Joe Nye aka “Mr. Soft Power” in ‘The Future of Power’ has argued that, in today’s information age, it is the side with the better story that wins. This book is Tharoor’s conscious or unconscious attempt to ensure that India is the party with the better story (of course to one’s own eyes one always has the better story). To Tharoor, India is gentle and reasonable and completely justified in all its actions; where they can’t be justified, they can be explained away with the excuse that a functioning democracy will take circuitous routes (the elephant metaphor). Thus the benign elephant dances with starry-eyed smaller countries, reluctantly peeping neighbors, a very naughty dragon, a ferocious but almost toothless opponent with a weapon that can’t be used, some failed states and a big circus master with a big funny hat. But all that is incidental because the elephant is gentle enough to be above reproach. So, who is the hero of the story? I leave that to your guessing skills.
Other than that, this reads like a sequel/update (with even the metaphors not being spared) to Malone’s wonderful book – with all the edges carefully shorn off and decorated in cheerful Diwali lights.
The second half of the book which takes a look at North Block and UN and their many idiosyncrasies, arguing for and against continuing relevance is more entertaining – because Tharoor actually has original stuff to contribute here along with many anecdotes which are well-worn but still funny. And though the book’s cover boasts that he tries to evolve a grand strategy (which Malone had criticized India of lacking and Tharoor wants to prove exists inside of the folds), it only delivers some passably good platitudes.
In the end though, I cannot forgive Tharoor – the primary reason for me picking up this book was my irrepressible curiosity on how the author would justify such a presumptuous title. And Tharoor never bothered to oblige, except for a two-line justification which only talks about a redefinition of what the ‘pax -ica’ latinization means in this new century. Disappointing? Yes. But, perhaps true too – it gels well with Pinker’s Angels.
- Narendra Modi and I have the same dream that he should never become PM: Shashi Tharoor (dnaindia.com)
- Keep politics out of conservation: Tharoor (thehindu.com)
- Only social media can’t help win elections, says Twitter-savvy Shashi Tharoor (ndtv.com)
- Social Media Spotlight – Shashi Tharoor, Politician, India (communicatekaro.wordpress.com)