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Indian Foreign Policy and Antarctica: Towards Post-Colonial Engagement?

Sanjay Chaturvedi
Panjab University

India remains committed to scientific research and technical cooperation in the Polar
Regions. Antarctica being a common heritage of mankind and the foremost symbol of
peaceful use and cooperation needs to be protected for posterity. This is how Indias
External Affairs Minister chose to describe in a nutshell Indias engagement with
Antarctica at the closing session of the XXX Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting
(ATCM), held in New Delhi, in May 2007. The reference to Common Heritage of
Mankind probably evoked a mixed response. On the one hand, it might have revived,
with some measure of anxiety, memories of Indias proposal to raise the Antarctic
Question at the United Nations in the mid-1950s, and the resistance to it. On the other
hand, it might have sounded rather reassuring to those who would like to see India act as
a catalyst for critical post-colonial engagement with the Southern Polar Region, leading
to greater democratization of the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), including its
knowledge-power interface, in the best interest of entire mankind.
Indias foreign policy today is characterized by unprecedented pragmatism as well as
cautious idealism. The pragmatism is rather visible in the growing realization that as a
rising power in Asia and beyond, Indias world view and self-image are due for a
thorough revision. Whereas the normative thrust relates to a critical reassessment of
countrys geopolitical location in the Indian Ocean Region and rethinking of the
conventional categorization and compartmentalization of the global geopolitical space. It
seems that the much overdue process of decolonizing the geographical imaginations
inherited from the colonial era as well as the Cold War can neither be arrested nor
It is against the backdrop outlined above, and with special reference to emerging issueareas of biological prospecting, climate change and ecological security, that this paper
intends to critically examine the potential and promise of Indias post-colonial
engagement with Southern Polar Region as a consultative member of the Antarctic Treaty
System (ATS). Through the medium of this case study, I hope to further broaden and
deepen the discussion on post-colonial engagement with Antarctica as global knowledge
commons, so insightfully initiated by Klaus John Dodds in his seminal contribution to
Polar Record (2006).