Author : Ian Hall

Issue BriefsPublished on Aug 20, 2023 PDF Download
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Power and transformation: Jayantanuja Bandyopadhyaya’s hybrid International Relations theory

This brief explores the work of the Bengali diplomat and academic Jayantanuja Bandyopadhyaya, whose book, The Making of Indian Foreign Policy (1970) is considered a classic in Indian scholarship in International Relations. It analyses Bandyopadhyaya’s distinctive contribution to IR theory, especially his attempt to craft a “hybrid” approach derived from Gandhi and Mao, on the one hand, and behavouralist systems theories, on the other. It outlines the evolution of his thinking and the connections with his broader concerns with postcolonial nation-building. The brief argues that whatever the merits of this attempt to explain the structural underpinnings of the postcolonial international order and to advance a new normative agenda, Bandyopadhyaya’s work pushes us to reconsider the widespread assumption that Indian IR is resistant to theory and theorising.


Jayantanuja Bandyopadhyaya (1933- ) is best known for his classic study, The Making of Indian Foreign Policy (1970), the still-indispensable guide to the foreign policy-making process in New Delhi.[1] The book’s strength derives from an unusual combination of scholarly rigour and inside knowledge. Before he became an academic, Bandypadhyaya had been a diplomat, entering the Indian Foreign Service in 1955 and reaching the level of Under Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, before resigning in 1960 to take up a university post in Kolkata. He remained at Jadavpur University until his retirement in 1993, advancing to the rank of professor and taking on various other roles. Above all, he played a leading part in advancing Jadavpur University’s School of International Relations and Strategic Studies, created in 1987, and one of the few major centres with those foci outside the national capital.[2]

The Making of Indian Foreign Policy is only one of a dozen or so books that Bandyopadhyaya has published on various topics. The majority address the theory and practice of social and economic development in postcolonial states, particularly in China and India. They include studies of Indian nationalism and international communism (1966); Gandhi’s social and political thought (1969); the effects of climate on underdevelopment (1983);[3] the causes of poverty (1988); the foundations of liberty (1989); nationalism (1991); the Bhagavad Gita (1994); principles of good governance (2001); and class and religion in ancient India (2008).[4] He has also published extensively on Indian social issues in both his mother tongue, Bengali, and English, in various outlets.[5]

As that list shows – and as Bandyopadhyaya himself observed in the preface to his 1973 book on Mao and Gandhi – the study of international relations is “only” his “second love”.[6] That said, he has still devoted considerable professional attention to the subject, focusing particularly on two areas. The first is India’s place in the changing world and its management of its international relations. The book, The Making of Indian Foreign Policy falls under this category, as do a number of essays published in India Quarterly, among other journals.[7] The second is IR theory, explored in a series of articles in International Studies, as well as several books, especially North over South: A Non-Western Perspective of International Relations (1982).[8]

It is on these latter works – rarely discussed today – that this author concentrates in the rest of this brief. While they are important on their own merits, they are also significant because they qualify the frequently-made argument that there has long been a “resistance to theory” or even an “absence of theoretical endeavour in the field in India”.[9] Indeed, Bandyopadhyaya’s work in IR – best conceived of as a “hybrid” of Third Worldist concerns and American behaviouralism – shows commitment to both normative theorising and theory-building. It aims, as he puts it, at demonstrating both the “inadequacies” of what he took to be the dominant “Western approach to the study of international relations”, and at supplying an alternative derived from various sources, including Gandhian and Maoist thought and practice, and some Western behaviouralist theory.[10]

A non-Western perspective?

