Friday, December 2nd, 2022 17:56:09

From My Bookshelf

By Sanjeev Chopra
Updated: June 8, 2021 2:01 pm

Perhaps the best way to understand   a nation in the context of a civilization is the world’s longest epic poem: the Mahabharata. The opening canto in the Bhagwad Geeta is a conversation between the Kuru King Dhritrashtra and his charioteer Sanjaya in which the King wants to know about the formation of armies on the sides of the Pandavas and the Kauravas. While the more significant names are mentioned in the verse of the first chapter, we understand from other passages in the Mahabharata and the Bhagwad Purana that there were twenty-eight armies on the side of the Pandavas, fifty-one on the side of the Kauravas, and five, including Kashmir remained neutral. This covered the entire stretch from Gandhara (now in Afghanistan on the North to the Laukhatiya, Anga Desh and Nepal on the east, the Andhras, Cholas, Dravidas and Pandayas in the South, and Dwarka in the West. All these territories represented a particular ‘world view’ and though were different nations and tribes, they were part of the civilization which was based on a common code of conduct, including conduct in war, and sense of right, wrong and obligations, such that patriarchs like Bheeshma Pitamah were revered by both sides.  Likewise, the Holy Roman Empire and the Khalifate of Constantinople were civilizational constructs of the Cross and the Crescent to which many nations ‘belonged’.

Harsh Madhusudan and Rajeev Mantri in their book ‘A New Idea of India: Individual Rights in a Civilizational State’ take up the intellectual gauntlet of placing India and the rights of her individual citizens in the context of the new state that was ‘constituted’ on 15th August when power was formally transferred to the portioned Dominions of India and Pakistan. Here I would like to mention that contrary to a powerful section in the Political Department of British India which wanted the dominions to be called Hindustan and Pakistan, we chose to call ourselves India, that is Bharat.  Bharat and Mahabharata have been part of the Indian psyche from millennia, and even when dynasties were at war, there was a civilizational connect – a reference to Dharma, with all its myriad interpretations. Hindustan on the other hand was a different cultural and civilizational construct. And so, the adoption of the name, India that is Bharat is significant, and this is also the opening chapter of this book.  This is about eschewing certitude (a characteristic feature of the Abrahamic religions) in favor of a skeptical and questioning approach (The Hymn of creation in the Rig Veda), and acknowledging that Indian Renaissance was not a linear path without any contradictions. It talks about the narrative for a new India which, among other things should expand and strengthen state capacity – in terms of judges, policemen, prosecutors and administrators. It discusses the pitfalls of Nehruvian narrative -non alignment, ‘consociationalism’ (power sharing among identarian groups), community based   civil codes   and the dumbing of the entrepreneurial spirit. The authors mark the transition of India from a ‘predominantly collectivist and rural reality’ to one that is more ‘urban and individualistic’. The last Nabard survey has shown that less than fifty percent Indians are now dependent on agriculture, and even amongst those who depend on agriculture, cereal production counts for less than half the income, and that farm families are either into High Value Agriculture (dairying, horticulture, poultry and eggs) or non-farm jobs.

In the next chapter ‘From Civilization to Nation’ the authors make a clear distinction between the state and society and quote Ayn Rand ‘the smallest minority on the earth is the individual, and those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities. In ‘Saving Secularism from the Secularists’, they quote Acharya Kriplani ‘I charge you (Nehru) with communalism because you are bringing forward a law about monogamy only for the Hindu community. Take it from me that the Muslim community is prepared to have it, but you are not brave enough to do it’. The Congress never backed Maulana Azad, Hamid Dalwai, and later Arif Mohammad Khan who spoke against ‘obscurantist medievalism’ and preferred to treat the Muslim vote as its own pocket- borough. Harsh and Rajeev also make a strong case on Free speech which, though an article of faith during the Freedom Movement was curtailed through the First Amendment itself.

The key message of the next chapter ‘Profit is not a Dirty word’ is best expressed in this statement from JRD Tata when he received the Bharat Ratna in 1992: ‘I must confess that I have been very frustrated. When I was young, I was an angry young man: we were under foreign rule, people were oppressed. Now I am an angry old man because of all the opportunities that have been missed’.

Although Nehru had his way with large steel and power plants in the state sector, thanks to peasant leaders like Charan Singh and the stout opposition of leaders like Sucheta Kriplani, the collectivization of agriculture which the Planning Commission was proposing was stalled. This columnist has argued in favor of farm Bills in Uday India and other fora, because unless farmers get control over their own produce, they will never get equality in terms of trade. Rajeev and Harsh attribute the ubiquity of mobile phones in the country to the telecom policy initiated by the first NDA regime under Vajpayee.

