India-China Borderlands

Atul K Thakur

Book Review: Non-fiction/ India-China Borderlands: Conversations beyond the Centre by Nimmi Kurian, Sage, 175pp; Rs 695 (Hardback)
Conversations Beyond the Centre
Nimmi Kurian


The India-China borderlines have been the key influencers of bilateral ties between the two countries. Moreover, it is one of the factors due to which the South Asian region keeps riddling through the manufactured discontent. It’s been in cognition that the overt centralisation of border dispute redressal in Delhi and Beijing haphazarded the potential of local wisdom to prevail in making borderlines, devoid of conflict.

Nevertheless, there are clear indifferences on this crucial matter from both the sides. In the case of India, it has a troubled chunk of history to look on where it faced the betrayal of trust by China in 1962, which proved a decisive jolt on peaceful Nehruvian worldviews.

When it comes to China, it is imperative to look on the ideological cohesion of Chinese Communism that lacks the ‘internationalism’ in its outlook, which otherwise stood an essential component of Marxist-Leninist Communism. Hence hardly surprising, in appearance and deeds, China still maintains the sternness on international matters, making it difficult to approach for the realistic solutions.

Nimmi Kurian’s India-China Borderlands: Conversations beyond the Centre delves with the subtle points of intriguing botch on the borders. The book presents a standard critical comparative analysis of India-China relations at the sub-regional level, which is remarkably a less explored area studied by the scholars in academia and outside.

The book succeeds to offer a new way out to study of India-China relations, by highlighting the missing stake of ‘people’ into the centre of these sub-regional dialogues of change. The book offers solutions – in tandem of bringing policy maneuverings away from the grips of centrism and making these inclusive with people connect.

Apparently, this comes as fruition of Kurian’s research interests in the core areas of border studies, comparative regionalism and trans-boundary water governance. More so, for over one and half decade, she has been closely associated with the BCIM Forum, a Track-II Initiative to promote sub-regional cooperation between India’s northeast, China’s southwest, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The study of the book makes a searing contestation against the existing policy approaches on the freeze-framed India-China borderlands. It, in detail, looks on the paradigms of massive state-led developmental interventions in India’s northeast and China’s western borders. These moves across the borders hold some vital implications, which mars through the comparative merit, fails to reveal in the isolated studies.

This part of diplomatic engagements urgently calls for a new orientation, broadly shaped and liberal in ‘frames of reference’. As the world is looking towards Asia, as a new destination of growth – and India-China also in up-scaling mode for strengthening their bilateral fundamentals, this is the time when both the countries look forward to lead the multi-pronged civic approaches in negotiating the issues of their borderlands.

By capturing the new dynamics of sub-regional integration and keeping the ‘people part of diplomacy’ on top of agenda, this book presents a critical analysis of lacklustre policies and sights the alternative available in softer sides. Indeed, it is bizarre, if the local considerations will be keeping on bay ahead too – overlooking how centricity of policymaking has proved a bane over the decades.

This case is not an isolated one – India’s border situations with other neighbouring countries present no better picture. Noticeably, the border management has security, trade and cultural significances – none of them are worth giving a lack-luster touch. Thus, in greater national interest, a paradigm shift is much required now. As a rising economy and a formidable strategic power, India simply can’t abstain to be extra-sensitive on its border managements.

In the sphere of people realignment on the borderlines policies, this book is a significant academic entry.

(Atul K Thakur can be reached at atul@skoch.in)

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