By Manu Bhagavan.
India: HarperCollins, 2012.
The World Citizen Virtual Book Club, the longest-running program of Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), gives participants an opportunity to take a deep dive into issues related to World Federation and engage with authors and guest experts monthly. Through December, the Book Club is examining The Peacemakers: India and the Quest for One World. Historian Manu Bhagavan delves deep into the heart of India's foreign policy and diplomacy leading up to its struggle for independence and spans an additional ten years.
The early chapters are an important reminder of the brutality and violence unleashed by Britain’s colonial rule as India’s leaders asserted their demands for independence, giving further context to the critical Quit India movement that reached a global audience. Bhagavan weaves together key figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, showing how their visions for peace shaped India's independence and international relations. Pandit, Nehru's sister, an influential orator and diplomat, successfully argued support for India’s independence while giving human rights center stage. Bhagavan’s scholarship also challenges assumptions that the modern-day human rights framework (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) is drawn exclusively from the Cold War and American influence. Instead, he argues that “[i]t was India that steered the effort to create two separate covenants of rights, using its own new Constitution as justification and foundation.”
At the close of World War II, Gandhi and Nehru “called for fundamental change” in the New World Order and envisioned India as leading the world towards decolonization predicated upon a democratic world government. “Nehru called his solution One World, after a famous book by the American Wendell Willkie[,]” where human rights and anti-imperialism became the framework for peace. Bhagavan skillfully navigates through India's tumultuous journey, from its colonial past to its emergence as a prominent global player in the 20th century. The narrative is informative and engaging, providing readers with a thorough understanding of India's multifaceted role in the formation of the United Nations as well as setting forth the principles of non-violence.
Furthermore, The Peacemakers offers insightful commentary on India's early foreign policy dynamics leading up to its independence in 1947 and the preceding decade. Bhagavan brings to light Nehru’s efforts to forge strategic partnerships with major powers while preserving its non-aligned principles. Dissecting India's evolving administrations’ relationships with countries like the United States, Russia, and China, he provides readers with a comprehensive view of India's role in shaping post-World War II international affairs.
The Peacemakers is a remarkable and comprehensive exploration of India's enduring commitment to human rights and the framework of One World. Bhagavan’s masterfully crafted narrative makes it a must-read for anyone interested in the history of international relations and India's place in the world.
Director of Programs, CGS
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Manu Bhagavan is Professor of History, Human Rights, and Public Policy at Hunter College and the Graduate Center-The City University of New York, where he is also Senior Fellow at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies. He is author or editor of seven books, including the critically-acclaimed The Peacemakers (HarperCollins India 2012, Palgrave Macmillan 2013) and India and the Cold War (Penguin India and UNC Press, 2019). His newest book, forthcoming in December 2023 from Penguin/Viking India, is a biography of Madame Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, one of the most important and celebrated women of the twentieth century. Manu is the recipient of a 2006 fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies and more recently has received Hunter's 2023 Presidential Award for Excellence in Scholarship.Motivation behind the book:
“I am a professional historian of India and I had finished my first book and then I went back to India to do some work. I was despondent because the state of affairs in the country at the time was not good. There was such a large gap between some of the ideals at the founding moment and where the country was at that time. And I grew really interested in constitutional questions and I wanted to understand the debates about what the country was supposed to be, how it was envisioned, how they framed ideals. A constitution is a guiding, visionary document and I wanted to learn more about those things. The idea was to investigate the making of modern India through its constitution. That initial idea was what grew into this book. The project shifted away from the constitution-making project to being interested in the ‘One World’ concept and uncovering what its goals were.”