Pax Indica

By Sunil Kumar

Another book review about one of the most interesting personalities in the Indian mindscape. Shashi Tharoor might have got some infamy lately due to the Sunanda Pushkar episode; but I’m not going to talk about personal episodes which are in another realm altogether; and are not relevant to this glowing tribute to India; his work of consummate perceptiveness; Pax Indica. 

One of the choicest quotes from this book published in 2012; ” Indian diplomacy is much like the ‘lovemaking of elephants’, which is accompanied with a lot of bellowing and other sound effects, but no one can be sure of the consequences for at least the next two years. ” A remark made to him in the 70s when Tharoor was a newbie; his experience in the IFS; the official diplomatic arm of the country was instructive in most of his perceptive and sometimes cliched approach to what are India’s brand ambassadors to the world.

Lal Bahadur Shastri :*Denomination: 1 Forint

Visit Lal Bahadur Shastri :*Denomination: 1 Forint (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tharoor is from Kerala; and unlike other Congress motormouths such as Mani Shankar Aiyar from Tamil Nadu does not come across as disgustingly sycophantic and vindictive. The great Shri Subramanian Swamy may have other ideas and information which we in the reading public may not be aware of; so let me rest that train of thought here.

Second is my hearty dislike, revulsion and contempt for the trivialities of regionalism, caste and language that our supposedly erudite so-called “intelligentsia” and the rest of the country(the fodder for our chatterati) often indulges in.

Anything South of the Vindhyas is generally understood as the moniker “Madrasi” by the North  Indian; and the same attitude prevails elsewhere in the country; when it comes to the South Indians, the Bengalis, the Gujaratis or the Maharashtrians describing the rest of the country.

Some of Tharoor’s remarkable utterances have been frankly condescending; but this work of nationalistic intent gave me a more humane and patriotic picture of the former MOS External Affairs. 

Analyzing India’s historical connect with practically every region of the globe; Tharoor gives us an insight into steps the country needs to up the ante and peddle its “soft power”; the residual cultural connect, reverence and admiration for intellect that the country historically elicited around the planet. 

Shashi Tharoor

Visit Shashi Tharoor (Photo credit: Cmic Blog)

In the oft-repeated comparison between India and China; Tharoor describes the outlay the Middle Kingdom has made on increasing its strategic role via both investments, the opening of Confucius Centres; and even academic depth via universites and thinktanks. The foreign service and the Ministry of External Affairs is relatively understaffed for a country of India’s importance; with the complement roughly being equal to a tiny city-state such as Singapore.

Mr. Tharoor correctly points out that private enterprise has been the vehicle that actively changed India’s image abroad. Economic muscle is what the world respects; and despite every hurdle generated by a lackadaisical government; the inherent intellectual and technical prowess of the country’s teeming billions made a dent in the self-centred global story of humanity.

Foreign aid; a contentious issue is discussed in passing; with particular reference to Afghanistan. India has now set up an external aid agency; on the lines of the UK and the US in order to increase strategic influence and become part of global grandstanding. The country has historically been a fence-sitter; sometimes rightly not getting involved in complex geopolitical disputes. The setting up of external aid agencies has also been criticized as there any countless millions within India who need assistance every day. The emerging power’s rather lopsided reverence for “India House” in London until the 70s(and maybe even now) is mentioned in “Pax Indica”.

Tharoor’s time in the UN shaped his world-view; but I could not understand why the country could not act with more belligerence during his tenure. We can only wait and watch what the Modi government does; but surely the “big brother” of the neighbourhood(India) and an acknowledged regional power could have been more assertive. He also mentions other colleagues such as the former Defence Minister as “Left-Leaning” and subtly quotes Ashley Tellis to underscore the need for more cooperation between India and the United States.

Some of V.K Krishna Menon’s arrogant remarks(termed a “Commie” by the Brits); Nehru’s visionary statesmanship and compulsive idiocy; and Lal Bahadur Shastri‘s humility and straightforwardness are mentioned by Tharoor in a narrative that stretches millenia of Indian history. I also came across the story of Admiral Zhang He; the remarkable Chinese general and his invocation to the Hindu Gods centuries ago in present-day Galle(Sri Lanka). His voyage across the seas a long time before the West is also mentioned in another book I had the pleasure to edit; Shri Prabhu Shankar Deodhar’s “Cinasthana”.

Although Shashi Tharoor’s observations about foreign policy and the establishment are spot-on; I could not help but wonder what course future administrations would take; and how Tharoor could have accelerated the process when he was in a position of power. The usual posturing about India’s economic might and potential have been discussed at length by numerous studies; but intent should translate into action; something every patriotic citizen earnestly desires. 


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