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Why S Jaishankar thinks that Krishna and Hanuman are the greatest diplomats

The Minister of External Affairs of India speaks about how Ramayana and Mahabharata offer valuable lessons in diplomacy.

Why S Jaishankar thinks that Krishna and Hanuman are the greatest diplomats

Friday May 10, 2024 , 4 min Read

Key Takeaways

External affairs minister S Jaishankar believes there are a lot of lessons to be learnt from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

He believes statecraft can be learnt from these epics and implemented in decision-making.

The minister’s book 'Why Bharat Matters' takes inspiration from the story of Lord Rama’s trials and tribulations in the Ramayana.

His other book, 'The India Way', borrows from the Mahabharata and the dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjun during the latter’s confidence crisis.

Decision making is rarely a black and white choice. There are multiple factors to consider, the impact, the pros and cons of each decision, and the reasons for the particular decision.

As the external affairs minister of India, S Jaishankar faces such situations daily in matters of international affairs. And when in doubt, the minister turns to India’s greatest epics.

“The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are live epics where interpretations are being made constantly. I have always felt that there is something in these epics for everyone. People should make some effort to read, understand, and relate to them,” says S Jaishankar, the Minister of External Affairs of India, in an interview.

In his book, Why Bharat Matters, the minister draws inspiration from the Ramayana, the epic that offers valuable lessons about the triumph of good over evil. Some of the instances that find notable mentions include Lord Rama’s intervention in a war between Vali and Sugriva, and Hanuman’s role as Lord Rama’s emissary to Lanka.

“The two greatest diplomats are Shri Krishna and Hanuman. I spoke about it on various occasions and my views caught on among people,” he adds.

The minister's views find relevance when the West is increasingly looking towards India to form strategic partnerships in areas such as culture, tourism, defence, manufacturing, and services. The world is interested in India’s traditions and its historical roots. Minister Jaishankar believes that this is the opportune time for Indians to just delve into the great epics and spread their core messages.

Going back to the roots

Politics and statecraft have traditionally relied on Western philosophies and literature such as Homer’s The Iliad or Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince. Minister Jaishankar was keen to find examples of strategy and diplomacy from India while writing his books.

His first book, The India Way, borrows from the Mahabharata and the lessons to be learned from Lord Krishna’s ideas. Why Bharat Matters, on the other hand, draws inspiration from the Ramayana and Lord Rama’s staunch adherence to ethics, justice, and equality.

The minister derived these thoughts from his early days. S Jaishankar’s childhood was spent recollecting stories from the Indian epics. His grandfather used to narrate stories from the Ramayana, what Lord Rama did in difficult circumstances, and why certain decisions were taken.

“My father also had a role to play. He constantly used analogies from the Mahabharata to question us and make us think about why certain decisions were taken in it,” he adds.

These stories make their way to the minister’s books seamlessly. For instance, in the Mahabharata, Arjuna and his rival cousin Duryodhana are asked to choose between Lord Krishna’s army or his participation without weapons ahead of the Kurukshetra war. Arjuna chooses Lord Krishna’s participation, recognising the value of the latter’s clarity of thought and foresight. This example can be applied to issues of national security to enhance competitiveness by thinking out of the box.

Taking the epics global

The minister believes that what makes the Indian epics unique is that there are multiple versions of them being published even today.

He recently read a translation of Randamoozham, a Malayalam novel by MT Vasudevan Nair that chronicles the Mahabharata through Bhima’s perspective. Similarly, he mentions The Palace of Illusions, an English mythological novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni that narrates the Mahabharata as seen through Draupadi's eyes.

“You may be a politician, a businessperson, or a journalist. I want you to read the epics and find portions that are relevant to you. Make it part of your vocabulary and your thinking,” says the minister.

But merely reading and following its principles are not enough. As a step forward, the external affairs minister wants Indians to propagate and be proud of it. He wants the epics to go global.