Dayal joined the Indian Civil Service in 1933 and was posted in the then United Provinces for the first 15 years of his career. After Independence, he served in the Indian Foreign Service, and retired as foreign secretary in 1968. Barring the first and last two chapters, the book focuses on his professional life. A number of former ICS officers who joined the foreign service and reached its higher echelons have written their biographies. Comparisons, though invidious, are inevitable. A common characteristic in the biographies written by Indian civil servants of Dayal's generation is the claim by them that though being members of the British civil service, they were at heart committed nationalists supporting the national freedom movement. The chapters, "Going Through the Paces", "Clodhopping Collector" and "Changing of the Guard" are refreshingly devoid of this pretence. He is matter of fact and eschews nationalistic political motivations about joining the ICS.
It must be remembered that Dayal was a district officer during the last decade-and-a-half of India's freedom struggle. UP was in the forefront of ideological and political activities. He regretfully does not touch upon any aspect of the nationalistic fervour or political dynamics of UP, which was the cradle of nearly half the political leadership which came to power in India at the time of Independence.
Chapters 5 to 16 cover Rajeshwar Dayal's diplomatic experience in different assignments. He served in Moscow between 1948 and 1950, had a brief stint as advisor to the governor of Assam, went on to become deputy permanent representative of India at the UN and ambassador to Yugoslavia. In the late Fifties, he was appointed high commissioner to Pakistan, a posting interrupted by his missions on behalf of the UN to Lebanon and Congo, which led him on into the final phase of his career as ambassador to Paris and then his short stint as foreign secretary before retiring.
The inescapable impression one gets is that Dayal is not terribly interested in momentous political events and impulses which generated them, except when he was on assignment with the UN. He served in Moscow at the inception of the Cold War, in the aftermath of the Potsdam conference, at a time when NATO was being established. He does not touch upon the consequent effects on Soviet foreign policy or the evolving adversary relationship between the Eastern and Western blocs in any detail. A similar disinterest informs Dayal's writing about his days in Yugoslavia and France.
Besides, he was foreign secretary in 1968, when India decided finally not to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and was coping with the fallout of the Tashkent Declaration, consequent to the fading influence of Field Marshal Ayub Khan. These events also bypass his attention and analysis.
The chapters dealing with discussions on the Kashmir issue in the UN, his work as special representative of the secretary-general in Lebanon and Congo and his analysis of the UN's role in these crises provide a sharp contrast. These contain a detailed and cogent recalling of events, they are rich in analysing the attitudes of the protagonists involved and insightful about political undercurrents of India's attitudes and policies. These chapters provide information and analysis not available in any other book on these subjects that I have read.
Interestingly, Dayal deals with the initial and important phase of the evolution of India's nuclear policies only in procedural terms. One recalls that he was an advocate of India signing the NPT, an advice overruled by Mrs Gandhi. The book would have been a significant work of reference had Dayal chosen to write about the substance of his views on this subject and his disagreement with the political leadership.
Dayal makes three points of general political interest in the concluding chapters. First, he did not approve of non-competition-walas reaching the top echelons of the foreign service. Though he does not name P.N. Haksar, he talks about "a middle-level officer" of the service becoming secretary to the prime minister and exercising noninstitutional influence in the decision-making. He is also critical of the ruling party's advocacy in the mid-'60s and early '70s that the public service in India should be committed to the ideology of the ruling party, an absolutely valid point. He also questions the role that the Research and Analysis Wing of the Cabinet Secretariat (the premier counter-intelligence agency of India) plays in foreign policy matters, a view shared by many in our foreign policy establishment. Lastly, he was opposed to the left-of-centre economic policies of the Government of India when he was in service. These issues are still relevant today and deserve wider debate.