Distinguished Indian Bureaucrats Debate India's Evolving Place in the World

An Anecdotal Insight into Indian Diplomacy

Rajendra Abhyankar and Mani Shankar Aiyar

MUMBAI, July 22 2013 - The history of India's foreign policy is a fascinating story of rapid transformation from British colony to fiercely independent emerging world power. Independent India has had a profound effect on the global stage, from pioneering the non-aligned movement in the Cold War to the booming growth that has made it into a prominent economic power. Meanwhile, India has faced external challenges stemming from tense relations its neighbours and uncertainty in defining its relationship with the West.

To foster a better understanding of India's foreign policy and the evolution of its footing on the global stage, the Asia Society India Centre, as a part of its 'South Asia in Focus' series, presented a discussion between Rajendra Abhyankar and Mani Shankar Aiyar in celebration of the release of Abhyankar's book Stuff Happens: An Anecdotal Insight into Indian Diplomacy. Abhyankar served in the Indian Foreign Service for more than three decades including as India's ambassador to the European Union, Secretary at the Ministry of External Affairs and numerous other official postings. He has also been President of the Hinduja Foundation, Director of the Asia Foundation in San Francisco and currently works as an adjunct professor at Indiana University. Aiyar served as a colleague of Abhyankar's in the Indian Foreign Service for 26 years. He now serves as a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha. Among many political achievements, Aiyar served as a member of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh's first Cabinet and won the 2006 Outstanding Parliamentarian Award.

The vast array of experiences Abhyankar and Aiyar gained in their prolific careers in formulating Indian foreign policy generated a lively and provocative discussion. Rather than repeating shared opinions, Aiyar insisted on focusing on the points of disagreement he encountered while reading Abhyankar’s book. The two debated topics spanning Indian history: from their contrasting understanding of India’s relative global power when serving as colleagues in the Indian mission in Brussels in the early 1970s to India’s current prerogative of economic growth and its stance on recent events including the Arab Spring and Global Financial Crisis. In addition to their hard hitting analysis, Abhyankar and Aiyar recounted gripping personal anecdotes that illustrated the unseen and sometimes highly amusing realities of the art of diplomacy.

To hear more of Abhyankar and Aiyar’s discussion and gain further insight into the past, present and future of India’s place in the world, watch the video highlights of the programme below.

Reported by Thomas Pierce, Intern, Asia Society India Centre.