Book Review: Non-fiction/Memoirs, In service of India abroad by R.D.Pradhan, Rupa/2011, 262 pp; Rs595 (Hardback)
R.D.Pradhan represents the generation of economic diplomacy in international division when country was still passing through the famished state and upper bureaucratic echelons were indifferently playing caroused and lashing with delirious adventures. Then, more than any other qualities, mannerism used to be fiendishly highlighted as the maker of glittering appearances in international diplomacy and altogether “sycophancy” for higher order was maintaining a cult position. By reading this book or relying on one’s own wisdom, it clears that demeaning focus on wrong penchants made India’s international diplomacy a light weight partying zone until very recently when liberalisation of economy changed India’s position as an effective consumerist market!
The author had a parallel career at both home and international turfs and he has two big names to be repeatedly dropped, K.B.Lal and Y.B.Chavan, under whom his career flourished. That could have alright, has he narrating his long stint in bureaucracy to a passive recipient over a cup of coffee in his plush drawing room instead letting the baggage of trivia to the readers with less penchant for talk on wine, women and spoon/fork handling sessions. There has been dearth of good memoirs from Indian bureaucrats and still condition has not changed even after this book. The basic reasons are the over emphasis on “personal descriptions” rather looking on collective things through the personal angle that makes a memoir participative and universally relevant.
There could be no denying the fact, India’s diplomatic presence at bilateral or multilateral arenas were largely dominated with its principled standing whose base was lying outside of its horrid economic status and leisure seeking diplomatic nerves. The charm of Nehruvian socialism and his reliance on non-alignment were giving this newly independent nation a much needed leadership position in a turbulent world order which would have surely elusive, if the diplomatic missions were leading the front guard in initial years after the independence! Unlike in other areas, concentration of power in the hand of Nehru made some impressive impacts in shaping India’s functional terms in its nieghbourhood and rapidly changing world, which was moving with an unprecedented pace in the wake of scientific progress and its menacing outcomes!
The book is not very much encouraging for those want to get the perceptive narratives of author on the existing realities of India’s tryst with destiny in international economic diplomacy. However like a memoir, book carries some details of official works as well but not in minutes order...that may cause disappointment to an avid enthusiast. But bright part of the work is its insightful focus on India’s early time with UN, UNCTAD, GATT, WTO, and Kennedy rounds of discussions, which are presented through a decisive participant’s angle, so makes sense clear. But side by side, it also reveals the commonly found immaturity among the new Foreign Service officials who were bound to internalize the basic lessons of drafting and minimum economic diplomacy from their esteemed seniors in Yoga position or in odd hours doing some other exercises. Then learning classes not essentially were carried in the formal classrooms…if believing the truths of this book, dinner table was among the friendliest juncture to enhance diplomacy of consuming free good wine and dine in the exotic atmosphere and company of women, serving by the nation, which was equally starving and aspiring!
Conditions have much changed now, not only inside the elite diplomatic missions but among ordinary citizens too who are now more concerned with their commercial than religious beingness, hitherto an easiest route of escaping from miseries. Recently in an overt mood of metamorphosis, the sacrosanct Civil Services test taken by the UPSC has radically changed its exams pattern to align it with the aptitude, management/economic awareness and more shrewd personality tests than even before. Its form can be filled only online now by the all, even someone living in Kalahandi or in forests of Bastar-they all are expected to be techno savvy, which itself a very subversive condition! These changes will sure produce few more officers with little extra aptitude capacities but what about the mass Indians who too should do the economic diplomacy? Are our services truly covering the aspirations of larger masses in its fold?
In the nation, where bureaucracy is known for “mass disconnect” doesn’t allow thinking in such inquisitive order but the concern of few for large would be remain looming large even if the responses would be never satisfied the causes of dissent and disenchantments. Mr. Pradhan, following the service tradition has succeeded enough to present a travel book type account on Europe’s luxurious hotels, cities, pubs, socialites and also its general life but equally he failed in providing his fair accounts of what the wrongs happened in the rule of Y.B.Chavan? For doing that, he would certainly have not needed to write the multi volume memoir, as he has plan but I am afraid whose takers would be few. Official position can give someone in high authority to keep his/her activities confined in the same rank/file but similar could not be replicated as a writer, which must have to be taken as public profile of different type.
So, far India’s experience with UN has remained not up to the mark. It’s clearly evident and even commonly shared by the policy experts in country and outside too. What we have got at the major multilateral organisations not makes us eligible to be over cheering, afterall how India can forget it has deserved to be among the permanent council members in UN since its inception? Which is still appearing a distant dream even after more than six decades? As a swiftly rising economy and strategic power, such undermining of our own capacity is not going to be less than a blunder. At this juncture, our diplomacy needs a revamp and new outlook which alas the generation of R.D.Pradhan and subsequent could have introduced much earlier. A book like this would be somehow helpful in generating relevant debates on India’s upcoming foreign policy stands; also it should infuse some energy among the retired officials!
Atul Kumar Thakur
February 23, 2012, Thursday, New Delhi