Bandyopadhyaya’s search for a non-Western IR theory began with dissatisfaction, as these quests often do. He was not impressed by the academic discipline he encountered when he left the IFS for Jadavpur; he viewed it as being dominated by Anglo-American theories. His impression of IR did not improve during periods of teaching and research conducted overseas. At Oxford, where he spent a year in the 1950s at the behest of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), and then at both Columbia University and American University in the early 1970s, Bandyopadhyaya was able to explore those theories first-hand. These experiences clearly had a significant impact on his thinking: on the one hand, they confirmed enduring doubts about Anglo-American IR and raised more; on the other, they kindled a lasting interest in systems theory, in particular, derived from behaviouralism.[11]

These two concerns about Western IR – one negative and one positive – were related. In the West too, and especially in the United States, enthusiasm for behaviouralist approaches in IR, including systems theory, emerged out of unhappiness with what passed for “theory” in the nascent Anglo-American discipline from the 1920s to the ‘50s.[12] Both liberal internationalist and realist theory from this period, the behaviouralists argued, was only marginally better than unscientific “wisdom literature”, consisting of dubious and ill-defined foundational concepts, untestable aphorisms, and poorly grounded and un-falsifiable generalisations, some – especially those concerning “human nature” – perceived as metaphysical in nature.[13] The behaviouralists questioned the realists’ claim that international relations was a field distinct from domestic politics and demanding its own approach and methods – an argument best summarised by Martin Wight’s famous assertion that international politics demanded a “theory of survival”, not a “theory of the good life”, as was the case in the study of politics.[14] Moreover, the behaviouralists also argued, the flawed “pre-theory” built on these assumptions had generated poor or even straightforwardly dangerous policy agendas, notably concerning US national security.[15]

Bandhyopadhyaya’s work on IR theory echoed some of these behaviouralist arguments. He criticised the “imprecision and ambiguity of many of [IR’s] terms of concepts” – including potentially useful ideas like “power” and “national interest” that were in common use, but which had so far been “resistant to precise definition, delineation, or quantification”.[16] He argued that both ‘International and Area Studies’, as it had evolved in India, and mainstream IR, as it evolved in the Anglo-American world, were characterised by an “ambiguous empirical domain” and lacked a “distinctive and scientific methodology”.[17] Anglo-American IR, moreover, was hobbled by its common neglect of international interactions beyond the political, as well as its obsession with power.[18]

To these familiar behaviouralist charges, Bandyopadhyaya added a number of others. Drawing on Karl Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge, he argued that Anglo-American IR was also deeply flawed in so far as it was the “conscious or subconscious rationalization of the role played by the West, particularly the USA” in the modern world.[19] Its preoccupation with the means by which states acquire and use power – especially military power – reflected the fact that IR was really just a “functional ideology for the perpetuation of the dominance of the North over the South”.[20] Even the “vocabulary of International Relations”, he argued, was “full of words and terms which are loaded with imperialistic and neoimperialistic connotations”.[21] At the same time, the fact that Anglo-American IR almost wholly neglected the reality, drivers, and effects of “imperialism, neo-imperialism and racism” in international relations was an indictment—suggesting a kind of “ethnocentric guilt complex” at work.[22] For all these reasons, the mainstream Western discipline was blind to a range of “major structural issues”, as Bandyopadhyaya called them, underpinning international relations, and as a consequence of little practical use to either theorists or practitioners in the South.[23]

Bandyopadhyaya favoured an alternative approach that involved a focus on different topics. It aimed at bringing about “world order” and “positive-sum” international interactions.[24] Doing this meant first recognising that the structure of the contemporary international system was the product of four-and-a-half centuries of European imperialism. Imperialism was written into the system, he argued: it had “created a political structure of dominance and dependency, an economic structure of exploitation and impoverishment, and a cultural structure of contempt and humiliation across the globe”.[25] These structures required frank and fearless analysis, including an acknowledgement that racism is an “autonomous structure” that has worked and continues to work to legitimise Western political dominance and economic exploitation.[26]

To bring about change in this system, Bandyopadhyaya called for a “relentless” and “fierce struggle” by the South against the North: “an international class struggle among states” combined with “an international anti-racist struggle”.[27] This was not, however, to be achieved by power-seeking, as Anglo-American IR theories would advise, nor through the threat or use of violence. Rather, the struggle had to be ideologically driven and principled, and pursued by concerted political and diplomatic action on the part of the global South, building upon and extending the innovative approaches to international relations pioneered by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), in particular.

