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An Insider Recounts

Kiran Doshi

By M. Rasgotra
Penguin Viking, New Delhi, 2016, pp. 387, Rs. 669.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 9 September 2016

Maharajakrishna Rasgotra was a career diplomat who served India with great distinction for almost forty years (1949–1990), often working closely with Pandit Nehru, and later, Indira Gandhi. He was born in a humble (though aspirational) family and was, therefore, largely a self-made man. Any book written by him would be of interest. A Life in Diplomacy is specially so because it is the story of India and the world which the author saw— and tried to shape—in his long years in the world of diplomacy. (The book contains a few finely drawn vignettes from the author’s personal life—his early years, his poetry, his marriage, the tragic loss of a child, his spiritual awakening later in life . . . but, as is made clear by the author, the book is not an autobiography.) I first met the author in May 1969, when he came to Washington to take virtual charge of the Indian embassy there as its Deputy Chief of Mission with the rank of ambassador. (I was First Secretary in the embassy at the time.) Rumour had it that the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, had pulled him out in a hurry from Morocco and sent him to Washington because Richard Nixon, who detested India and hated Indira Gandhi, had become President of America. She expected trouble and needed someone good, who also knew America, to handle the trouble. (Rasgotra had worked in Indian missions in Washington as well as New York in his younger days.) Indira Gandhi turned out to be spectacularly right—on both counts. India and America almost came to blows over Bangladesh in 1971. That we did not, and India could wrap up the war without any real intervention by America, was in large measure due to Ambassador Rasgotra. He could not change Nixon’s hostility towards India, nor his advisor Kissinger’s Machia-vellian global designs, which too were hostile to India, but he could blunt them both—and blunt them devastatingly— by pitting them against America’s own public opinion, created mostly by him over months and years of hard work, making friends and influencing people in the US Congress, media and think tanks. It helped, of course, that he kept one of the best tables in town, aided by a wonderful wife (to whom the book is dedicated.) Generally, success in the world of diplomacy comes incrementally, often over years, and through the efforts of many people. ...

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