New Login   

In Search Of Roots In The Epic

Satyabrata Pal

By Deep K. Datta-Ray
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 380, Rs. 755.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 12 December 2015

This book will generate very different responses from its readers. Indian academics may contest its premises and conclusions, but will have to grapple with a thesis so novel, which argues that Indian diplomacy flows from the Mahabharata, emerging from the progressively narrower and corroded conduits of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru as satyagraha. Indian diplomats will find it either unreadable or extremely funny—the purest poppycock. The danger of course is that foreign analysts, unfamiliar with India and looking for keys to unlock its mysteries, might take it seriously, and form an utterly false view of how Indian diplomacy and diplomats work. There is the further danger that it will be fodder for a political dispensation determined to establish that everything of value in India has its roots in Hinduism. Though if a foreign policy establishment so far kept at arm’s length by the powers that now be, as tainted by the influence of the mlechcha, is then embraced as the finest flower of Hindutva, some good may come out of this book after all. The author’s primary aim is to show that Indian diplomacy is not derived from European practice, even though the first generations of its diplomats were mimic men, anglicized and deracinated. Unusually, in an academic analysis, the author is free with details of his own background, from which we learn that he comes from a family of Ingabangas, as Bengalis who aped the English were called in the Raj. Bihari Lall Gupta, one of the first Indians in the ICS, was a forebear and his father is the distinguished journalist, Sunanda Datta-Ray, whose friendship with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is also artfully brought to the reader’s attention to explain how the author got privileged access to the Ministry of External Affairs. It is hard not to get the feeling that this book, though abstruse, is the work of a precocious adolescent, railing against his family’s values from the cocoon of its sanctuary, the sublimation of a teenager’s rebellion in an arcane polemic. The book ascends to the sublime—the Mahabharata—from the ridiculous, because from the first few chapters it appears that while satyagraha is the strategy deployed by Indian diplomacy, its tactics are jugar. The author uses jugar in its North Indian meaning, as improvisation to cobble together the makeshift, but generalizes it as an Indian characteristic, which it may ...

Table of Contents >>
Please or to Read Entire Article

Free Access Online 12 Back Issues
with 1 year's subscription
Archive (1976-2011)
under construction.