Hybrid theorising

Bandyopadhyaya took this stance because he was, at least in this area, a convinced if unorthodox Gandhian and Marxist. Setting aside Gandhi’s religious thought, he argued that in politics the Mahatma stood for the “ultimate value” of justice, comprised of nonviolence (ahimsa), liberty (swaraj), and equality (samata).[28] Bandyopadhyaya affirmed these values, but diverged from Gandhi on the point of how they might best be realised: he did not think that the anarchist utopia of “agrarian, simple and self-sufficient” communities that Gandhi favoured provided that right context. Rather, he preferred a modernist and modernising approach and argued that the ultimate values could only be brought into being in a society that embraced industry, science, and technology, as Marxists, in particular, understood.[29]

The crux was how to achieve such a society embedded with those values on both a national and global scale in a way that preserved the hard-won political independence of developing societies. It necessarily involved class and anti-racist struggle, as the world has seen, but not, importantly, the acquisition of military and the use of violence. Bandyopadhyaya made this point clear in his comparative study of Mao and Gandhi’s different paths to “social transformation”, published in 1973. Although he confessed admiration for Mao’s capacity to bring about economic development in China through mass mobilisation, and to realise the value of social equality, he had long-standing doubts about the methods used – “the theory of armed revolution and dictatorship of the proletariat”.[30] He noted what he termed the “staggering” “number of exterminations” carried out by Mao’s regime, as well as the use of “corrective labour camps” to imprison millions.[31] At the same time, Bandyopadhyaya recognised that the Gandhian approach – in so far as it had been used in India after 1947 – had not worked as well as the Mahatma had thought it might. Moreover, as would later be seen, it made the mistake of rejecting “rapid industrialization and technological progress”.[32]

What was needed instead, he argued, was a hybrid approach that blended the best elements of the two: Gandhian limits on the power of the state, combined with Mao-style rapid industrialisation; multi-party politics combined with mass mobilisation; and the application of non-violent modes of action to social conflicts.[33]

Although Bandyopadhyaya never fully developed a theory or program for this hybrid approach, these convictions also underpinned his program for the transformation of international relations. Like Mao, he sought a social and economic revolution that would radically change the international system, but like Gandhi, he believed that what was needed was not a “seizure of power”, in which social transformation was achieved through the threat and use of violence, but a non-violent “programme of transformation of relationships”.[34] A “positive sum” “world order” could and should be brought about by concerted non-violent diplomatic action by developing states to address those relationships of dominance, exploitation, and contempt that underpinned the system created by the West, for “[t]he powerless cannot exist in freedom and dignity in an international system built on power”.[35] This would involve disarmament and the channeling of military expenditure from North to the South as development assistance; the construction of a New International Economic Order within Northern states and globally; and a concerted campaign to shift cultural attitudes.[36]

These objectives could and should be realised non-violently, Bandyopadhyaya argued, by the international equivalent of civil disobedience and by more innovative techniques: boycotts, non-cooperation, sustained rhetorical pressure, and ideological warfare, and by new modes of transmitting ideas and “social technology” between the peoples of the South that would liberate them from their dependence on the North for information and knowledge. These included the NAM, which he conceived, above all, as a developer of “communication linkages” with both superpowers and between its members.[37] The NAM, he believed, had made great strides in demonstrating that it is “communication, rather than power, which can lead to international cooperation and eventual international integration”, confirming theories advanced by Karl Deutsch and others from the 1950s onwards.[38]

This last claim rested on Bandyopadhyaya’s forays into systems theory, begun in the 1970s and continued well into the 2000s, including books outlining general theories of international relations and foreign policy, and work on the mathematical modeling of the international system published with the computer scientist, Amitava Mukherjee.[39] These works draw heavily on Western behaviouralism, notably on the work of the systems theorists of the 1960s and 70s, including John W. Burton, Karl Deutsch, Morton A. Kaplan, Donald J. Puchala, James N. Rosenau, and Norbert Wiener. They also align in intent, in terms of advancing a wholly different mode of understanding international relations in their entirety and variety, as opposed to merely the “power politics” of realism. They set him far apart from the mainstream of Indian “International Studies”, which tends to be more historically- and normatively-oriented, or preoccupied—as Bandyopadhyaya himself put it, perhaps a little unkindly—with “a mere narration of events”.[40]

These efforts at theory-building served two purposes: advancing the discipline by developing what he called “a scientific methodology” and at the same time building a base of theory and evidence to inform the practice of international relations, ideally in the direction of his preferred world order.[41] These steps were necessary, he argued, if IR was to be taken seriously both academically and politically, in the same way that economics is today.

