Hegemonic Instability? India’s Himalayan Hegemony in Theoretical and Historical Perspective

Philip Hultquist, Prakash Adhikari

Research output: Working paper


Is India the regional hegemon of South Asia? If so, what kind of hegemon is it? India has long been considered the regional hegemon of South Asia, primarily based on relative power considerations alone. We critique this material basis for hegemony. Hegemons must act to establish their hegemony, and smaller states must acquiesce to some degree to establish the relationship. We follow the literature to identify three strands of behavioral definitions of regional hegemony—leadership, domination, and sphere of influence—each drawing on different theoretical foundations, liberalism, realism, and imperialism, respectively. India has demonstrated characteristics of each, depending on the period and dyadic relationship one examines. During its early independent period, India showed features of domination, at least concerning some actors like the princely states. India was reluctant to produce public goods as the leadership school expected until recently. Instead, we identify India’s preferred method of hegemony as an attempted sphere of influence. However, they were only successful in creating or maintaining their inherited sphere in a few cases, notably in the Himalayan states of Nepal and Sikkim. This paper applies the theoretical categories of hegemony to India historically, with particular attention to the Himalayan states. Though they share several historical trajectories, these states have recently diverged in their level of acceptance of India’s hegemony as Nepal has sought to leverage Chinese influence.
Original languageEnglish
StatePublished - 2022


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