If one can forgive Sanjaya Baru for some rather silly letters he recently wrote to some retired government servants-turned columnists for being critical of Dr Manmohan Singh on the grounds that as Press Adviser to the Prime Minister he had to make government views known to its critics, even if couched in impolite language, then one can review with some objectivity the essays and columns he wrote as a journalist himself.
Though Baru is presently Media Adviser and spokesperson to the Prime Minister of India, he once served as Chief Editor of The Financial Express and Associate Editor of The Economic Times and The Times of India with some distinction. His professional qualifications as an academician are unchallengeable. Thus, he was Professor, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, New Delhi and a member of India'sNational Security Advisory Board. He has also served as a consultant to UNDP and was a J. Watumull Fellow at the East-West Centre, Hawaii. That should establish his credibility as a commentator on primarily economic matters and on the tectonic changes in the global balance of power in the post Cold War era.
During his time as a journalist he wrote several ?essays? and columns which stand scrutiny to this day. An ?essay? is different from a ?column? both in structure and in in-depth analysis. A ?column? is more reader-friendly even when it is scholarly. Its aim is to attract readership while making a point and to gain attention in 1,200 words, if possible. That is an art in itself. An essay belongs to a wholly different genre. It could extend upto 10,000 words and has necessarily to be data-based, aimed as it is at intellectuals and professionals.
Baru, let it be said, excels at both these exercises. One suspects that the essays were meant to be presented at seminars, while the columns were for the average reader'sconsumption. What remains unquestionable is Baru'scomplete command on whatever views he preferred to deal with. Baru, however, wants to make it clear that all the essays and columns?some 63 of them?were written and published before he joined the Prime Minister'sOffice and do not reflect the thinking of either the Government of India or the Prime Minister. One wonders, though. The essays are on such esoteric subjects as the strategic consequences of India'seconomic performance, the economic dimension of India'sforeign policy, conceptualising economic security, national security in an open economy, India an ASEAN, the Asian economic crisis and India'sexternal economic relations, IT and the e-economy, India, China and the Asian neighbourhood and the economic consequences of the Kargil conflict for India and Pakistan.
A separate index spells out when and for whom these essays were written, so the reader knows the context and background to the expression of views. One wishes the author had done so at the beginning of each essay and column. That would have added meaning to what followed. No matter.
As a columnist Baru has few challengers. One does not necessarily have to accept his conclusions as beyond reproach anymore than one has to be critical for the sake of being critical. Baru spells out his thoughts with cogency and courage whether when he argues that ASEAN has as much to offer, perhaps more, to India as India to offer ASEAN or when he avers that in the long run, India and the US will be partners on many fronts, even when in the ?short run? the partnership with Pakistan is important for the US. It is not so much Baru'sviews as much as the way in which they are presented that draw attention.
In his essay on How Asian is India, for example, Baru points out that a factor that has forced the West to rediscover India'sAsianness is the emergence of China as a strategic competitor to it. As Baru puts it, India'sAsianness is no longer merely historical or geographic but is increasingly reacquiring an economic content, restoring the kind of relationship that the Europeans encountered when first they arrived in the waters of the Indian Ocean, ?the only ocean named after a people and which washed the southern shores of Asia?. Very well put.
What is clear in all his writings is the author'stotal awareness of what is going on around him in the political and economic world. Information Technology and the resultant new media, he notes, has enabled the creation of a new ?dot com community? both within India and globally, within the Indian diaspora, with the Indian Middle Class'sability to use the English language and the availability of computer skills fuelling the process. That is a sound and valid observation. He is on solid grounds too when he pleads that India not only must raise its overall trade engagement with its neighbours but must also pursue policies which can alter the trade imbalance in favour of its smaller neighbours, particularly Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Baru knows what he is writing about and his insights are most valuable, as when he says that so marginal has Russia become to India'sexport strategy that the Union Commerce Ministry'sMedium Term Export Strategy 2002-2007 does not even discuss India'sexports to Russia as a separate subject, as it does the trade with the US, European Union and Japan.
Baru is seldom polemical. He lets facts speak for themselves, which is hallmark of a true academician. His perception are clear as when he says that while Russia and India are strategic allies, China and India are strategic competitors or when he states that while Russia helps India feel more secure, China can'tseem to help but make India less secure. ?Russia and India may be friends but neither is putting their money where their mouth is. China and India may badmouth each other, but seem to be making good money nevertheless.?
It is this style of writing, sharp in observation, pervasive in thinking and persuasive in argument that distinguishes Baru'sessays and columns which are a delight to read and educative in content. No wonder he has received bouquets from men of standing like Jagdish Bhagwati, Bimal Jalan and N. Narayana Murthy for this work. He deserves them.
This must be one of the first books to offer a panaromic view of the geopolitics and the geo-economics of India'srecent rise as a free market democracy. As such it stands out from the usual run-of-the-mill works that claim to present recent developments in India.
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