Global Conversations Beyond Discipline

Decolonizing the Anglosphere: Part Two

Historical and contemporary visions of India

In Part One of this of piece, I considered the pitfalls of identifying India as inside or outside of the Anglosphere, arguing for a decolonization of the concept. Here, I consider the ways in which the Anglosphere as a methodological tool, complete with its troubling colonial baggage might allow us a new, but transient, perspective on India’s postcolonial foreign policy.

Immediately post-independence, India outlined its foreign policy position of non-alignment. The Anglosphere states all tried to form new relationships with India, all emphasizing democracy, liberal values and, in the case of the UK, Australia and Canada, shared history through the British empire and Commonwealth. The decision for India to stay in the Commonwealth depended on what type of organization it might be. Girija Bajpai, secretary general of the MEA, relayed to Canadian diplomat John Kearney that he believed it would be impossible for India to remain part of the Commonwealth as a dominion. It would be possible, however, to remain as a republic, but it was politically difficult. Or, as Kearney relayed back to Ottawa:

There are certain obstacles which if not removed, might make even this latter arrangement impossible, the chief of which is the immigration policy of some of the other Commonwealth nations, more particularly Australia and Canada. ((John D. Kearney, ‘Dispatch to Ministry for Eternal Affairs’ May 27, 1948, at Libraries and Archives Canada, RG26-A-1-c, file 127, part 1, p. 2))

Canada was willing to bend on this matter. Australia’s racialized identity, however, did not prove so flexible, and no discussions took place, leaving Nehru to only hint at his irritation with Australia’s immigration policy. Open attack would not have brought the two countries together. The experiences of an idealistic former Indian Army General Kodandera Cariappa, who acted as Indian High Commissioner to Australia, reveal much about India’s relationship with the racialized Anglosphere. Cariappa had spent his life in the Indian army and genuinely believed in the ideals of a post-racial Commonwealth. Cariappa’s experience in Australia left him depressed, asking the MEA to be sent home as all he heard from the Australians was how they had to protect their way of life from non-white immigration and invasion. Cariappa eventually voiced his disapproval publicly and unofficially, framing his offence around the fact that Germans (against whom Australia and India had been fighting together as recently as 5 years ago) could emigrate to Australia, but Indian army veterans could not. Cariappa stayed in Australia, hoping to ‘educate’ the Australian people about India. Clearly, the racialized narrative of the Anglosphere severely inhibited Australia from forming a strong relationship with India.

Field Marshall Cariappa

Often considered in Australian scholarship to be the ideal version of the Australia-India relationship, however, was Canada’s early relationship with India. Canada emphasized a post-racial liberal-internationalist identity in its efforts to engage India. Under the guidance of Louis St. Laurent, and particularly under the term of deeply idealistic diplomat Escott Reid, Canada tried to tie India closer to the West by acting as a ‘bridge’ based on the belief that a post-racial, flexible, inclusive Commonwealth could be crucial in this regard. In Reid’s mind, India held a hybridity: a stable democracy that might share the values of the West, but needed to be interpreted by Canada to the rest of the world, particularly to the US. In doing so, Reid believed India to be the most important place in the world, in which its relationship with Canada was pivotal. Reid tried desperately to convince both a reluctant Lester Pearson and the Indians to follow his prescriptions for world peace. Despite this, disagreements over the USSR invasion of Hungary, the Suez Crisis and the war in Indochina nagged at the relationship. Essentially, different postcolonial worldviews over what looked to India like neo-colonial misadventures undermined the relationship. By the time Reid left India, the ‘special relationship’ between Canada and India was looking somewhat shaky. While far more successful than Australia’s overtly racist approach to the Anglosphere, Canada’s liberal internationalist narrative could ultimately not engage India to anywhere near the extent that Reid desired.

As Reid pointed out in his farewell speech to India, the trouble with bridges are that they ‘are meant to be walked on’ ((Escott Reid, ‘After Dinner Speech by Mr. Escott Reid’ at Library and Archives Canada, MG26-L, no. 185, file number I-17-2, pp. 1-4.)), and India’s relationship with both Canada and the Anglosphere was about to be thoroughly trampled. Indira Gandhi’s choice to set off a ‘peaceful nuclear explosion’ both confused and enraged diplomats from the Anglosphere. Australian diplomat Bruce Grant summed up the Anglosphere’s response after consultation with colleagues in the UK, the US and Canada thus:

Not untypically for India, what she has done does not fit in to generally accepted categories. There is a feeling of annoyance with India for begin so tiresome. ‘Why doesn’t she simply say she’s built a bomb?! ((Bruce Grant, ‘Indian nuclear test’ (1974) at National Archives of Australia, A1838, 919/13/9, part 4, ‘United Nations –Nuclear Weapons – Testing – India’.))

