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Review of Prabhakar’s The Crooked Timber of New India | Joydip Ghosal

Saturday 16 September 2023



The Crooked Timber of New India
Essays on a Republic in Crisis

by Parakala Prabhakar

Speaking Tiger Books


ISBN: 9789354474132

An insightful commentary on ‘New India’

The fascinating and searing commentary titled The Crooked timber Of New India, Essays on a Republic in Crisis by Parakala Prabhakar is an honest attempt to speak truth to powers that be. This book published by speaking Tiger is compilation of essays written over a period of three years from 2020 to 2023. Parakala Prabhakar is an eminent political economist. Apart from that he is an unabashedly critical voice who is very much concerned about our state of democracy. An alumni of Jawaharlal university and London school of Economics he was the communication advisor to the Government of Andhra Pradesh between 2014 and 2018. He is at present the MD of a knowledge based enterprise RightFOLIO. From the blurb of the book we come to know that he is married to Nirmala Sitharaman, the Finance Minister of our country. He is a regular columnist on current affairs and conducts a popular Youtube channel named Midweek Matters.

In this book it is clearly evident that he is determined to show its readers why complacency coupled with deafening silence is no longer a suitable option for any citizen who ponders over the future of our republic. It is a critical time when ruling dispensation’s digital army and lapdog media work round the clock to disseminate pro- establishment noise. According to him our society, polity and economy and society are broken. We were told that a new era began in May 2014. There are unmistakable signs of degeneration. Sanjaya Baru said that Prabhakar’s essays point towards the growing gaps between performance and promises of political establishment. The most prominent example can be cited as Mr. Narendra Modi. He does not inspire much confidence in his promise of good governance. His handling of economy is tantamount to disaster. Mr. Baru rightly said that his essays are clear indication of the fact that he does not have proclivity of pontificating from ivory towers. Rather he is a keen observer of the minute changes of ground realities.

The book begins with a quotation of Immanuel Kant ‘Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing can be made.’When Mr. Modi came to power he delivered his victory speech in Vadodara. There he declared that good days were upon us. But experience proved otherwise. He squandered many state level mandates and two huge national mandates. According to Mr. Parakala Prabhakar the ruling dispensation continues to be in a state of denial. With belligerent attitude the BJP loyalists remain convinced that with their leader a new dawn has arrived. In order to dismantle the narrative the author attempts to collate disparate elements to delve deeper into the aspects and serious ramifications. Deftly he foregrounds vital facts. Our sycophant pro-establishmnt media rain upon us misinformation. With his felicity of prose Mr.Prabhakar endeavours that true facts are not buried under there barrage of misinformation campaign. While discussing our job scenario he unequivocally establishes that employment in this country is a declining trend. No data on employment gets released by government. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy reported in August 2022 that the country’s unemployment rate rises up to 8.3%. 2.1 million jobs get evaporated from labour market. The ruling dispensation is trying to put a blinker on our eyes. The country is not able to return back to pre- pandemic level. The flight of capital continues unabated. Mr. Prabhakar believes that the staggering incompetence of this regime is the reason of economic woes that plagues the hapless millions. Instead of cohesive economic strategy and well thoughtout plan it sells public sector assets. As an economist it does not misses his observant eyes that ruling dispensation only parrots the market ideology steeped in the tenets of neo- liberalism. Lackeys and cronies continue to be benefitted by short- change of assets. In pursuit of absolute supremacy dissenting voices and opposition leaders are hounded. In a bid to cow down the eminent think tanks their offices are raided. The author without no hesitation states that with the misuse of investigative agencies compliant officers are appointed to conduct the affairs of the probing agencies. It reaches an unprecedented level. These are the ploys to silence and terrorize the opposition. In his inimitable style he writes that voodoo economists hold sway now. Clueless government convinced by them takes disastrous measures like demonetization. In this book he discusses threadbare how the phony stimulus package during pandemic did not bear fruits. While he interacted with general people during that fateful time he realized that common people are not prepared to trust the governance with their livelihoods. He deliberates upon the governance during Covid-19.The narrative of denial of that massive human tragedy and the inescapable stark reality gets exposed with his scathing powerful essays. While demanding an independent public enquiry he presents before us the responses of different countries and their accountability during the pandemic. He is firm in his position while demanding independent probe because the appropriateness and adequacy of state’s economic and financial responses needs an objective overhaul so that preparations in future can incorporate most suitable features and exclude redundant ones. He draws our attention to the hapless condition of the migrant laborers. The heartlessness of governance was prominent to us when the society and mighty state abandoned them as they were desperate to go back home.

The author brings to the fore that for the first time since 1990s, the number of people below the poverty line has significantly increased. He further adds that the country added 75 million to the world’s poor in 2021 alone. In the UNDP Global Human Development Index our country degraded to the position of 132 out of 191 countries. In the Global Hunger Index 2022 India ranked 107th out of 121 countries. Industries which are small and medium scale in nature still suffer from pounding executed by demonetization. Citing various instances he shows the glaring truth that this dispensation is obsessed with untrammeled power. ‘Rejection at the ballot box is no longer an impediment for the BJP in forming government’. Sedition charges are slapped on those who post comments that are critical of the majoritarian ideology. Instead of accountability and valid information we have glib talks and catchy slogans.

He discussed in this book how a person booked under UAPA gets acquittal because evidence furnished by law enforcers could not stand in court. Fr. Stan Swamy was not the only one who died in custody as UAPA undertrial. Through this book we get to know that Kanchan Nanaware who was arrested in 2014 breathed his last because of brain ailment and cardiac arrest in custody. The 2019 amendment made the law more stringent. In March 2021, 122 people who were charged with UAPA got acquittal by a trial court after languishing in prison for 19 years. In May 2021 a Mumbai court acquitted Mohammed Irfan and Mohammed Ilyas of charges foisted on them under UAPA. They had spent nine years in prison. Basheer Ahmed Baba incarcerated in prison for 11 years in Gujarat. He hailed from Kashmir. A court acquitted him of the charges that he had connection with Hizbul Mujahideen.

We are shocked when we are faced with the stark fact that in 2019 there were 109 internet shutdowns in India out of 155 internet shutdowns. The author expressed his concern that IT(Intermediary guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules provides unchecked and enormous power to the government over digital platforms. On the other hand we have ruling party’s digital army that ram into our public discourse by avalanche of pro- establishment agenda.

This clearly establishes that the social fabric of our republic is torn. In order to advance its political ideology it tap into the cleavages and animosities that lie dormant in a stratified society like us. The evangelists of this divisive creed influence the public narrative. We realize this more accurately when we read the essay named Subhas Bose and New India’s Legacy Raiders. In this essay he clearly shows that the ruling dispensation is trying to appropriate Bose overlooking his ideological proclivities. In order to substantiate this he points towards the insidious attempt where the antagonistic relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and Subhas Bose is shown as clash between Nehru and Bose. Mr. Prabhakar shows that Subhas Bose disagreed with Mahatma’s effort of waging a struggle. But he had deep and heart-felt respect for him.

This book covers a large spectrum ranging from Farm laws to Lakhimpur Kheri. This book make us aware of the tyranny of majoritarianism and ‘ uncritical support for the ruling party and its shrill, bombastic leaders’. Mere electoral defeat will not resist this onslaught. This invaluable book, which is a prism of this critical juncture connecting the dots, presents the true picture of ‘New India’ being fashioned before us.

(Review author: Joydip Ghosal is a human rights activist)

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