A diametrically different reading of history: A book review

A diametrically different reading of history: A book review

By Gulu Ezekiel

Shadows Across the Playing Field: 60 Years of India-Pakistan Cricket.  By Shashi Tharoor and Shaharyar Khan. Roli Books. 189 pages; illustrated; Rs. 295.

Cricket matches between India and Pakistan have been played since the early 1950s and have always had an edge to them, rivaling even international cricket’s oldest series between England and Australia.

The reason for heightened tensions when the two nations meet is of course wrapped up in history, politics and religion.

Former UN diplomat and current Minister of State for External Affairs, Shashi Tharoor and career diplomat and former head of the Pakistan Cricket Board, Shaharyar Khan (cousin of Mansur Ali Khan, aka the Nawab of Pataudi) have been chosen to trace the stormy history of Indo-Pakistan cricket in this book split between their two essays.

Khan’s choice is a logical one. He has an intimate inside view of cricket in Pakistan and was manager of the teams that toured India in 1999 and 2005.

Tharoor’s links are more tenuous. We are told on the inside flap of the book that he has “encyclopaedic knowledge” of Indian cricket which makes it even more surprising that he has committed so many factual errors in his essay.

What is most striking when comparing the two chapters is the number of issues on which the authors hold diametrically opposing views.

This different reading of history also explains why India and Pakistan have been at loggerheads for over six decades. But it is no bad thing in a book—it gives the reader pause for thought and allows him to make his own judgment.

Take for example the cricket tournaments played on religious lines in Bombay and Poona, the Quadrangular starting in 1912-13 and the Pentangular ending in 1945-46.

Tharoor, a self-confessed Nehruvian takes up Mahatma Gandhi’s point of view that the event was a direct assault on the Congress Party’s ideals of secularism.

Khan is convinced that the success of a separate Muslim team bolstered Jinnah’s two-nation theory and therefore was a positive development. He also quotes the players, including top Hindu cricketers of the time that the matches never led to communal disturbances and in fact acted as a harmless outlet for letting off steam.

Then there is the attitude of Pakistanis to the large number of Muslims who have represented India including four captains. (Tharoor omits Iftikhar Ali Khan, the senior Nawab of Pataudi when listing their names).

This has always been a thorn in the flesh of Pakistan according to Tharoor as evinced by Pakistan captain Shoaib Malik’s communally tinged remark at the end of the 2007 World Twenty-20 final in which India beat Pakistan at Johannesburg.

Khan is defensive when comparing Pakistan’s treatment of its minorities with India. The controversial case of Yousuf Youhana who converted from Christianity to become Mohammad Yousuf is another subject on which the two disagree.

India, meet World; World, India! by Shrey Goyal, The Northeast Today
23 September, 2012

The college student does not want to know if the MEA has started engaging with Tony Abbott’s administration. Why would a fisherman care about the country’s relationship with SAARC? Or a housewife about India’s strategic objectives in Africa? Unless the man happens to be running a small business in Siliguri.Or the student is looking to pursue graduate school in Australia. Or the fisherman’s family lives in constant fear of accidentally entering someone else’s territorial waters and facing dire consequences. Even the housewife, juggling bills for fuel and food, is not left untouched by it all.

Shashi Tharoor’s most recent book, Pax Indica, explains why foreign policy matters for a country like India, and outlines how it could very well be a powerful instrument for her own domestic transformation. Beautifully written, Pax Indicais evocative of an engaging and exciting conversation which, while dotted with tongue-in-cheek anecdotes, misses neither the historical context nor the intricacies of the topic at hand.

In fact, it is important to point out the shades which the author has painted the work in. While Tharoor remains a celebrated scholar in the international relations space, this is not an academic work, but is instead meant to be read and understood by a plethora of readers, from the non-fiction aficionado high-scholar to the geopolitically-inclined enthusiasts. Another interesting amalgamation is that of Tharoor the former UN Under-Secretary General and Tharoor the MP for Thiruvananthapuram, both of whom can be seen and heard.

Pax Indica opens a window to the inner workings of the MEA and other domestic stakeholders in India’s dialogue with the rest of the world. The book also examines these links with different partners in some detail as well. The strategic approach taken by India, especially during the Nehruvian era, is showcased and reflected upon, and helps trace an outline of India’s identity and unique position in the world as a thought leader and as an emblem for self-righteousness and peaceful coexistence.

India’s unique challenges in grasping contemporary matters of flaunting soft power and public diplomacy are also discussed. It is extremely disconcerting for Tharoor as it is for the reader to see the persistence of infrastructural and logistical challenges plaguing India’s foreign policy, such as the understaffed diplomatic corps, the lack of structure, coordination, and personnel planning, and the absence of informed public debates, although the latter has seen some initiative in recent years.

Particularly noteworthy is the chapter on the complexities of living in ‘A Tough Neighbourhood’. India’s leviathan bulk and the sensitivity by which it is obliged to handle matters in the South Asian region make it the proverbial elephant in the room not only in terms of magnitude, but also due to the sheer awkwardness of conduct. Tharoor also laments the decline of the north-eastern states of India, which had a higher per capita income than most of the rest of the nation in 1947, but have since been “the stepchildren of India’s development,” cut-off from the heartland and suffering as a result of poor integration with Bangladesh.

The north-east comes up once again, as Tharoor demonstrates his central thesis that foreign policy, while focused outward, can bring much benefit to domestic populaces. The region can in fact, be thought of to be occupying prime real estate due to its significance not just for international relations but for commerce and tourism. Indeed, the north-east of India can act as a bridge for south Asian integration, linking two economically rich expanses of the continent. The wealth of the region in terms of biodiversity, cultural diversity, energy and mineral resources, and the human resource potential, is vast and waiting to be developed and tapped. India’s ‘Look East’ policy, can thus only be fully appreciated if the seven sisters states, each of whom has a long international border, are developed and revamped to avail of the economic consequences of our new-found kinship.

The book ends with a reminder of this nation’s sovereignty and independence of thought, and calls for realisation of a grand strategy involving a multi-aligned approach and playing a leadership role in shaping of the new world order. This leadership role is not about domination or superpower politics, but rather about a sense of responsibility in instilling global cooperation. A sense of peace that India can bring to the world. Pax Indica.

Shrey Goyal is based in New Delhi, and is the editor for MInd: The Mensa India magazine. He can be contacted at me@shreygoyal.com

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