IT is very rare for a foreigner – David M Malone, a Canadian – to understand India. Many have tried, with varying degrees of success like Escott Reid, Strobe Talbott, William Dalrymple, Jerome Cohen and Teresita Schaffter. To understand India, one supposes, one must have an understanding of India’s past and the many vicissitudes it has passed through and the impact they had on the Indian psyche, seldom acknowledged. Indians have been frequently damned as being arrogant, uppity and, among themselves, self-critical. It is only when the outsider finds time to react with Indians in their own milieu that he begins to get a glimpse of the Indian mind and why it works the way it does. Malone had that opportunity.
To start with, as a young man, while still in his teens, he had visited India; he came to love it. Years later, while serving the Canadian Foreign Office he was offered the post of the country’s ambassador to Delhi which, understandably, he quickly grasped. He served in that capacity with great diligence, meeting people from all walks of life, rubbing shoulders with babus and bureaucrats, engaging them often in discussions on issues past and current to come to the conclusion that “India’s foreign policy has tended to be reactive and formulated incrementally, case-by-case, rather than through high-minded in-depth policy frameworks. That conclusion is arguable. He should have known better, considering that he was often very closely in touch with holy members of the Indian Foreign Service (which he holds in the highest regard) but members of think tanks, influential Indian commentators, both officials and academicians and other professionals, in India and abroad. What is rem arkable is that he could both understand and appreciate Indian thinking and present it with an amazing sense of objectivity.
This book covers a wide range of subjects like India’s security challenges, its economy, its South Asian neighbours, its relationship with China, Russia, the United States and Europe and above all the silent evolution of Indian multinationalism with such élan as to make one wonder whether Malone is an Indian masquerading as a Canadian or a Canadian who must have been an Indian in a previous birth. Nehru made four errors. When India was offered a Permanent Membership of the Security Council, even when it was just a colony, Nehru decided that China deserved that post more; it was very generous of him and India lost what was offered to it on a golden platter and has been paying heavily for his charity.
Following Pakistan’s first attack in 1948 on Jammu & Kashmir, India was on the verge of total victory and was within striking distance of Lahore which it should have captured thereby putting Pakistan in its place, but Nehru decided to take the issue to the Security Council naively believing that he would get justice. He should have been sophisticated enough to realise that the Security Council is not the International Court of Justice, but a vile place where politics, not justice, is first priority. He walked straight into a trap and India again had to pay for his naivette. There was no need for him to concede Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. India could have maintained a strict neutral role and played the Tibetan card when it suited it to do so. Nehru again slipped.
There was hardly anyone who cared or dared to guide him, with the exception of VK Krishna Menon, who himself proved to be an unmitigated disaster. It is anybody’s guess what policy India would have followed were Vallabhbhai Patel the Prime Minister and he had lived at least a decade longer. India’s foreign policy was guided not along any ideological line—the non-aligned movement was forced on India because it could not with any self-respect accept US supremacy or British coercion – but because of a deeply rooted feeling of anger against white dominance and a silent assertion of India’s greatness, long whitewashed because of a long period of dependency of foreign aid. As Malone says: “India’s traditional relationship with the US governments was marked by considerable development assistance dependence with frequent friction over regional and geostrategic issues”. The approach of successive US governments towards India did not help. India is now overcoming its long period of mental torture.
Malone is quite correct in noting that “time and history are on India’s side as it struggles to recover from several centuries of foreign domination and its consequences.” That, indeed, sums up the contents of the entire book. India is overcoming its long-drawn inferiority complex and, as Malone notes, “it will have been hard won and should gladden both students of history and of foreign affairs the world rather prefer to be called a “good nation” than a “Great Power”. As Sunil Khilnani is quoted as saying: “India’s greatest asset remains its ‘accumulated political legitimacy’, rather than any hypothetical or real accumulation of power”.
To any of the 192-member nations of the United Nation’s General Assembly which wants to understand India’s foreign policy, this book, presently, is the best guide. The title of the book has been taken from a study published in Economist (June 6, 2009). Does the Elephant Dance? It probably does. Just wait and see. And when it does, the very earth will have to move and shake. Self-adulation, it must be remembered is not part of India’s psyche. Which is just as well.
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