Reflections on India in Our Time

Atul K Thakur, Senior Associate Editor, INCLUSION

Book Review: Non-fiction/2014:India Shastra: Reflections on the Nation in Our Time by Shashi Tharoor, Aleph, 473pp; Rs695 (Hardback)

George Orwell had written his supremely brilliant novel Nineteen Eighty-Four or 1984 to unleash the real face of an imagined state, full with absolute power. He depicted the tyranny through a personified cult ‘Big Brother’, who as a quasi-divine party leader unwaveringly enjoys ‘intense cult of personality’.

Unlike the year 1984 represented in the book with no direct bearing with the actual time (as it was written like ‘prognosis’ long back) – Shashi Tharoor’s latest book, the final sequel of his three books series on India, leaves no stone unhurled in the initial sections of the book on the palpable rise and saturation of Narendra Modi at the centre.

In the compilation of essays, the book gathers enough points to offer a ‘transitory report card’ of the Modi Government. Although, Tharoor reportedly ruled it out – and highlighted, the focus of his book is more about the ‘Modification Drive’ rather on the ‘government-in-making’, lead by him.

Nevertheless in patches, Tharoor has made vociferous attack on the government for its ‘high rhetoric and low deliverance’ – which in his opinion is against the grand idea laid out by him in catchy ‘Achhe Din Aaane Wale Hain’. While delving little more straight as a persisting Nehruvian and Congress leader, he pronounced that the arrival of Modi in capital has essentially ensured the smooth running of ‘Abki Baar Confused Sarkar’.

In his opinion, the foundational strength of ‘idea of India’ based on the respect for diversity and democratic principles is under strain with the scaling-up of Modi’s Gujarat Model. Unlike his few conciliatory tweets, here he is quite forthright in distancing himself to be known only a liberal critic of the government.

With having keen eyes for details, Tharoor captures the overt changes, which are taking place in effect of the hyper-domineering presence of Modi in current national political scene. Further, the book interacts with the abrupt transformation of India’s politics, economy, foreign policy, media, civil rights, governance and various other aspects, which proved at times, directionless and disruptive.

Pointedly the book makes it thrust clear through flagging those promises made by the BJP (now the ruling regime) right before the historic 2014 Lok Sabha elections, but stood no ground after near ten months since last May.

Remarkably, the UPA Government came to a tragic halt with predictable inaction and indifference with incessant scams – hence, the new government was supposedly ought to work in tandem with the faith reposed in it by the vast populace of this noisy democracy. But here, the things are still in making – delicately reminds the author.

The hibernation among the Congress leaders is still continuing, and this is making dent to the revival of party’s prospects and their own positional status. The overt disconnect at many fronts led to their catastrophic performance during the last Lok Sabha elections and subsequently into the state polls. Tharoor’s efforts here come as a breather in the time of high inaction, spread like flu in his party.

With considerable ingenuity, Shashi Tharoor can appear at a time into the firm roles of scholar and politician – this makes his writing distinctly changed from his earlier avatar as a pure writer and senior UN Official.

Also from the book, worthwhile is reading the reminiscences of Tharoor – most interesting among those are his take on his alma mater St. Stephens College in Delhi. Antithetical to his tweets and bytes given to the media, Tharoor’s overtures with the writings are less prone to be marred in controversy.

India Shastra is definitely a refreshing read, on account of how timely it is placed. This is indeed an exciting time to look on the changing India and its tryst with the changed outcomes.

(Atul K Thakur can be reached at atul@skoch.in)

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