Book Discussion on Prof Dilip Chakrabarti's Book, ‘Borderlands and Boundaries of the Indian Subcontinent’, 18th Mar 2019
Opening Remarks by Dr Arvind Gupta, Director, the Vivekananda International Foundation

Prof Dilip Chakrabarti’ book on Borderlands and Boundaries of the Indian Subcontinent is a valuable contribution to our understanding of how India’s boundaries and strategic frontiers were formed. The Indian subcontinent is surrounded by Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia, Tibet, Burma, and the Indian Ocean. It is natural that the interactions amongst the people living in these regions, which could be roughly called India’s borderlands, would have a political economic and social influence on India. Many invaders came to India from these borderlands and changed the course of Indian history. Similarly, Indian culture. Likewise, Indian culture and civilization have also impacted the people of these regions.

Geography has a deep influence on a country’s history. Indeed, one can say with reasonable certainty that even today, the interaction between India and its neighborhood and the people inhabiting its neighborhood and the extended neighborhood is central to India’s security and prosperity. That is why neighbors occupy such an important role in India’s foreign policy. India Act-East-Policy, Look East Policy and Connect Central Asia Policy are the reflections of this central reality.

A noted archeologist and historian, Prof Chakrabarti is the Professor Emeritus of South Asian Archeology in the Department of Archeology at the Cambridge University, UK. Between 1980 and 2008, he has done archeology survey of the Kangra Valley, the whole of Chota Nagpur Plateau, the whole of the Ganga-Yamuna Plains and Haryana Punjab area. He has also participated in archeological field process in India and Iran. He has also authored and co-authored 29 books. He is a distinguished fellow at the VIF and the editor of the VIF series History of Ancient India.

Prof Chakrabarti in his introduction to the book observes perceptively that “to understand the flow of events in Indian history through the ages… it is essential that we try to understand the geographical and historical nuances of the Indian borderlands”. Indeed, looking at India from the prism of its borderlands would be a novel approach to understanding India and modern India’s foreign and security policies. We do not do that often because of indifference, laziness as well as lack of knowledge. Sometimes, in our foreign policy, we ignore the importance of the bordering areas such as Tibet, Central Asia, and South-East Asia. The result is that we confront with such massive problems as India-China boundary dispute, Afghanistan turmoil, Kashmir problem, Pakistan problem and insurgencies in the North-East.

Prof Chakrabarti’s book is a scholarly work which deals with a geographical and historical perspective of Central Asia, Iran, Baluchistan. Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar. In the process, we learn a lot about the Silk Road, the Durand Line, spread of Buddhism to Central Asia, Buddhism in Tibet and Mongolia, the Ahom invasion of the Indian North-East in the 20th Century, developments in Irrawaddy Valley etc. Prof Chakrabarti has based his research on archeology research. He feels that the historic picture in many parts of India’s borderland, as for instance in the Irrawaddy Valley, is still not complete. The book has several maps from the imperial Gazette of India covering Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Northern Frontiers, Tibet, Nepal, and Myanmar. It also has five pages of references, which would be useful to academics and general readers alike.

India is presently at a cusp of accelerated growth and rise. There is a need for us to spend more resources in archeological, historical, geographical, cultural, anthropological research. Foreigners have done most of the research. There is a need to build a strong research group in India. This cannot happen unless we support and expend our current institution like the Archeological Survey of India, Survey of India, National Archives, Museums, Universities etc. Unfortunately, there is an absence of strategic thinking and strategy amongst the policymakers who are either unaware or reluctant to invest in India’s history.

What areas could be considered to be India’s borderlands? The borderlands are the areas where there is a clear Indian imprint mixing with the local influences. Therefore, the vast swathe of territory from the Gulf to Xinxiang on the West and Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar on the East clearly fall in the category of the borderlands. One interesting insight the book offers is this: As to what extent were the foreign invasions of India were truly ‘foreign’ considering that most of them, from the Achaemenids to the Mughals emanated from the borderlands. The borderlands of India are very much a part of Indian history.

Be that as it may, the VIF is delighted to arrange this discussion around Prof Chakrabarti’s book on a highly interesting and crucial subject of India’s borderlands in the hope that the book will lead to more academic research and also lead to greater public awareness.
I would also like to welcome to the discussion the presence of Dr BR Mani, a noted archeologist and presently the DG of National Museum and Vice-Chancellor of National Museum Institute; Amb Rajiv Sikri, formerly the Secretary of Ministry of External Affairs, Ambassador to Kazakhstan and the author of a best selling book on Re-thinking India’s Foreign Policy; Prof Kulbhushan Warikoo, formerly of the JNU, who has made a notable contribution to the Himalayan and Central Asian studies, also the founder editor of a quarterly journal of Himalayan and Central Asian studies, a quarterly journey published in 1997; Prof Sujit Dutta, Distinguished Fellow at the VIF and the editor of the VIF publication National Security; and Dr Abanti Bhattacharya, an Associate Professor at the Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University.

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