Does India Negotiate? Most in India and especially those with interest in Indian foreign policy will question the validity of the question and wonder why the author is pushing at an open door. The book is however not so much directed at an Indian as it is at a western and affiliated audience where even in informed circles this very question is often raised in all seriousness. Thus, it is not infrequent to have Indian negotiating tactics and strategy diagnosed in terms of unchanging and essentialist features unrelated to the issue at hand–postures thus are frequently described as ‘defensive’, ‘prickly’, ‘obstructionist’, etc. Karthik Nachiappan’s book is aimed at precisely such views and is a rigorous and sophisticated investigation of Indian negotiating positions in different multilateral fora.
Nachiappan’s answer to the question he poses in the title of the book is a resounding ‘Yes’. In developing this answer, the author digs deep into the rationale and the interests that different Indian negotiating positions represented. He does so by an empirical examination of how India actually negotiated during the process of the formalization of four different regimes: The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Uruguay Round Trade Agreement. This is obviously a wide spectrum of multilateralism but broadly falling in the period of the late 1980s up to the early and mid 1990s. This has enabled Nachiappan to mine a variety of primary and secondary sources which supplemented with interviews makes for a narrative that is animated and realistic. Nachiappan is also to be complimented for the thoroughness with which he has mined archival records wherever they were available and the manner in which he has married multilateral records from different sources with governmental and non-governmental records from India.
Each of the domains covered by these treaty regimes was and is a specialization and a universe in itself. In India the primary negotiating agency varied with different nodal ministries—Health, Environment, External Affairs and Commerce respectively for each of the regimes chosen. Notwithstanding this diversity, the central point which the book makes is that the view that ‘India is generally seen as an obstructionist’ in multilateral frameworks does not withstand empirical scrutiny.
On the Tobacco Convention India pushed for an instrument with tough provisions for addressing growing tobacco use and in general its external negotiating posture overlapped a great deal with domestic priorities and concerns over growing tobacco use. Possibly in some areas of this convention the Indian position—such as on tobacco advertising—was much in advance of US and Europe. In the case of the Climate Change negotiations however, the divisions were sharper—and here the central issue was on the differential responsibilities between developed and developing countries. Nachiappan correctly points out that climate issues were, given the technicalities involved, a new area for Indian negotiators and there were severe constraints of persons with adequate domain knowledge. There gaps were attempted to be filled by smoothening the interface between the MoEF and the MEA as equally involving non-government think tanks in constructing the broad platform for India’s negotiating approach. India’s approach here was common to the one adopted by many developing countries. Despite numerous North South divides India had been a leading force behind the finalization and adoption of the Convention and was one of the early signatories.