New Delhi: Indian
diplomacy is 50 percent protocol, 30 percent alcohol and 20
percent T.N. Kaul (India's legendary foreign secretary in the late
sixties), so goes the famous one-liner. But it's clearly much more
than glamorous parties and clinking champagne glasses as a new
book, which stitches together analyses, insights and reminiscences
of India's stalwart diplomats, shows.
Entitled "The Ambassadors' Club" (Harper Collins), the book,
edited by K.V. Rajan, a retired diplomat, weaves rare snapshots of
Indian diplomacy in action at some of the fraught and exhilarating
moments in India's management of its foreign relations.
The book bristles with revelations and rare insights into how
Indian diplomacy operates on the ground amid challenging
situations and takes you beyond cliched official formulations and
discourses that often hide more than they say.
A.N.D Haksar's brief but compelling account of an impromptu summit
meeting between Pakistan's dictator Zia-ul-Haq and India's then
Prime Minister Morarji Desai in Nairobi in 1978 during the funeral
ceremony of Kenyan leader Jomo Kenyatta is one such example that
will prod readers to dig deeper into the book.
In the chapter entitled "A Singular Summit," Haksar writes: "Butto
was executed in the following summer of 1979 by the Zia government
despite pleas for clemency from many leaders and governments
around the world. One which made no such plea was India, the Desai
government taking the view that the matter was an internal affair
of Pakistan. Whether or not the previous summer's summit had any
role in this can only be a subject of speculation."
There are also gripping accounts of some of the country's
much-esteemed retired diplomats whose stints coincided with
history-changing moments in the countries in which they were
T.P. Sreenivasan found himself grappling with the aftermath of a
coup in Fiji in 1987 which was aimed at undermining the
Indian-origin majority in Fiji's affairs. A. Madhavan recalls
vividly what it meant to be in the midst of one of the iconic
events of the time, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and how India
ingeniously built diplomatic bridges with a re-unified Germany.
Jagat S. Mehta, the doyen of Indian diplomats and now in his 90s,
looks back at his diplomatic stint in China and seems to question
Nehru and his advisers in their judgments of Chinese intentions in
the late 1950s and 1960s. Commenting on Mehta's article, K.V.
Rajan, the editor of the book, writes: "Could the India-China war
have been avoided if Nehru had been a better judge, or better
advised, and his devoted and overawed bureaucrats were not
convinced that 'Panditji knows best?"
What imparts a unique flavour to the book are first-person
accounts like that of "The Last Days of Salvador Allende," the
Chilean dictator, by G.J. Malik and Niranjan Desai's gripping tale
of his travails in 1972 as an officer on special duty after
Ugandan dictator Idi Amin whimsically expelled all Asians holding
citizenship of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Britain.
"The Ambassadors' Club" is probably the first in a series of
anthologies of reflections and reminiscences by Indian diplomats
as they juggle diverse domains ranging from climate change
negotiations to labyrinths of WTO talks and fills in on the drama
and atmospherics that are missing from more scholarly tomes on
The book should be specially useful to practitioners as well as
students of international relations. Above all, it should inspire
more young people to join the woefully understaffed Indian Foreign
In a foreword to the book, National Security Advisor Shivshankar
Menon recalls how he recently met a young man who had made it to
the IFS, but was being dissuaded by his IAS colleagues and
girlfriend from joining it. Menon says he tried to convince him
about the singularity of the diplomat's job, but in retrospect
thought he should just have given him this book to read to
discover the joys and challenges of Indian diplomacy.
(Manish Chand can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)