Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Makers of India's Foreign Policy, by JN Dixit

Makers of India's Foreign Policy - by JN Dixit (Amazon, Flipkart)

The blurb from the book reads thus:
In this brilliant, insightful book, J.N.Dixit chronicles the role of those who have played an important role in fashioning and implementing India's foreign policy since and before independence -- right up to the 12th SAARC summit in Islamabad in January 2004. In doing so he fulfils a major gap in the study of Indian foreign policy, for he focuses not just on the Nehru-Gandhis but also on those who are less well-known, including diplomats and policy advisers. ... Apart from the central role played by Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi, the book highlights the contributions of other prime ministers such as Narasimha Rao, I.K.Gujral, and Atal Behari Vajpayee. Also portrayed are ministers such as V.K. Krishna Menon, Sardar Swaran Singh, Y.B. Chavan, Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha. The role of behind-the-scenes operators like Girija Shankar Bajpai, Badruddin Tyabji, D.P.Dhar, P.N.Haksar and Brajesh Mishra is also recalled.


The book's major achievements, in my opinion, are:
  1. JN Dixit attempts to classify India's foreign policy influencers and architects into two philosophical camps - the Buddhist/pacifists, and the real-politik/Chanakya followers (Patel, Bose for e.g.).
  2. it collects in one place brief accounts of the people who were involved with and contributed to India's foreign policy, and
  3. the chapters on Sardar Patel and Lal Bahadur Shastri are very, very good. Sardar Patel's letter to Nehru on the coming threat from China is reproduced in its entirety, and is the gem of the book. Shastri's contributions are duly recognized.
Regarding Dixit's theory on the "two broad strands in terms of attitudes and reactions towards other countries and foreign societies", he states that the "first orientation was that of a feeling of inferiority and inadequacy via-a-vis foreign countries, particularly those of the west..... the second orientation was that of asserting the relevance and importance of India's ancient culture and civilization..." Most of the early Indians who had an impact on India's perspectives on the world are then clubbed into the first or second group. Unsurprisingly, Swami Vivekanand, Lokmanya Tilak, Badruddin Tyabji and others fall in the second group.

However, I am not sure the book can be called "brilliant". It's a decent effort to be sure, and certainly does a good job of collecting in one place all the contributors to India's foreign policy.

The drawbacks to the book are:
  1. It lacks any references to background, supporting, or more detailed material that the reader may be interested in. No references, appendix, or footnotes.
  2. there are lots of statements made, that in the absence of supporting material come off sounding as opinions... (contrast this with Arun Shourie's style for example where there are copious footnotes and references - which may also be reflective of his academic background - he is a PhD).
  3. the book is too politically correct; the author does not take a firm stand against anyone. Many of the statements in the book seem to be manufactured for the sole purpose of being used as blurbs...
Of particular interest to me was Sardar Patel's letter to Jawaharlal Nehru on November 7, 1950. This letter was written to warn Nehru about the impending danger that the annexation of Tibet by the Chinese would pose to India. A little more than a decade later these words proved prophetic as the Chinese army marched into India and overran much of Indian territory, and still hold parts of Jammu & Kashmir.

Here are snippets from that letter...

-- even though we regard ourselves as the friends of the Chinese, the Chinese do not regard as as their friends. With the communist mentality of 'whoever is not with them being against them'..."
-- Chinese irredentism and communist imperialism are different from the expansionism or imperialism of the Western Powers. The former has an ideological cloak, which makes it ten times worse.
-- Thus, for the first time after centuries, India's defense has to concentrate on two fronts simultaneously.
-- Hitherto, the Communist Party of India has found some difficulty in contacting communists abroad, or in getting supplies of arms, literature, etc... from them. .... They shall now have a comparatively easy means of access to Chinese communists, and through them to other foreign communists. Infiltration of spies, fifth columnists, and communists would now be easier.

Some other related books:
- Inside Story of Sardar Patel
- Lal Bahadur Shastri, Prime Minister of India 1964-1966: A Life of Truth in Politics
- Indira Gandhi: A Biography
- Will the Iron Fence Save a Tree Hollowed by Termites? ; Defence Imperatives Beyond the Military

Book Details:
ISBN: 9788172235925
Cover Price: Rs. 500.00
Format: Hardback
Extent: 328 pages

Buy Makers Of India's Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohan Roy To Yashwant Sinha from
Makers of India's Foreign Policy (Amazon)