Book Reviews

The Lively Adventures of an Indian Diplomat

Book: "Words, Words, Words - Adventures in Diplomacy"; Author: T.P. Sreenivasan; Publisher: Pearson Longman; Price: Rs.600.

These days, when the Indian government is in the midst of exacting negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to draft a new safeguards agreement with the country, it is worthwhile to recall that an eminent Indian played a major role in shaping the nuclear watchdog at the time of its establishment.

Homi Bhabha, who laid the foundations of India's nuclear journey, was closely involved with the IAEA at the time of its inception and a bust of Bhabha adorns the entrance to the IAEA boardroom. Bhabha was also instrumental in having the IAEA situated in Vienna.

New York and Vienna were the leading candidates for locating the atomic energy agency, but Bhabha's love for Western music clinched the case for Austria, according to the book by T.P. Sreenivasan, a former diplomat who was India's governor on the board of the IAEA at the turn of the century.

The IAEA was founded in 1956 to "accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world". India became a permanent member of the IAEA board as one of the 10 "most advanced in the technology of atomic energy, including the production of source materials".

India continues to play a useful role at the IAEA whose boardroom has two wooden panels depicting scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. This is one of the nuggets of information embedded in Sreenivasan's memoirs titled "Words, Words, Words - Adventures in Diplomacy".

Sreenivasan had a varied career with postings in Washington, Kenya, Austria and Fiji - a country he left just a day before the host government could expel him. In an immensely readable account, he writes about the difficult days in Washington after the nuclear tests in 1998, trying to thaw the frozen India-US ties. One of the reasons for the change in the US position on the Kargil intrusion, he writes, was a revealing tape record of a conversation between then chief of staff Gen. Pervez Musharraf and his deputy Lt Gen Mohammad Aziz that was made available to Americans by the Indian side. The conversation between Musharraf in Beijing and Aziz in Pakistan, intercepted by the Indian intelligence agencies, was a masterstroke because it showed that the army had masterminded the whole operation involving Pakistani soldiers.

President Bill Clinton had wanted then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to attend the Blair House meeting with Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif on July 4, 1999, which was arranged at Pakistan's initiative. But India was not in favour of Tashkent being re-enacted on the Potomac, the author writes, recalling the meeting between the Indian and Pakistani leaders at Tashkent after the 1965 war. President Clinton, however, called up Vajpayee twice to apprise him of the developments. According to the author, Vajpayee either said nothing or asked president Clinton in his characteristic style, "What do you want me to say?"

In another instance, Sreenivasan relates how while serving in Fiji, he learnt one fine morning that his golf partner Lt Col Sitiveni Rabuka had walked into the Fiji Parliament and staged an armed coup. India took a tough stance as Fiji citizens of Indian descent were targeted and victimised after the coup. Some months later on the golf course on a Sunday morning Sreenivasan heard the rumour that the Fiji government had decided expel him for a speech that he had made at a gurdwara some days ago. As the next day was a government holiday, it allowed the Indian government to take pre-emptive action and announce his appointment to a post in New Delhi. Angry about the leak, Rabuka insisted that the Indian envoy leave the country within 72 hours. Peppered with such anecdotes, "Words, Words, Words" is a book written in a lively style about an adventurous diplomatic life.

(Shubha Singh can be reached at       


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