LSE India Summit: India’s foreign policy, constitution feature

The annual LSE India Summit: ‘India at 70’, of the South Asia Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), featured panel discussions around India’s internal and external policies. Held at the Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre from March 29-31, the three-day summit presented by Apollo Tyres Ltd, commemorated 70 years of India’s independence and witnesses a convention of experts across fields, debating core issues India is facing today.

India Habitat Centre
India Habitat Centre. Photo: Connected to India

The summit commenced with the inauguration of an exhibition from The Partition Museum, Amritsar for which the LSE South Asia Centre is an Academic Advisor, showcasing the memories of one of the largest and most tragic displacements in history. The exhibition offered a glimpse into the personal and public material available on the Partition and urged survivors and families of survivors to share their stories, belongings and memories with the museum. This was followed by a dramatic reading by Suhel Seth of a letter written by a father to his son when they were separated during the Partition.

Experts at the summit included Anu Aga, J A (Tony) Allan, Pinky Anand, Rahul Bajaj, Mukulika Banerjee, Harry Barkema, Amita Baviskar, Chintan Chandrachud, Biksham Gujja, Kalpana Kannabiran, Neeraj Kanwar, Madhav Khosla, Jyoti Malhotra, Marcus Moench, Jayant Prasad, Mukund Rajan, Meera Shankar, Kanwal Sibal, Rakesh Sood, and Ashley J Tellis.

The first day’s panel was on Forced Philanthropy/CSR in India and the growing challenges of Water Security, Day 2 witnessed engaging conversations around the emergence of India as a significant power in the global context as well as iterations on the evolving relevance and expectations of the Indian Constitution.

The lively sessions at the ‘India at 70: LSE India Summit’ addressed a plethora of important issues regarding India’s future, as it drew to its close.

From left: Ashley J Tellis, Meera Shankar, Jayant Prasad, Jyoti Malhotra (moderator), Kanwal Sibal and Rakesh Sood.
From left: Ashley J Tellis, Meera Shankar, Jayant Prasad, Jyoti Malhotra (moderator), Kanwal Sibal and Rakesh Sood. Photo: Connected to India

India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power

The first session titled ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’, had a host of distinguished diplomats on the panel. Veteran journalist Jyoti Malhotra set the tone of the discussion by observing that India’s foreign policy has always been a ‘reflection of its domestic policy.’ Former diplomat and Director-General of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses Jayant Prasad said that India would become a leading nation by focussing on ‘prerequisites’ such as national security, clean air, public hygiene, universal health care, and transparency in governance.

On India’s rise as a regional power, Prasad praised and stressed the need for greater commitment to building regional public goods like civic infrastructure projects undertaken by India in Afghanistan, and its grid connectivity partnerships with Nepal and Bangladesh. Former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal reiterated the sentiment.

Former Indian ambassador to the USA Meera Shankar extolled India’s efforts at balancing the goal of development with democratic rights while emphasising how India’s rise would set a great example for the world.

Former Indian diplomat and expert on foreign affairs Rakesh Sood remarked that the geopolitical centre of gravity was shifting from the Euro-Atlantic to the Asia-Pacific: ‘It’s not just that India is changing. It is changing against a changing backdrop, which makes it more challenging.’ Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Ashley J Tellis felt that India’s foreign policy since independence has been ‘remarkably successful’.

From left: Mukulika Banerjee (moderator), Madhav Khosla, Kalpana Kannabiran, Chintan Chandrachud and Pinky Anand.
From left: Mukulika Banerjee (moderator), Madhav Khosla, Kalpana Kannabiran, Chintan Chandrachud and Pinky Anand. Photo: Connected to India

Do we need a new Constitution for India?

The second session titled ‘Do we need a new Constitution for India?’ had Mukulika Banerjee, an Associate Professor of Anthropology at LSE and founding Director of the LSE South Asia Centre, as moderator.

Speaking from her years of experience documenting and fighting injustice, Kalpana Kannabiran, author of Tools of Justice: Non-Discrimination and the Indian Constitution and Director of the Council for Social Development, Hyderabad expounded on the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution but not necessarily enjoyed by the people. “Freedom of expression and the right to food covers beef”, she stated, explaining that banning beef is a violation of the constitutional freedoms of non-Brahmin Hindus. “What you eat is a part of a culture and is an intrinsic part of who you are”, she added.

Additional Solicitor-General of India Pinky Anand explained that “in spirit, the Indian constitution is native”. A former Head of the BJP’s All-India Legal Cell, Ms Anand stated that constitutionally enforced patriotism “emerges from a dark age of recent history and possibly would not be in cognisance with fundamental rights”; she also said that “it is high time we got away from the concept of rights and focused on the concept of duties.

Chintan Chandrachud, an Associate at the leading London law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan felt that “the constitution has changed, is changing, and will continue to change in time”, as evidenced by discussions about NOTA and the ban on caste-based campaigning in elections.

Madhav Khosla, the inaugural BR Ambedkar Academic Fellow at Columbia Law School said that “we think we can legislate ourselves out of our problems, but we can’t”, adding that “no constitution will create the conditions for it to work perfectly.”

The panel and the audience discussed the nature of political dissent and enforced patriotism in the context of the recent events at Ramjas College, and the ruling on playing the national anthem before screening films at cinema theatres.

About LSE India Summit:

The LSE India Summit is held annually in a different Indian city, bringing a platform for honest debate and discussion on questions central to India's way forward in the decades ahead — through new research, applied and comparative knowledge.

The first LSE India Summit was held in Goa in January 2016, with discussions on Global Finance, India’s Infrastructures, Civil Society and India & West Asia – and panelists included Sam Pitroda, Siddharth Varadarajan, Yogendra Yadav, Talmiz Ahmed, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Lisa Bjorkman, Partha Mukhopadhyay, C Uday Bhaskar, James Crabtree, Nasser Munjee, Shubhrangshu Choudhary, and grassroots activist-journalist Meera Devi Jatav from Khabar Lahariya.