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Annotating Recent History

B.G. Verghese

By Jaswant Singh
Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2006, pp. 426, Rs. 495.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 9 September 2006

Jaswant Singh steered the country’s external relations and, for a while, defence during an eventful and turbulent period of NDA governance. It was a time of change and the BJP was in office during the transition that it partly helped to make. As a key player in office, he both shaped and reacted to developments that saw India finally emerge as a nuclear weapons state (alongside Pakistan) and a prime focus of jihadi terror and began to forge a new strategic partnership with the United States.   Most Indians have a poor sense of history, which possibly explains why so few write about it contemporaneously when their insights could aid the formulation and execution of policy from lessons learnt in the unforgiving school of experience. Fortunately, Jaswant Singh is among the exceptions and has ventured to share his thoughts and face the accountability that comes from public scrutiny. He maintained a dairy, a tricky hobby, on which he draws to capture the flavour of the moment and adorn his tale.   Many will go straight to Books II and III, which tell of Pokhran and its aftermath, including the new engagement with the United States and China, and the rise of terror wrapped in nuclear blackmail, post-Kargil and post-Afghanistan. But in some ways Book I holds special interest as it speaks of childhood and Rajput memories that shaped the author’s character and worldview. These also moulded his mind as he lived through Partition and the birth of Pakistan and reflected on nationalism, frontiers, near and far, that he was called upon to defend and explore as a soldier between 1962 and 1965, and on India’s geo-strategic imperatives. He scoured archives for an indigenously-drawn map of India or the world but found none and concludes that the Indian tradition, though rich in many areas, ignored geography, from which flows history and politics. He further argues, as others have done, that the “idea” of India was civilizational, not territorial, which is why a newly Independent India seemed in no hurry to establish its boundaries or define any external perimeters of geo-strategic interest but, instead, almost casually gave away what it had been bequeathed by the Raj.   Jaswant Singh’s searchlight on Pakistan is no less penetrating. Maybe the Congress did in a sense “communalize” India when it conceded separate electorates – against which Gandhi later rebelled. However, the two-nation theory was based on the ...

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