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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 12

Lop-sided View of Indian Politics and Misgivings

Monday 10 March 2008, by Amna Mirza

BOOK REVIEW

Political and Incorrect: The Real India, Warts and All by Tavleen Singh; Harper Collins, New Delhi; 2008.

Here comes a compilation of articles by Tavleen Singh, who needs no introduction to the journalist fratenity in the country. The book covers a wide terrain—her insights from 1987 till the present time. Her writing style is lucid and explicit. The issues chosen for this book are of foremost concern today like Mayawati’s ascendancy to the throne, the Uphaar tragedy, governance in limbo, saffronisation of education, reservation in educational institutions. These are some of the subjects dwelt at length in the publication.

Her description of the context in which news is taking shape is indeed commendable but what is lacking is the analysis. Mere criticism and narration of the problem at hand is an old method of raking up issues. The country in the present century cannot afford to only harp on problems but search for alternatives, solutions and answers.

Let us go through a few chapters in the book. In the chapter ‘The Land of Elected Criminals’, she makes no reference to the efforts of the Election Commission to purge the polity of money and muscle power in elections. This article appeared in 2006 when electronic voting machines were in place. In the chapter ‘Jihad at Our Door’, she fails to track the problem of terrorism as a non-traditional security threat, cutting across all borders. In the chapter ‘Development-Dud’, no explanation is given as to how the MPLADS scheme will affect our federal model, where gross injustice will be done to the State and local governments by imposing the Union Government representatives upon them. In the chapter ‘India’s Killing Fields’, she does not speak of land reforms in the context of Indian agriculture or tell us how a subject in Union list like international trade affects a State subject like agriculture.

An insightful analysis of the issues of Indian politics calls for an understanding of the problems at hand while suggesting remedies to them. Corruption, disregard of rule of law, maladminis-tration and bureaucratic apathy are problems persisting over a considerable length of time. There can be no panacea at one go. What we are missing is that mere criticism is not enough; we are creating only a negative ambience of cynicism and pessimism.

A veteran journalist like her could have taken inspiration from Chake-De India, where the point is to uproot the gendered, discriminating, communal, clandestine state of sports by sheer determinism.

OUR past and present are no different. History has a cyclical tendency to repeat. On this foreground, Tavleen’s work is invaluable as it provides a good track record of churning of ideas, issues, and events in Indian politics. ‘Why does the vaunted patriotism of the RSS take up development issues?’, ‘what can ordinary people hope when it takes fifteen-twenty years for terrorists to be punished?’, ‘if there is seriousness of purpose CBI raids are not the solution as they tend to be selective and politically motivated’ are interesting observations. Students, journalists, academicians, government servants, common people will find it worthwhile to discern Indian politics through her writing.

However, gauging the present state of India, when it is pegged to play an important role in international, economic, knowledge arenas, there is an onus on educationally enlightened citizens, and Tavleen for sure falls in this genre, to move beyond the blinkered vision of criticism of present-day maladies. It is time now to act and improve the conditions.

There is scarcely any article on local government, the problem of unemployment, the problem multiculturalism where States want to disintegrate and how the regional leaders are important players here, the issue of reservation of women, the rise of governance to replace government, the Gandhain ethos. She fails to understand that the ambit of present-day politics is not relegated to state and bureaucracy alone. The market, transnational corporations, international organisations are other important players. She is unable to note the adjustment processes underway amongst them. There is a unlinear understanding of power—so as to rule over others. She neglects the role of persuasion, influence and outcomes involved in power gimmicks. There is no mention about civil society rejuvenation and grassroots social movements as responses to repressive policies of the ‘Hobbesian Leviathan’. She fails to comprehend how the balance of power is under turbulence with the government moving away from being ‘executive’-driven to being ‘judiciary’-driven with a surge of judicial activism and how the media as a tool of vested interests has enfeebled ideology as a whole. This speaks volumes about the lop-sided nature of her work, which does not fulfil the curiosity of this reviewer’s young mind.

The reviewer is doing her M.Phil. in Political Science, University of Delhi.

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