The Raja-mandala Re-centred

There has recently been a controversy in the Indian blogosphere about what the projection of power means. In the interests of enlightening lay readers, I asked my good friend and international relations expert Dr. Boris Bhartriraj Pandey to prepare a guide to power projection. Boris is currently a post-doctoral fellow at Parma, and his family background is even more impressive – his parents are the distinguished academics Dr. Acharya Somuchidononanda Pandey and Dr. Valentina Dimitrieva Pandey. He has written a short monograph on the subject at the Pandey family blog. It is also reproduced in it’s entirety here, with his permission:

In view of the current controversies pertaining to the projection of power (Part 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5), it is necessary to examine this concept closely. The semiotics of international power dynamics are complicated. We are fortunate that the controversy on the projection of power erupted at the same time that a mainstream cultural artefact which adequately metaphoricalises this concept was released into the mainstream.

The cultural artefact is in fact the Hindi movie Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na. While on the surface it appears to be a simple teenage romance, closer examination reveals it to be a profound parable on the nature of power projection. The movie is remarkable in the breadth of geostrategic concepts it examines, and also for the subtlety of its metaphors.

The lead characters in the motion picture are named Jai and Aditi. Jai is a derivation of जय, or victory; and Aditi is the Infinite, or the limitless goddess. The love story of Jai and Aditi therefore represents the fact that there are unlimited paths to victory, or greatness. If however we invert our perspectives and use a classical Marxist reading, it may also represent the fact that comprehensive victory requires the prime mover (कर्ता) to make the most of an unlimited number of challenges and opportunities. Both these interpretations are consistent with a Realist approach to international affairs.

The supporting characters are also a hat-tip to the various paths to establishing national greatness, as they are named Bombs (signifying the importance of military prowess), Jignesh (signifying the necessity for the pursuit of knowledge and R&D), Ravindran (a nod to a robust energy policy), and Shaleen (again, a nod to energy policy).

The semiotic significance of the names is however not as important as of the plotline itself, which explores a startling number of geostrategy and international relations concepts. Most important of these concepts is the raja-mandala (राज मंडल), or strategy for the control of opposing tensions. The Chalukya king Pulakesin II performed the most exemplary execution of this strategy in South Asian history, expanding along the contours of the mandala – first eastwards into Konkan, then northwards into the Gangetic Plain, then east into Kalinga, and finally established dominance over Kanjeevaram and the Pallavas. Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na updates raja-mandala for the twenty-first century, and skillfully compresses the exposition of this complex strategy into a three hour movie (including songs).

When we trace the path of conflict through the motion picture, the expression of the raja-mandala concept becomes clear. We are presented with conflict almost as soon as the movie begins, as the narrators describe how Jai defuses a conflict situation without resorting to violence – a metaphor for how a nation projects power not necessarily through its own military, but also through diplomacy and the threat of military retaliation from allies and international bodies – represented here as parental discipline from a college trustee.

The next conflict depicted in the picture shows Jai exposed to a conflict situation at a disco where two burly cowboys are harassing a lady. Once again, Jai’s approach to this situation is not direct violence, but a subterfuge where he warns the cowboys with a foul disease if they continue on their course of action. This too, represents a projection of power without direct military engagement – except that in this case the lever used is not the stick of retaliatory attacks from allies, but the carrot of resources – soft power, in other words.

Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na also contains warnings against the improper application of force. The scene in which Jai and Savitri face off against Inspector Waghmare at the police station and accomplish nothing except earning Waghmare’s enmity is a scathing indictment of Operation Parakram, which had no beneficial results and terrible costs on morale, personnel, and the exchequer.

The third conflict is Jai’s violent engagement with Sushant, where they come to blows. Here the movie takes an unambiguous stand that violence and military force is a crucial component of the toolkit of power projection, and that the selective and direct application of force is sometimes unavoidable in the pursuit of national interest. It is not pretty – as evinced by the ugly bruises on Jai’s face – but it is necessary.

Prior to the final play of the Raja-Mandala, Jai faces his greatest challenge. Having almost completed the raja-mandala, he now finds himself thrown into jail by Waghmare, and in danger of losing everything. Two vital geostrategic concepts are now brought out. Firstly, his incarceration at the crucial moment demonstrates the dangers of over-extending one’s strategic reach – lessons learnt by Napoleon at Russia and Israel after the Six-Day War. Secondly, the fact that he is released through the intervention of his former adversaries – the urban cowboys – brings out the oft-quoted but poorly understood dictum that there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. Again, another tool is brought out from the power projection toolkit – this time, it is the threat of total annihilation. Twentieth century parallels include South Africa and Libya’s abandonment of their nuclear weapon programs.

Having established complete supremacy over all his adversaries, Jai is now in a position to complete his circuit of the raja-mandala, and expolit the limitless opportunities this opens up, by confessing his love to Aditi. Having successfully projected power, all obstacles now vanish, and he is able to bend the strategic contours of the situation to his own purposes. A transportation strike which leaves others without means of conveyance only means that Jai has an empty road to himself, all the way from Horniman Circle to Sahar Airport; and so can gallop to his destination without facing traffic jams.

In the climactic moments of the movie, Jai completes the raja-mandala by facing an entirely new set of adversaries – airport security. He tackles these by hiding in X-ray machines, jumping over obstacles, and running fast – the parallels to rapid decision making, special military operations, and espionage as tools of foreign policy are obvious, though muted.

Indeed, the four adversaries which Jai encounters on his raja-mandala are themselves parallels for the various rivals a nation state will encounter. The lout at the beginning of the movie who is overcome with the threat of violence from a third party represents rogue states such as Indonesia during the Konfrontasi with Malaysia, resolved through the intercession of Great Britain. The cowboys represent a superpower throwing its weight about, but which can be reined in through skilful negotiations and economic transactions.

Sushant stands for aggressively expansionist states such as Nazi Germany or Spain under the Philip II, where military confrontation is the only possible response. Finally, the rapid action security team at the airport represents the emerging threat of non-state actors – terrorist groups, who can be combated only through special operations, and under a new paradigm.

Although it will require three hours on the part of the viewer, Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na makes the fundamental principles of international relations evident to even the meanest intelligence. Abbas Tyrewala must be commended for creating such a remarkable beginner’s text on foreign policy.

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The author is a post-doctoral fellow of Semiotics in Popular Culture and Politics at the Università degli Studi di Parma and is also a visting consultant at the International Foundation for the Promotion of National Greatness. He can be contacted at boris.bhartriraj@pandey.ru.

7 Replies to “The Raja-mandala Re-centred”

  1. I dont know Hindi, but I think the post must be teeming with innuendos. As far international relations and strategy, there is nothing beyond “pirates of the caribbean”. I still cant figure why it hasnt been included in B-school syllabus.

  2. Just crap!!! nothing specific can be claimed out of coincidences so the examples should always be meaningfully declared incidents rather than derived random movements.

  3. Manoj:

    You dare to question Dr. Pandey? Have you no respect for your elders? Dr. Pandey has studied the semiotics of Bollywood movies in the context of the Treaty of Westphalia for 30 years. Do that, and then challenge Him.

  4. your web page ocassionally (no … very frequently) gives a “bandwidth exceeded” error message when peple try and access it. just making you aware of it.

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