Writing in a hurry: Shashi Tharoor’s Pax Indica

Shashi Tharoor’s vanvas from South Block after he was forced to resign as minister of state for external affairs in April 2010 perhaps was a blessing in disguise. Had he remained an MEA insider, a book of the magnitude of Pax Indica would not have been possible.

In terms of the ground it covers, Pax Indica promises to be a seminal work on Indian diplomacy. And Tharoor is uniquely placed to undertake such an exercise – being one of the few Indians having extensive experience in international relations and yet not being constricted by an Indian Foreign Service background. In the 400-odd pages, Tharoor covers almost every possible aspect of the foreign policy challenges before the country in the 21st century.

In Tharoor’s own words, Pax Indica is structured like an onion – beginning with India’s dominant diplomatic obsession: Pakistan. In the subsequent chapters it moves on to India’s other neighbours, China, the extended neighbourhood – West and Southeast Asia, the United States, Europe, Africa, Latin America and the United Nations.

Predictably, in trying to make a whirlwind trip across the oceans, Tharoor rarely gets the chance to venture into the deep waters. At least four out of the 11 chapters are nothing more than primers about India’s relations with the country/region concerned. The pattern of these chapters is predictable – a little historical background from the ancient and medieval times, a narrative of Nehruvian diplomacy and its legacy, changes that took place in the 1990s after the Cold War ended and after India opened up its economy, peppered with personal anecdotes with an occasional example from Kerala.