“Indian diplomacy,” a veteran practitioner of the art once said to me, “is like the love-making of an elephant. It is conducted at a high level, accompanied by much bellowing, and the results are not known for two years.” Fortunately, this has become less true; Indian diplomacy is increasingly acquiring a reputation for nimbleness and pragmatism. But one constant remains—the paucity of worthwhile books on Indian foreign policy for the serious reader. I have been working intermittently on one myself, three decades after publishing Reasons of State in a different national and international context. Meanwhile, the deficiency has been remedied by an impressive book by a former Canadian ambassador to India, David Malone.
Malone’s Does the Elephant Dance? is a solidly researched, lucid analysis of Indian foreign policy. It immerses itself in Indian history to seek the wellsprings of continuity in India’s relations with the world, and studies the role of domestic politics and internal compulsions, as well as the impact of external security challenges. Unlike scholars more interested in geopolitics, Malone has a fine appreciation of the significance of domestic and international economic factors in foreign policy-making. The “Hindu rate of growth”, India’s “soft power”, the role of migration and India’s aspirations to play a significant role on the UN Security Council are discussed with insight and sympathy. Separate chapters examine the specifics of India’s policies toward its neighbours, and individually with China, the US, West Asia, East and Southeast Asia, Europe and Russia, and multilateral diplomacy. The text is a goldmine for scholars—extensively footnoted, replete with charts and tables and even digressive “box” inserts on subjects from the Green Revolution to the global reach of the Aditya Birla Group. It is informed by the empathy of a talented practitioner of the diplomatist’s craft, since Malone spent a professional lifetime in the Canadian foreign service.