Shri K. Natwar Singh,
Shri M.K. Rasgotra,
Shri Shyam Saran,
Shri C.R. Gharekhan,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
When Ambassador Gharekhan suggested that I write a few lines for the blurb of the book, I did it in terms of generalities, about the qualities that have characterized this role down the ages. A modern manual is thus remarkably similar to what Kautilya had prescribed for those whom he advised; modern-day diplomats or civil servants are called upon to do likewise. Chinmaya Gharekhan is an excellent example.
The book before us is in reality two books in one and while the two parts stand on their own, they also show how the first might have shaped the performance of some requirement of the other. This in itself is an infrequent happening and lends a certain uniqueness to it.
Our author had the unique experience of working with two Prime Ministers who both took keen interest in foreign affairs. The years with Indira Gandhi coincided with the meetings in New Delhi of NAM and CHOGM and she took an active interest in both. He has recorded some of her pithy reactions to individual personalities on the global stage and her spat earlier with Australian PM Bob Hawke.
In bilateral relations Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and China inevitably dominated. In internal discussions on relations with China, her main concern was that we should not appear to be obstinate or unrealistic in the eyes of the world. ‘The only jarring note’ in speech on Punjab in July, 1984 ‘was repeated references to ‘my family’: this overemphasis did not sound decent in a democracy’.
Ground was explored for better relations with the United States. An observation about the Soviet Union is noteworthy: ‘Indira Gandhi did not seem to share her father’s ideological affinity with the Russians’ adding that ‘the people she was really anxious to please were the British;’s she ‘was extremely keen to attend Prince Charles’s wedding and was disappointed because she could not because President V.V. Giri insisted on going.’
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was a younger personality, less patient with procedures. ‘He wanted immediate decisions and expected us to follow up without any delay. I enjoyed his style but was sceptical whether this change in mentality would filter down to lower levels of bureaucracy.’ He was clearly ‘not in a hurry to settle with China.’
The second section of the book has an interesting opening, coincided as it did with the Kuwait crisis of August 1990 and the policy dilemma it posed for New Delhi. In Gharekhan’s judgement ‘it was not a tilt but surrender’ and the subsequent official statement was softened somewhat after his intervention. As the crisis developed, diplomatic postures of different actors evolved and the book gives an interesting assessment of these. The Americans specifically conveyed to Prime Minister Chandra Sekhar their appreciation of the role in negotiations of the Indian representative.
Our author’s 2006 book on the working of the Security Council has a Foreword by UN Secretary General Boutros Ghali who characterised it as ‘an intimate, honest and highly professional account’ of the working of that body. Particularly relevant is Gharekhan’s assessment of India’s role on the expansion of the Permanent Membership of the Security Council; that an expansion of its numbers is possible but ‘there is zero chance’ of the new Permanent Members having the right of veto.
The two parts, together, give a glimpse of how global leaders and their representatives looked at challenging questions of their day.