SOVEREIGNTY vs INTERVENTION
M.L.Sondhi and Shrikant Paranjpe
The Hindustan Times, May 8, 1995
Important constellations of foreign policy problems for
India revolve around the question of the international
community’s responsibility to intervene in the affairs of
sovereign states. It would serve as a useful stimulus for
India to function actively in the international arena for
comprehensive global security if it could focus attention on
the underlying resilience of the Indian nation-state as a
political and economic security system. Indian decision
makers are fully aware of the core elements of the
contemporary discussion on deconstruction and decline of
sovereignty, and should carefully identify factors which can
have a negative impact on Indian capabilities.
The new foreign policy agenda should be compatible with the
ongoing transformation of the international system but
alternative scenarios for the future should be
institutionalised on the basis of the historical continuity
of the Indian political system. India enhanced its global
status after freeing itself from colonial rule. It can
harness its democratic creativity to the development of a
sui generic approach to the management of ethnic conflicts
through new instruments of policy without a qualitative
change in the integrity of the Indian state.
The concept of self-determination started to acquire a
renewed legitimacy in the international scene in the wake of
the changes in eastern Europe in late 1989. One of the key
dimensions of the change was the identification of trends
which in turn suggested specific areas for policy action.
The test case of this was the stand on the future of the
Baltic states. The initial reluctance of the Soviet Union
under Gorbachev to grant independence to these states was
seen as a denial of this right. The support given by the
European Community to the independence movement of the
Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia came from
The early 1990s saw a reflection of this international
situation in India. In Kashmir, for instance, the demands
made by the JKLF started to be articulated in the specific
language of self-determination. The earlier “Islamic” logic
of aligning to Pakistan was given up and the demands
centered on independence of Kashmir. The earlier demands of
plebiscite were now to be used not to merge with Pakistan
but to seek an autonomous/independent status for Kashmir.
It was the Yugoslav imbroglio of 1992-93 that brought
international attention to the problems that
self-determination can create if accepted as an absolute
demand. The European Community had in fact granted the same
principle to Yugoslavia in the peace conference.
The Yugoslav situation brought forth a clear cut argument
about the position to be taken on the issue. One extreme
position was that of accepting the right of ethnic
nationalities to determine their own future. This meant
granting of political independence to these nationalities.
Their demands for self-determination would thus have to be
clarified as a national liberation struggle and would gain
the legitimacy of a freedom struggle. At the other end of
the spectrum is the stand that the national integrity of the
state is to be maintained at all costs.
Given the sanctity of integration, the borders of the state
become inviolable. This implies that demands raised by
diverse elements within the state for independence
constitute separatist demands and therefore have to be
curbed or resolved. The state can not accept the fact that
these nationalities have rights of self-determination.
Their rights can be clarified as minority (human) rights
which can be legitimately articulated within the state
In between these two extreme positions can be positions that
grant more or less autonomy to the ethnic nationalities
within the state system. These positions indicate degrees
of autonomy and not the possibility of independence.
In the Indian context, however, the Indian state system
continues to be confronted with this debate of
self-determination based on ethnic nationalities and
national integration. The Indian model of national
integration that was based on the principle of “unity in
diversity” had worked in a period where the forces
representing central unity had not trampled on the diversity
of the periphery. In the Indian framework the issue of
peripheral diversity was looked upon as a political problem
to be tackled through political dialogue.
The analysis of the ethno-nationalist issues facing India
suggests that while there may be many policy proposals for
meeting the challenge of violence and ethnic tensions, many
suggestions are motivated by vested interests which use the
slogan of self-determination simplistically without
determining the risks posed by external dependency. The
primary objective of Indian polity should be to place
various alternatives in the context of a “national dialogue”
for which clear rules and procedures should be established.
Consequently much of the challenge of the next decade can be
met by taking a clear cut position that in order of
preference India would design appropriate public responses
to facilitate national integration. In contrast, the
demands that are articulated in the context of
self-determination would be incorporated into the
socio-political mainstream as ‘minority rights’ and will
help to reshape the Indian political environment without
obstructing sustainable processes to promote integration.