Book review: The New World Disorder and the Indian Imperative by Shashi Tharoor and Samir ...

Book review: The New World Disorder and the Indian Imperative by Shashi Tharoor and Samir Saran

With the world failing on equality, global warming, terrorism, communal and ethnic tensions, two writers wonder what India’s role should be

Most, if not all, geopolitical analysis today looks at three separate factors for the world’s problems: the rise of China, the retrenchment of the Western world order led by the United States, and the growing power of populism and strongmen (and women) leaders. Right at the beginning of their book, The New World Disorder and the Indian Imperative, Shashi Tharoor and Samir Saran make it clear that they will discuss all three.

Their prologue of events lists U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Climate Change agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership; China’s Belt and Road Initiative; the election across Europe of far-right Euro-sceptics and the vote for Brexit as the context for their discussions. It is these events, and the trends they portend, that make the basis for the New World Disorder that India must respond and shape a counter to, according to the authors.

UN’s iniquities

As a former United Nations official for decades, who once even ran the election to lead the organisation, Tharoor, a Member of Parliament, is best placed to discuss the iniquities of the UN system and why it has led to this disorder, while Saran, a scholar on climate change, global governance and digital technology, who heads India’s best-known think-tank and organises the government’s flagship conference Raisina Dialogue each year, is extremely qualified to speak about India’s claims and aspirations to contribute to the next version of the “New World Order” when it is formed out of the crucible of the present disorder.

The book includes thoughtful reflections, well ordered into chapters on sparring over energy and other resources that drove conflict in the past, the fight for the environment and the debate over sustainable development and cyberwars of the future.

Two of the best chapters deal with what a “New World Order” would constitute, and how India must take leadership in it.

While the book looks at hard-nosed realities, and finds the world failing on challenges of equality, global warming, terrorism, communal and ethnic tensions etc., the authors can be faulted for being over-idealistic about India’s capacity to stand tall above them.

“India may well be the only country with the credentials and capability to script an equitable ethic for a new international order,” write Tharoor and Saran, which may seem a stretch given its present situation, rising populism and protectionism, a right-wing government itself accused of authoritarianism, and the threat of religious majoritarianism.

The authors hope that India as a “relatively wealthy, democratic, multicultural state with an instinct that privileges multilateralism and rules-based order” is welcome in the New World Order.

‘Rights of Man’

The New World Order that Tharoor and Saran refer to has had many avatars and meanings. In 1835, poet Alfred Lord Tennyson spoke about building “the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world” in his famous poem ‘Locksley Hall’.

The New World Disorder and the Indian Imperative; Shashi Tharoor & Samir Saran; Aleph; ₹799.

The New World Disorder and the Indian Imperative; Shashi Tharoor & Samir Saran; Aleph; ₹799.  

More than a century later, U.S. President Harry Truman carried the poem in his wallet as he began deliberations on the UN charter, calling it his inspiration. H.G. Wells, in his 1940 book The New World Order, spoke of a global idea to reconstruct human society through a common belief in the “Rights of Man”.

At various points in the 20th century, many right-wing thinkers claimed the “New World Order” (NWO) was in fact a Communist conspiracy of a secretive group of elites, aimed at the overthrow of governments around the world in order to form an “authoritarian world government” in their place. While that may be extreme, it is impossible to deny that those desirous of a peaceful and stable world order are most often the status-quoists, who have the most to lose from any churning in it.

Falling apart

Peace and democracy, then, should hardly have been the preserve of colonial powers, who subjugated much of Asia, Africa and South America, or interventionist powers, who selectively demolished authoritarian republics but spared brutal monarchies, while maintaining a heavily racist society at home, or of single-party communist dictatorships that deprived ordinary citizens of rights, property, and even the agency over how many children they could have. And yet, the old world order, as the last century ended was very much ruled by a UN Security Council controlled by such powers.

It is to highlight just this that Tharoor and Saran begin their book with words from W.B. Yeats’ 1919 poem ‘The Second Coming’: Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;… Surely some revelation is at hand/Surely the Second Coming is at hand… A remarkable reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The New World Disorder and the Indian Imperative; Shashi Tharoor & Samir Saran; Aleph; ₹799.

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