In his estimation, Canada was particularly irritated with India, as decades of trust over civil nuclear cooperation had been undone. India had thoroughly transgressed the norms of behaviour expected of Anglosphere states, leading to feelings of confusion and annoyance with India as referred to in Grant’s dispatch to Canberra. That India’s action was so perplexing to Anglosphere observers serves to illustrate how India has not acted within this ideational space. Amid their confusion, Canadian and Australian diplomats (the Australians particularly so) fell back on colonial stereotypes of the irrational ‘third world’ where they had initially hoped the Commonwealth might create shared expectations of behaviour.

Following 1974, all four India-Anglosphere relationships were muted. India drifted towards the USSR in the Cold War, and this did not begin to shift until 1991 when India liberalized its markets. Trade between India and the Anglosphere has boomed, and foreign policy alignments have begun to grow, albeit slowly. Since 2001, perhaps due to 9/11, discourse on India began to shift towards the discursive signifiers associated with the Anglosphere: the rule of law, democracy, shared values, history and Westminster institutions. Following India’s nuclear test in 1998, Bill Clinton termed South Asia ‘the most dangerous place in the world’ due to India and Pakistan’s newfound nuclear arsenals. However, within just a few years this turned into ‘the world’s largest democracy’, a term now repeated ad nauseam in Anglosphere discourse on India. The external perception of India has shifted away once again from its position as an ‘irrational’, ‘dangerous’ actor, back towards an emphasis on its Anglosphere characteristics. Given the historical failures, I am strongly inclined to believe that the attempt will likewise fail.

Aside from this shifting external perception of India, however, has been a shift from India’s foreign policy makers towards this identity in certain contexts. In a speech accepting an honorary degree from Oxford University, Manmohan Singh stated in 2005:

It used to be said that the sun never sets on the British Empire. I am afraid we were partly responsible for sending that adage out of fashion! But, if there is one phenomenon on which the sun cannot set, it is the world of the English-speaking people, in which the people of Indian origin are the single largest component.

Singh was arguing more broadly for his audience that India’s colonial experience had given many positives, and should help to create closer India-Anglosphere relations. This speech certainly received a mixed reaction within India, provoking sharp criticism from several corners. Arundhati Roy went so far as to argue that Singh had ‘officially declare[d] himself an apologist for the British Empire’. Singh’s approach was at its strongest in the many India-Anglosphere nuclear agreements, which I have discussed recently in The Journal of the Indian Ocean Region, and will refrain from returning to it here. However, these relationships continue to disappoint liberal observers who hope to create new strategic partnerships and ‘special relationships’. Despite his lofty rhetoric tying India and the US together in Washington in 2005, in the domestic context Singh had no choice but to emphasize a non-aligned, postcolonial narrative of Indian history and identity, arguing that India’s independence was not undermined by the agreement as ‘Our right to use… our independent and indigenously developed nuclear facilities has been fully preserved’. The effort to engage India on this basis, despite the shared fears of radical Islamism,  the rise of a shared rival in China,  and the growth in trade, Anglosphere narratives have still failed to engage India even as they animate some cooperation. It remains to be seen how new Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi will change Indian foreign policy following his landslide victory. While previous BJP governments have seen India and the Anglosphere as ‘on the same side’ in the War on Terror, the Anglosphere will still have lost its most approachable Indian Prime Minister since Nehru. The construction of closer relationships appears deeply unlikely – indeed, the attempt may have already failed.

Conclusion: Decolonizing the Anglosphere

Taking up the idea of an Anglosphere as a space for critical analysis allows us to consider, expose and ultimately attempt to undermine the colonial elements of contemporary world order, as well as to understand the role that these continuing complexities of postcolonial identity play in India-Anglosphere relations. Given the impossibility of placing India on the inside or outside, an Anglosphere, or any future echo of the idea, will remain an expression of colonial power. Vucetic has already shown how its close relationships are the product of colonial, racialized identities. We can further decolonize the concept through analysis of its so-called peripheries, to expose and undermine its continuation of colonial hierarchy. To fully decolonize the Anglosphere would be to disassemble it entirely, and move towards embracing more plural visions of modernity through finally ending the Anglo-Western pretense to cultural, moral and political superiority.


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