If meta- narratives do not present options and workable solutions, they have limited value. The last two chapters ‘Decolonizing the Indian State and India’s moment do just that. The authors are quite critical of the state apparatus which is built on the generalist IAS, and make a strong case for shorter, assignment-based contracts lateral entry, and a dilution of Article 311, which makes it very difficult to remove a civil servant. Here one must point out that a deeper reading of the context of Article 311 is important – it was to ensure that civil servants give their advice without fear or favour, and in any case, the second sub-clause of Article 311 allows dismissal in case the situation so warrants, and the Modi government has shown that it can exercise this option.  The authors hail GST and the new IBC code as the harbingers of change in the way business will be done in the country, and make a strong case for refocusing the government. ‘the state will perform best when it restricts itself to roles and responsibilities that cannot, or should not, be carried out by the private sector – internal security, defence, justice, market regulation, and welfare in domains where markets have not worked well’.

Finally, the book is about   getting rid of ‘allodoxaphobia: the fear of opinions’ the more the merrier, and this is what contrasts this book from Sunil Khilnani’s who spoke of just one idea of India: The Nehruvian idea, and gave him all the credit for shaping   the socialist, secular Republic which was not part of Dr Ambedkar’s Preamble.   This book talks of so many ideas – from M C Chagla to Veer Sarvarkar, Hamid Dalwai to JRD Tata, Nehru, Dr Ambedkar, Shayama Prasad Mookerjee to Nani Phalkiwala, and herein lies its USP.

The second book this week is’ Khaki in Dust Storm: Communal Colours and Political Assassinations 1980-1991’ by Amodh K Kanth, a distinguished police officer who made a mark for himself, not just in the world of investigation and crime control, but also as a child rights activist and a public intellectual who has raised issues– from   human trafficking to juveniles in conflict with the law, as well as about larger issues of governance – in the public domain.   As the sub title of the book suggests, the decade of the eighties was indeed one of the most dangerous decades (apologies to Selig Harrison) for this was the period which saw insurgencies and political assassinations which shook the political fabric of the country.

What comes out from the book is that the basic canon of policing is still based on Fear, rather than Trust. Well, it had to be based on fear for the Police Act of 1861 was drafted within five years of the Great Rebellion which shook the British empire to its very core. Kanth makes a strong case for community-oriented policing. He is strongly opposed to the culture of ‘heroic policing ‘in which encounter cops revel in the extra -legal for this does   great damage to the system in the long run.

The book has an interesting conversational format. Rather than one long monologue, Kanth has introduced a journalist by the name of Aradhana Hurpikar as his interlocutor. She asks him questions, seeks clarifications, expresses interest or anguish as the context demands. Thus, in response to her questions on what it takes to be a successful police officer in Delhi, Kanth gives her a description of the various police districts of Delhi, and how different they are from each other.  When he describes central Delhi – the area from Daryaganj to Paharganj on one side and the Red Fort, Jama Masjid, Chandni Chowk up to Tis Hazari on the other side along with the famous gates (Lahori, Ajmeri, Dilli, Turkman) and forts (Lal Quila, Purana Quila) it seems that the area described in Delhi 6 comes out active and alive. This is in sharp contrast with West Delhi colonies like Punjabi Bagh, Tilak Nagar, Kirti Nagar – and both these are quite a contrast with the New Delhi police district which roughly coincide with Lutyens Delhi – one of the greenest, poshest and best kept municipalities’ anywhere in the world.

Kanth was also roped in to investigate the assassination of Rajeev Gandhi by the LTTE.  Here again, one notices that as in the case of Punjab, political parties were actively engaged in giving implicit support to the terrorist groups. one can infer that unless terrorist outfits are given political and financial support from organized state actors, they cannot have the range of influence which they exercise.

Last but not the least Kanth points out that one of the weakest links in the chain of criminal justice administration is prosecution. Not only do we need fast track courts and judicial officers who can look both into the letter as well as the spirt of law, we also need good, competent and sincere prosecutors whose professional contribution must also be respected and acknowledged by society.

Both the books will help the reader to get a clear understanding of both he civilizational construct as well as the ‘ever day ‘lived experience of a citizen in her encounters with the law enforcement agencies. The first comes from the world of ideas, the second is based on the notes from the ground. Both complement each other, but it would be better to start with A New Idea of India to understand why the Khakhi is in the dust storm.



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