Few Indian scholars have followed Bandyopadhyaya down this last path, towards systems theory and beyond it to more quantitative approaches.[42] In part, this is due to the continued strength of what might be called traditionalism in Indian IR. In part, too, it may be due to flaws in Bandyopadhyaya’s own research agenda. His studies of systems theory and their application to analysing the international relations of the global South are carefully constructed and well-executed, but arguably do not extend the theories on which they draw.[43] Instead, they are used principally to advance normative agendas, notably Bandyopadhyaya’s critique of Anglo-American political realism and his call for the social transformation of world politics.[44] As a result, the wider applicability of these theories to other empirical problems faced by other researchers is not as clear as it might be.


Bandyopadhyaya is rightly recognised for his The Making of India’s Foreign Policy, and indeed for his activism, political engagement, and academic institution-building. Considered in the broader context of these contributions, it is understandable that his work in IR theory is generally overlooked, despite the many recent calls to take past and present non-Western theorising more seriously.[45] To be sure, there are significant tensions and puzzles in Bandyopadhyaya’s work. One lies in his analysis of the flaws of Western IR and the need to address the underlying structures of international relations, and concerns the sovereign state. For many Western theorists, the existence of the state and its claim to sovereignty generates the biggest structural problem in international relations: the logic of anarchy that drives states to arm and threaten and fight even when such behaviour runs counter to a society’s principles.[46] For his part, Bandyopadhyaya, a nationalist and believer in the value of the sovereign state for postcolonial societies,[47] addresses this issue only obliquely and inadequately—implying that capitalism and racism are the structural causes of conflict rather than anarchy—but never fully and convincingly refuting that Hobbesian thesis.

It would be a mistake, however, to dismiss Bandyopadhyaya’s work on IR theory on the basis of such tensions and lacunae. To do so would be unfair, given its manifest ambition and intellectual range. Moreover, his work in this area is a reminder of several things too often forgotten in studies of Indian IR.

First, it draws attention to the efforts made to develop non-Western thinking about IR in India in the 1960s and ‘70s, which drew on multiple sources – some Indian, others from elsewhere in the developing world, and still others from the West. Bandyopadhyaya’s thought, in other words, shows something akin to hybridity at work in theory-building – processes that are only beginning to be explored in the intellectual history of the field. Second, it highlights the complexity of postcolonial Indian international thought, which hindsight too often renders homogenous. In a period commonly portrayed as dominated by Nehruvian thinking, Bandyopadhyaya’s work provides a glimpse of the extensive – and consequential – debates that went on within India at this time about its place and role in the world that involved ideas derived from other sources, notably Gandhi’s thought, and indeed Mao’s. Last, Bandyopadhyaya’s work, hailing as it did from Kolkata, is a useful reminder for students of the intellectual history of Indian IR that was never a wholly Delhi-centric activity, in spite of it remaining dominated by the big names and the pressing concerns of the capital.

Ian Hall a Professor in the School of Government and International Relations, Griffith University in Brisbane.

I am grateful to Harsh V. Pant for inviting me to write this piece, to Aakriti Bachhawat for her invaluable research assistance, and to both Shibashis Chatterjee and Siddharth Mallavarapu for their very helpful comments on an earlier draft. I am of course responsible for any errors of fact or judgement.


[1] J. Bandyopadhyaya, The Making of Indian Foreign Policy, 2nd ed. (Bombay: Allied Publishers, 1979 [1970]).

[2] I should also make note here of the Jadavpur Journal of International Relations, published by Sage, which is one of the few major Indian IR journals edited outside the national capital.

[3] On Bandyopadhyaya and a new climate order, see also Siddharth Mallavarapu, “The Sociology of International Relations in India: Competing Conceptions of Political Order,” in  Theorizing Global Order: The International, Culture and Governance, ed. Gunther Hellmann (Frankfurt and New York: Campus Verlag, 2018), especially 152-154.

