Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Utopian Dream


Book Review

Title     : Swaraj
Author : Arvind Kejriwal
Publisher         : Harper Collins India & India Today Group, 2012
Pages               : 151                            Rs. 150

Arvind Kejriwal is driven by his passion to sweep clean the Indian political system.  His book, Swaraj, is redolent of that passion from the first page to the last.  The book, claims Anna Hazare on the front cover, “is a manifesto for our times and for the anti-corruption movement...” In fact, the book may be seen as a manifesto of Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party whose election symbol is the broom.

The book reads like a pamphlet written by a puritan mind seized with the zeal for political reformation.  The tone is very demagogic and self-righteous.  Examples are taken randomly from here and there to substantiate arguments without giving certain necessary details like the names of people or firms involved. 

There is only one central argument in the book: power should be given to the people of India and the gram panchayat is the ideal form of governance.  Let the people of each village take the decisions on matters that affect them.  Give power to the people to made decisions as well as to implement them.  That also means revenue which should be placed in the hands of the people.

Kejriwal makes it sound effective.  He gives apparently convincing arguments against all possible criticism of his view.  For example, if you question him on the efficacy of the gram panchayat  citing the example of perverted khap panchayats in some North Indian states he would say, “It is a matter of contention whether the khaps have given such judgements, but without getting into the debate, we would like to reiterate that under the present law, the gram sabhas do not enjoy such powers (as pronouncing death sentences)...” 

The real question is not what powers gram sabhas have or do not have, but whether they are incorruptible.  Kejriwal thinks that they are incorruptible.  A whole village cannot be corrupt, he thinks. 

It is true that Indian democracy stands in need of redemption from the many evils that plague it today.  But will Kejriwal’s suggestion be a real panacea as he would like us to believe? 

The book reads like a villager’s guide to the Aam Admi Party’s political vision.  Those who are aware of the country’s complexities – cultural, social, religious, ethnic, political, and so on – may find Kejriwal’s exuberant tongue lashing (which is how it came across to me) a rather simplistic utopian dream.


The book notwithstanding, I’m toying with the idea of casting my vote for the Aam Admi Party in the next general elections.  There's no harm in trying out a new idea.  As Kejriwal himself says in the book, if the gram sabha decides to steal the money sanctioned at least it will be the people for whom the money is meant that will be stealing it instead of the MPs, MLAs, bureaucrats and the middlemen.  That's quite a practical thinking.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to a student of mine who gave me the book for reading.  

27 comments:

  1. My grudge with Kejriwal's policies is similar to the difference of opinion between Tagore and Gandhi. Kejriwal is very inward looking(though a lot of people in India would justify that) and I believe that he will pick up the same track of governance that Nehru and Patel pickup up post 47. But this isn't the 50s and swedeshi and swaraj and both out of vogue(if not obsolete). If we are to keep up with growth, his model of decentralization has to be coupled with broader international trends. To my understanding, with him at the helm, that's not possible.

    By the way talking of swaraj, is it really possible? I'd be damned to think that even a country like the US(arguably the most independent country) practice Swaraj. It is akin to indirectly closing your economy to the outside and wasting your demographic dividend.

    Recently his party workers came to my house to ask for my support(as I was earlier involved with the movement in close tandem). I confronted them with my dilemma. A middle aged man among them said 'We'd like to start small'. I nodded but I was thinking that the problem is that they are 'thinking small'. Your vision could be grandiose but your world view remains as small as that of any other political party.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I share your concerns, Sid. I too don't find anything profound in Kejriwal's vision and I don't think the Aam Admi Party will be much different from other political parties in India. But the new broom sweeps cleaner than the older ones. So I'm ready for the trial.

      But I do take your concerns about swaraj seriously. India can't afford to isolate itself in today's world which has become too inter-dependent and connected. The pragmatics of implementing his vision and worldview will prompt Kejriwal to make necessary amendments, let's hope.

      Delete
  2. We are a connected world, no longer villages are self sustaining units that made/grew everything they needed. Today every thing is connected and I do not mean online. If too much of decentralization happens it may lead to choas.. Kejriwal has good ideas but even he does not know how he can implement them ( Assuming we will vote for him and not for caste/religion/region/Daru and cash)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kejriwal sounds like an impassioned idealist. Such idealism and passion have their dangers. Yet we are left with very little choice.

