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Making History of their Choice

Onkar Marwah

Edited by Praveen K. Chaudhry and Marta Vanduzer-Snow
Sage Publications and Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 688, Rs. 1800.00

VOLUME XXXIII NUMBER 8-9 August/September 2009

Archival material is never an easy read. The writing tends to be ponderous and the language full of bureaucratese. The issues appear to be over-discussed and repetitive unless ‘similar’ memos and analyses are not excised in the editing process—as should have been done in this 700-page compilation. Despite the preceding comments, placing archival papers on the early ‘Nehru’ period of Indo-US interactions in the public domain may be of some value. There are numerous specialized studies on aspects of the post-Independence and post-War Indo-US relationship. They are not enough to give a general overarching ‘feel’ of the perceptions and expectations that Indian and American leaders harboured of each other and their respective countries in the initial years. Reading through the selections in this volume offers some evidence as to why the two democratic states found it so difficult to forge a smooth relationship—then as now.   The book is based on American documents of the Departments of State and Defense, the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Council, the White House, and some others, declassified under the US Freedom of Information Act. Since India, following the British practice does not open its government papers to public scrutiny there is no display of official documentation from the Indian side. While good in itself, much should not be made of the US-Indian ‘imbalance’ in opening up confidential documents: the American papers are sufficiently sanitized so that none of the sensitive, embarrassing or realpolitik stuff is actually revelatory of real US intent or the action thereof.   The archival material is organized in a two-fold manner following an introductory chapter. Chapters two to four deal with American Foreign Policy, various US agencies’ communications concerning India, US-UK relations, and US-Soviet contentions in the ‘Near and Far East’. Chapters five to eight seek to assess Prime Minister Nehru (including a psychological profiling), India’s Foreign Policy, India-Pakistan differences, and the evaluation of US Aid policies. A final chapter assesses US approaches to Indian ‘contradictions’ in overall policy matters, and a description of the US Global System of Military Alliances.   Given hindsight knowledge, there are few surprises in this volume. The US was militantly alert to safeguarding itself and other western democracies. To that end, it moved strongly to ‘contain’ Communism as personified by the ‘800 million communists’ of the Soviet Union and the new Peoples Republic of China. Forms of government elsewhere were of secondary importance. ...

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