Book Review: ‘Pax Indica: India and the World in the 21st Century’


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India’s Diplomatic Conundrum: Pax Indica

“Pax Indica” is the thirteenth feather in the cap of the Author- Diplomat turned Politician Shashi Tharoor. This engaging read stretches over 11 chapters and 428 pages, written with precision, clarity and an idea to introduce Indians and non- Indians to the concept, crux and complexities of India’s Foreign Policy.

At first sight the image on the book jacket which depicts an Indian Elephant trudging over the Globe may render the reader a feeling that the book is sure to lead the argument on the hallowed Indian ‘Superpower’. However the very first few pages make it amply clear that the Author has no remote inclination of declaring India as a Superpower just yet. Page 351 of the book dispels all doubts on this issue in a single question, “Can we be taken seriously as a potential world leader in the 21st century if we do not develop develop the institutions, the practices, the personnel and the mind-set required to lead in the global arena?”

The Latin title ‘Pax Indica’ literally translates as ‘Peace – India.’ One is forced to contemplate if there should in fact be a question mark at the end of that phrase because as one reads through, the views evinced come off as rather tangential, as it highlights the reasons India is struggling with to make Peace in its neighbourhood.

Staying true to the Historian in him Shashi Tharoor begins by re- visiting the past, reminiscing the tenets of the Nehruvian policy and then poses the question, “What would a ‘Pax Indica’ look like?” The answer to this is found in the ensuing chapters.

Eliciting views comes naturally for someone who has spent more than half his life in the global arena. The superiority of this book lies in the fact that each chapter begins with a briefing on the historical ties that each of these countries shares with India while gradually steering its way to the present situation and the current posit of these relations. The book which serves as an exposé goes on to elaborate on the capricious Indo- Pak relationship laying the bare facts without feigning optimism. While the author talks of the need for better relations, the book poses a lot of questions with fewer answers. One would expect a diplomat to share his blueprint for solutions to the same.

The author adopts a positive note on Afghanistan’s ability to develop as a hub of trade which will prove instrumental in connecting central and south Asia. The Author refers to his tenure as the Minister of State for External Affairs while subtly dropping a line on the superficiality of the Indian Foreign Policy when he uses the phrase ‘Official India’ on page 89.

The Grand Finale in the book namely its last two chapters are expansive, educative, eye- openers on questions a lot of IFS aspirants have been asking and the lacuna that exist in the Indian Executive.

As to the question on NRIs Shashi Tharoor very aptly sums their importance in three simple words : Pride, Support and Investments. The author continues to give the readers the idea of Dem0cracy and Diversity.

Structurally, the book is well divided. Each paragraph centres around a single thought. The paragraph ends and so does the point of focus.

It is commendable that the Author ensures to draw the attention of readers to the neglected Indian Foreign Service and weaves the past problems encountered by various Ministers and the laxity on the part of successive governments although he himself is a part of the system.

The book however falls short in a few places especially when dealing with Indo- Maldivean relations. One gets the feel that the passage has almost been hastily jotted down, perhaps in the quest to avoid leaving any country. Given the author’s current political standing one can only presume that a policy of caution has been maintained consistently.. At many levels the Author’s hopes for a shared world vision and a Multi polar world is appreciable but rather a distant dream as of now.

The essence of the book lies in the Author’s statement, “Diplomatic initiatives need to be converted into commercial, touristic and investment opportunities.”

A recommended read for all, those expecting the book to be a deep and intense analysis of Indian Foreign Policy must read the Author’s Acknowledgments where he explicitly states that ‘Pax Indica’ is an ‘extended analytical essay devoid of footnotes and reference material.’

The size of the book need not intimidate any reader worried about a heavy read. The target audience in this case is rather wide because the wealth of information is of interest for young readers while the nuances of Foreign Policy making are sure to attract older readers.
With a perfect blend of history, culture and diplomacy, Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st Century, is a light enjoyable read on a rather heavy topic!

Giving it a 4/5 for its style of writing and 3.5/5 for its content.

Publisher : Penguin India

Author: Shashi Tharoor

Price: Rs 799

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