      Of course, we don't know what the electoral choice would be.

      Delete
  3. Indeed after reading this post I am building a very positive urge to read this book and the fact that it is written by Arvind Kejriwal..

    ReplyDelete
  4. Very good review of the book ! I liked your viewpoints on it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Most welcome to this space where viewpoint is all what matters.

      Delete
  5. A party is as good as its members. I was a staunch supporter of the AAP till its Mumbai branch accused Dr. Sunawalla of rape and demanded his punishment without waiting for forensic evidence or due process - very scary, especially because the newspaper stories made it all look cooked up. I still feel Arvind Kejriwal is a good person but was disappointed he didn't publicly censure his own party members for being so hasty in passing judgment before the courts had a chance to even look at the case.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear KayEm, can a politician ever censure his followers in public?

      There was a large number of intra-organisational squabbles among the India Against Corruption movement which gave birth to AAP. Kejriwal succeeded against all those odds. It means he is a worthy politician.

      Delete
    2. Replying to your question, can a politician ever censure his followers in public. If he can't even censure them for playing with a citizen's life what faith can the public have that he'll use the janlokpal against them at all? That there will be no discrimination between them and the rest? Actions speak so much louder than words.

      Delete
  6. Great review. Only time will tell, as politics has not spared anyone from getting dirty.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Power will corrupt even AAP members! But what choice do we, the people, really have?

      Delete
  7. The choices we have are so measly that we are ready for change in any form, anything which is new is always attractive, effectiveness I am not sure about. My only concern with Kejriwal is he is too media hungry and all that I can connect from that is another politician and not a true leader.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He is another politician, Athena, you're right. You are also right: we have little choice.

      Delete
  8. I too have my apprehensions about AK, because as the saying goes power corrupts....
    However it is nice to see that young persons are entering political arena so we should give them a try

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really would love to give AK a chance knowing all his limitations. I'm young at heart :)

      Delete
  9. Confidence Vs Arrogance

    Both , Sheila Dikshit ( Congress ) and Vijay Goel ( BJP ) , are loudly proclaiming that their party will win the forthcoming Delhi Assembly Elections , with a thumping majority

    Even Arvind Kejriwal ( Aam Aadmi Party ) is saying the same

    That is understandable , considering that the Commanders must enthuse their cadres

    Such confidence on their part is a pre-requisite for winning

    But what happens when Sheila Dikshit says ,


    “ Aam Aadmi Party ? Who are they ? Nobody !
    They don’t scare us . They are insignificant .
    What is their agenda ? What is their record ?
    People of Delhi will ignore them ! “


    Now , that is bravado

    People of Delhi !

    For over a decade , you have suffered this insult

    4th December is your time to teach a lesson to the arrogant rulers of Delhi

    By voting / electing , at least 40 AAP candidates

    Only you can give yourself a break !


    • hemen parekh ( 12 Oct 2013 )

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kudos to you. You are a nice propagandist.

      Let me say that I'm ready to vote AAP. What then? Is Delhi going to be a paradise? Will AAP perform miracles? Will Kejriwal be any different from Sheila Dikshit?

      He will be different from Narendra Modi, I'm sure: he won't kill Muslims.

      I'm voting for him provided the queue is not too long.

      Delete
  10. The one thing I have found in Arvind is that he is willing to evolve...I guess the book was written when he was politically Navie and I bet as he grows into a harden politician his views and ideologies would be very much different..
    How much of a difference he would make in delhi would be hard to tell.. but for the sake of this country's politics he should win as this would be a necessary wake up call for both the national parties

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Somewhere deep within me I too find longing for Kejriwal's victory. For reasons similar to the ones you've given.

      Delete
  11. Somehow I don't feel like reading this book. Ever. To me, it seems more like marketing of his political party than a book :(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wouldn't recommend it to you, Pankti. It's an election manifesto.

      Delete
  12. Kejriwal is a man driven by his passion, and along the way many people may join him and may bring with them ideas too...presently we need some honest people first and then ideas,,

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Honest people, hm... that's the problem.

      Can honesty and politics coexist? Don't forget that quite many in Kejriwal's team came under the scanner and failed.

      Delete