[4] J. Bandyopadhyaya, Indian Nationalism versus International Communism: Role of Ideology in International Politics (Calcutta: Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay

1966); Social and Political Thought of Gandhi (Bombay: Allied Publishers, 1969); Climate and World Order: An Inquiry into the Natural Cause of Underdevelopment (New Delhi: South Asian, 1983); The Poverty of Nations: A Global Perspective of Mass Poverty in the Third World (Ahmedabad: Allied Publishers, 1988); The Structure of Liberty: National and International: A General Theory of Liberty in a Global Perspective (Ahmedabad: Allied Publishers, 1989); Nationalism Unveiled (New Delhi, Allied Publishers, 1991); Samajabijnanera Drshtite Bhagabadgita (Calcutta: Elaida Pabalisarsa, 1994); Ganatantra, Dharma or Rajaniti (Kolkata, Myanaskripta Indiya, 2001); Class and Religion in Ancient India (New Delhi, Anthem Press India, 2008).

[5] See, for example, J. Bandyopadhyaya, The Harijans (Varanasi: Gandhian Institute of Studies, 1978).

[6] J. Bandyopadhyaya, Mao Tse-Tung and Gandhi: Perspectives on Social Transformation (Bombay: Allied Publishers, 1973), v.

[7] See especially J. Bandyopadhyaya, “China, India and Tibet,” India Quarterly 18, no. 4 (1962): 382-393; “The Role of the External Powers in South Asian Affairs,” India Quarterly 30, no. 4 (1974): 276-294; “Sino-Soviet Rift and India,” Shakti 4, no. 2 (1967): 14-23; “The Non-Aligned Movement and International Relations,” India Quarterly 33, no. 2 (1977): 137-164; “Dynamics of India’s Strategic Environment,” International Studies 17, nos. 3-4 (1978): 399-411.

[8] J. Bandyopadhyaya, North over South: A Non-Western Perspective of International Relations (New Delhi: South Asian Publishers, 1982).

[9] Kanti Bajpai, “International Studies in India: Bringing Theory (Back) Home,” in International Relations in India: Bringing Theory Back Home, ed. Kanti Bajpai and Siddharth Mallavarapu (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2005), 25; A. P. Rana and K. P. Misra, “Communicative Discourse and Community in International Relations Studies in India: A Critique,” also in International Relations in India, ed. Bajpai and Mallavarapu, 77. Bajpai did, of course, recognise Bandyopadhyaya’s work as one of the “exceptions which prove the rule.”

[10] Bandyopadhyaya, North over South, vii.

[11] For some reflections, especially on the failings of American political realism, see J. Bandyopadhyaya, A General Theory of International Relations (New Delhi, Allied Publishers, 1993), 1-38.

[12] Mark Bevir and Ian Hall, “International Relations,” in Modernism and the Social Sciences: Anglo-American Exchanges, c.1918-1980 ed. Mark Bevir (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 134-137.

[13] See, for example, Morton A. Kaplan, “The New Great Debate: Traditionalism vs. Science in International Relations,” World Politics 19, no. 1 (1966): 1-20. For a critique of classical realism’s dependence on unfalsifiable philosophical anthropologies, see Kenneth N. Waltz, Man, the State, and War: A Theoretical Analysis (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959).

[14] Martin Wight, “Why is there no International Theory?,” in Diplomatic Investigations: Essays in the Theory of International Politics, ed. Herbert Butterfield and Martin Wight (London: Allen and Unwin, 1966), 33.

[15] James N. Rosenau, “Pre-theories and Theories of Foreign Policy,” in Approaches to Comparative and International Politics, ed. R. Barry Farrell (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1966), 27-92.

[16] J. Bandyopadhyaya, “National Character and International Relations,” International Studies 15, no. 4 (1974): 531. This essay is reprinted, with a few minor changes, in North over South.

[17] J. Bandyopadhyaya, “Nonproliferation of ‘International and Area Studies’ in India,” [review of International and Area Studies in India ed. M. S. Rajan (New Delhi: Lancer, 1997)] International Studies 37, no. 1 (2000): 77. See also General Theory of International Relations, 1-38.

