India’s World

By Rohit Acharya

One of the advantages non-fiction has over fiction is that you cannot make it up. In the case of writing about foreign policy the lens on your writing is even more rigorous.

After the critical success of ‘Where Borders Bleed’ and ‘Durand’s Curse’, Rajiv Dogra has been acknowledged as one of the most eloquent and assiduous chroniclers of strategic issues of the sub-continent.

The title and the subtitle of his latest offering, “India’s World — How Prime Ministers Shaped Foreign Policy” indicate an interlocking theme. He takes up eight PMs for this purpose, inviting the natural query; why only eight after all India has had 14 Prime Ministers so far, not counting the interim innings of Nanda. The reason, it turns out, is simple: It is appropriate to limit a book of substance to men of vital influence.

The question that follows is, did this Indian leadership have a shared vision about India’s place in the world? Did they work unerringly towards this goal? However it is not leaders alone who mould a country’s place. The Indian past and present, like that of many other countries, is strongly influenced by its history, tradition, geography and the type of its neighbourhood.

The eight PMs selected for this book are a prudent choice though they may not have made right decisions all the time. Rather there were major errors of judgement like the reference to UN by Nehru, the Simla Agreement by Indira Gandhi, Operation Parakram of Vajpayee, the infamous 4-point Musharraf formula that Manmohan Singh seemed ready to sign. But there were major contributions too which over the years have earned India a place of respect in the world.

Rajiv Dogra is a respected veteran diplomat. Therefore he does not sit in judgement as to who was or who wasn’t the best Prime Minister. He presents a case, analysis the evidence and then leaves it to the reader to judge for himself. This is how a major work of this nature should be written. As Thomas Macaulay wrote about Tacitus, the great Roman historian, “Tacitus is unrivalled among historians…All the persons…in his works have an individuality of character…We know them as if we had lived with them.” India’s World’ gives you the pleasurable feeling that you are witness to the drama of history as it unfolds before you in sharp, fluent prose.

He ends India’s World not with an uncertain this or that note, but with a highly symbolic one. When a future Indian Prime Minister slinks despondently into his chair crushed by the burden of India’s complexity, he is reminded of Mahatma Gandhi’s words: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Rajiv Dogra’s spirited and absorbing telling is reason enough for readers to devour India’s World. An even greater achievement is the unbiased manner in which he places the period of these eight Prime Ministers in those trying and turbulent times.

This article was published by India Strategic on July 29, 2020.