It is no secret that the youth in our Parliament are largely products of dynastic privilege. These babalog, most of whom are fabulously educated with an American MBA (perhaps followed by a stint at Wall Street), have a safe seat in some scrawny district back home, and carefully follow their fathers into Parliament. Patrick French, the noted Scottish author, wrote on India that an astounding two-third of India’s MPs under 40 years of age are from political families. So what does this elite group of princelings and representatives of populations whose lives they have scarcely ever lived have to say for the future of the Indian nation?
Shashi Tharoor, through this compendium of essays, seeks to provide this answer. Besides Tharoor’s introduction, the book includes 12 essays by 12 ‘young’ MPs—the majority of whom are from political families. Not organised on any particular thematic lines, the 12 essays vouch to provide a ‘vision and roadmap for the country’.
Tharoor, with his literary pen, does a commendable job of introducing the compendium. He attacks the most enduring contradiction of our subcontinent. India being a rich country with poor people—a land of over-crowded cities and a largely rural population of glisteningly gated IIMs and plenty of illiteracy or of decadent billionaires and grinding poverty. Yet, sadly, few other contributors to the book match this editor’s broad awareness and lucidity in writing.
Most authors choose to deal with the interconnected problems of fixing education, agriculture, infrastructure and economic growth. After berating the presumed unnecessary usage of imported cotton seeds, a teaching method based on ‘rote learning’ and polluted rivers, Anantkumar Hegde from Karnataka feels solutions largely lie in indigenous and localised practices, while Hamdullah, for some reason, keeps alluding to a mythical version of India’s past, full of benign gurukuls and paathshalas as a role model for India’s educational attainment.
Halfway through the book, the reader meets the more articulate Baijayant Panda and Jyotiraditya Scindia. Jai Panda attempts a more quantitative analysis of Indian performance in infrastructural and educational spending, along with a few useful policy recommendations, like advocating private-public partnership in education. On the other hand, Scindia addresses these questions more systematically by underscoring the need for ‘inclusive growth’. Other referrals to these tripartite problems (of education, infrastructure, and agriculture) come from Poonam V Jat and Priya Dutt. Their treatment is not significantly different from the other, but their essays are conspicuous in their dealing with matters of women’s rights.
But what must a good attempt to lay out a vision for a country entail? Judging by the seminal works and speeches by the likes of Jawaharlal Nehru, MK Gandhi, or even Barack Obama, it should begin by an accurate statement on the current state—an observation that somehow meshes a nation’s history, founding principles, economic development and political institutions into a coherent whole. And on the basis of which charts a development path, followed by a series of proposals at a micro-level. Nehru’s magnum opus, Discovery of India, sought to lay a basis and justification of the Indian secular state on India’s greatest emperors—Ashoka and Akbar—both of which in the popular mind continue to be associated with tolerance and pluralism. Similarly, Gandhi drew on a romantic past of India with self-sufficient villages to reject western modernity of railways and lawyers.
Few writers in this series add up to such standards. Most relegate themselves to recognising problems that are, well, extremely well-known, with hackneyed solutions. Thus, we have Milind Deora recommending rationalisation of bureaucracy to improve the messy situation of overlapping agencies. Or Nishikant Dubey discusses rural infrastructure, skilling and health improvement as a means to bridge the ‘urban-rural divide’.
And surprisingly, not one writer brings up the overarching question of politics in India—the undemocratic/princeling parties and floundering liberalism. Kalikesh Singh Deo and Jai Panda hint at it by underscoring the importance of assimilating the burgeoning middle-classes of India in the political system, but fail to deal with it head-on. This may be understandable since many contributors are symptoms of the ‘princeling’ malaise. But the problem of increasing intolerance for divergent political