[18] Ibid., 79. See also Bandyopadhyaya, North over South, 4-5.

[19] Bandyopadhyaya, North over South, vii. Mannheim is not cited in the book, but is elsewhere in Bandyopadhyaya’s work – e.g. in “Nonproliferation of ‘International and Area Studies’ in India,” 80. See also Bandyopadhyaya’s argument that “Ideas arise out of objective social conditions and dialectically interact with them” (North over South, 22).

[20] Bandyopadhyaya, North over South, 5.

[21] Ibid., 6.

[22] Ibid., 3.

[23] Ibid., 5.

[24] “World order” proposals were, of course, very much a feature of IR from the 1960s onwards. See, for example, the pioneering works of Richard Falk’s World Order Models Project (WOMP). Sadly, we still lack a comprehensive intellectual history of his phenomenon.

[25] Bandyopadhyaya, North over South, 8.

[26] Ibid., 69.

[27] Ibid., 129 & 125. See also ix.

[28] For a deeper account, see Bandyopadhyaya, Social and Political Thought of Gandhi.

[29] Bandyopadhyaya, Mao Tse-Tung and Gandhi, 19. For a taste of his critique of Gandhi’s utopia, see 80-81.

[30] Ibid., 115. See also Indian Nationalism versus International Communism, in which Bandyopadhyaya argues that Indian nationalists rightly rejected revolutionary violence as a mode of social transformation.

[31] Ibid., 106-107.

[32] Ibid., 126.

[33] Ibid., 128-140.

[34] Gandhi quoted in ibid., 31.

[35] Bandyopadhyaya, North over South, 27.

[36] Ibid, chaps. 2, 3 and 4.

[37] Ibid., 231-236. For a broader account of communications systems in international relations, see also J. Bandyopadhyaya, “International Relations as a Communication System,” International Studies 14, no. 2 (1975): 251-275.

[38] Bandyopadhyaya, North over South, 235.

[39] See Bandyopadhyaya, “International Relations as a Communication System”; General Theory of International Relations; A General Theory of Foreign Policy (New Delhi: Allied Publishers, 2004); and J. Bandyopadhyaya and Amitava Mukherjee “Asymmetry, Equilibrium, and World Peace: Balance of Power or World Government?,” International Studies 36, no. 4 (1999): 309-337.

[40] Bandyopadhyaya, “Nonproliferation of ‘International and Area Studies’ in India,” 81.

[41] Ibid.

[42] To take one crude measure: only six articles published in International Studies after Bandypadhyaya’s article on communication systems (1975) mention systems theory. Only one – and one not authored by an Indian – applies it: Richard Smith Beal’s “System-Cybernetic Analysis and the Study of International Politics,” International Studies 8, no. 2 (1979): 221-240.

[43] See especially Bandyopadhyaya, “International Relations as a Communication System,” which applies systems theory to the diplomatic practices of the non-aligned, in particular.

[44] See especially Bandyopadhyaya, General Theory of International Relations.

[45] See, for example, Amitav Acharya and Barry Buzan, eds., Non-Western International Relations Theory: Perspectives On and Beyond Asia (London and New York: Routledge, 2009); Navnita Chadha Behera, “Re-imagining IR in India,” International Relations of the Asia-Pacific 7, no. 3 (2007): 341-368; Ching-Chang Chen, “The absence of non-western IR theory in Asia reconsidered,” International Relations of the Asia-Pacific 11, no. 1 (2010): 1-23.

[46] See Barry Buzan, Charles A. Jones, and Richard Little, The Logic of Anarchy: Neorealism to Structural Realism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993).

[47] On postcolonial nationalism, see especially Bandyopadhyaya, Nationalism Unveiled, 120-155. Bandyopadhyaya argued that postcolonial nationalism had “performed a progressive historical function” even if, in general, “nationalism everywhere is fabricated and propagated by the ruling classes in their own class interest” (153).

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Ian Hall

Ian Hall

Ian Hall is a Professor at the School of Government and International Relations Griffith University and an Academic Fellow of the Australia India Institute University ...

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