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Democracy under critical spotlight in India-oriented books

The Indian democratic apparatus is increasingly being placed under a critical scanner by a new tribe of writers who are exploring the functional dynamics of the country to pin down faultlines and prescribe pills for change.

books Updated: Mar 08, 2013 17:22 IST
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad,Mahatma Gandhi,Jawaharlal Nehru

The Indian democratic apparatus is increasingly being placed under a critical scanner by a new tribe of writers who are exploring the functional dynamics of the country to pin down faultlines and prescribe pills for change.

Soon after the country became independent in 1947, icons and ideologues of the freedom movement like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Madan Mohan Malaviya and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad began to express their reflections of the nascent democracy in books that were sweeping commentaries on the making of a new India - often suggesting western-type growth models.

Now, a new breed of writers is critiquing the decline in the country's value system and questioning the erosion of some of the country's democratic institutions over the six-odd decades of independence.

Journalist-turned-novelist Anupam Srivastava speaks about how the lack of power can reduce the individual to a non-entity in a democracy. His debut novel, "A Piece of the Giant", comments on failed social reforms in an independent India and perpetuation of elite institutions that keep the divide between the rulers and the people intact. The narrative encompasses a fictional tale of the erstwhile ruler of Teekra who becomes a wandering seer after a brush with governance as reforms minister, his son Pratap, a woman with supernatural powers and a slogan writer.

"I have tried to understand the relationship between the rulers and the ruled is one of common people queuing up (at the rulers' door in Lutyen's Delhi - the bungalows that were once the symbols of colonial India). I have tried to find out the kind of democracy India had been striving for where you cannot prosecute a policeman, act against injustice and fight the injustice," Srivastava told IANS.

Management strategist, writer and TV presenter Pavan Choudary, the author of books like "A Trilogy of Wisdom", "Machiavelli for Moral People" and "When You are Sinking, Become a Submarine", challenges the notions of goodness and victory in a corrupt world in his new work, "How a Good Person can Win". It uses examples from everyday India and history to argue that goodness coupled with wisdom is a winning combination.

"Corruption is not the only big problem in our democracy; lack of education among voters is another. They are often swayed by traditional appeals of caste and kinship. Only in India is it possible to convince people and sell them a party on the strength of its election symbol," Choudary told IANS.

"We still have a traditional society that fails to understand the importance of science. The approach to the new solutions should be scientific, free of religious superstition," he said, adding: "Subhas Chandra Bose's solution to educate people before teaching them to vote (universal suffrage) is relevant to modern India".

Writer, commentator and social thinker Ramachandra Guha says the 10 political and social challenges that Indian democracy has to tackle headon are: Left wing extremism, religious extremism, a corrupt centre, decline of public institutions, the growing gap between the rich and the poor, environment degradation, political fragmentation of the electoral system, unreconciled borders, unstable neighbourhoods and apathy of the media.

In his new book, "Patriots and Partisans", Guha recommends a complete overhaul of the political system to do away with dynastic politics and a proactive role for the Left in the country's decision-making process.

Diplomat-politician-writer Shashi Tharoor, who had shot to fame with his satire about contemporary Indian politics and the democratic process in "The Great Indian Novel" using allegories from the "Mahabharata", advocates a more aggressive role for India in the changing global order in "Pax Indica", a study of India's foreign affairs down the decades.

He also urges greater "South Asian and regional solidarity" for a matured and stable democracy.

Diplomat-writer-politician Pavan K. Verma dons the mantle of a modern-day Chanakya to address "democratic reforms" in his new book, "Chanakya's New Manifesto: To Resolve the Crisis Within India" with a point-wise agenda to remedy the socio-political ills confronting India.

The writers seem to draw their lifelines from Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen's treatises like "The Argumentative Indian", "Development and Freedom", "The Idea of Justice" and "Hunger and Public Action" which smash decadent models in developing nations like India to open new avenues for progress.

"The list of new India writers with a discerning eye is formidable and growing", says veteran publisher Renu Kaul Verma.

The contemporary watchdog writers hark to the founding father of revolutionary critiques, B.R. Ambedkar, who ripped apart Indian social stereotypes in his books like "Annihilation of Caste in India" and "Essays on Untouchables and Untouchability".

"India will always be governed by a democratic process, and books have a key role to play in understanding how movements like those by Anna Hazare against corruption will align forces," Rajya Sabha member Ravi Shankar Prasad of the BJP told IANS on the margins of a book launch.

First Published: Mar 08, 2013 17:14 IST