an American reader. It lists India’s achievements in this period and the distance it has marched ahead of the socialist regime and that of license raj. Alyssa speaks of an India that seeks to be a ‘leading power’ rather than a ‘balancing power’, the present government no longer talks of ‘strategic autonomy’, and ‘non-alignment’ is a thing of the past, with Prime Minister Modi even skipping the NAM summit. India, today is more demanding of its due in the world and less hesitant in asserting its interests. She has covered this trajectory in eight chapters, grouped under three parts, namely – ‘Looking Back’; ‘Transition’ and, ‘Looking Ahead’.
Alyssa looks at the rise of India from economic point of view and sees a very positive story there, with India being among the top ten economies and slated to be among top five this year. But looking from the lens of global governance, India is still not a prominent part of many institutions central to the global order. Also, domestic aspects like caste, communal clashes, rigid bureaucracy and inadequate infrastructure are pulling India behind. At the same time she credits Prime Minister Modi for giving a new impetus to the way in which India engages with the world. She points out that he is the first Indian leader to declare his support for reforms explicitly and unreservedly. On India-US relations, Alyssa thinks they are on an upswing. She points out that while there are a lot of commonalities, there are many areas of disagreement too. And the India-US relationship will more likely be a ‘joint-venture’ rather than an alliance as there are obligations inherent with an alliance. For example, India is very unlikely to become a part of a US led approach to restrict China. She has certain recommendations to improve the India-US relationship – backing Indian membership in multilateral bodies like the UN Security Council, APEC etc that set the global economic and security agenda; having stronger bilateral economic ties; supporting institutions of democracy; and pursuing stronger regional security cooperation with India.
In her interview to Richard Hass, she says, ‘India hedges its own bets as global governance reforms lag on in 20th century institutions and India has put some of its eggs in the new organizations/baskets that India has partnered in….’. While India wants it rightful place in the comity of nations, ‘it is not to supplant others, but rather…be one among many in a world order explicitly seen as multi-polar.’ Alyssa Ayres counsels United States to be better prepared to deal with India that would possibly be the ‘the workforce of the world’ in coming future. ‘Our Time Has Come’ is a delightful read and in the words of Ambassador Shyam Saran, ‘For a balanced and carefully researched analysis of India’s prospects, as seen from Washington, this is a book which will rank pretty high in the years to come.’
(Reviewer is a Senior Research Fellow at India Foundation.)
(This article is carried in the print edition of May-June 2018 issue of India Foundation Journal.)