Review of ‘India Shastra: Reflections on the Nation in our Time’

As a public figure and an eminent politician, Dr Shashi Tharoor has carved a unique niche for himself in public perception and media, owing to his several “trysts with destiny”–of both favourable and unfavourable hues–on social media platforms as well as in real life. Truth, it is said, is sometimes stranger than fiction; and who could be a better example of having lead such a chequered life amidst harsh scrutiny and comments–some warranted and some unwarranted– from all quarters of socio-political arenas and platforms?

What can be said undeniably of this extremely charming, suave and articulate writer-politician with a large body of experience–he was the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, which he served for 29 years, he was a former Minister of State for External Affairs in the Government of India; currently he has been re-elected as a Member of Parliament from the Thiruvananthapuram constituency, and chairs the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs–is that he is a very insightful writer and an author par excellence. His astute sense of perception, and his understanding of both the micro-level of Indian politics at the grassroots as well as the holistic picture at the macro-level, is evident from his latest book India Shastra: Reflections on the Nation in our Time. An extensive collection of 100 essays, it makes for discerning reading, and offers much food for thought on contemporary India and events from its recent history that have contributed to its present state of affairs in the political, social, economic, cultural and communal arenas.

Divided into eight neatly segregated sections, India Shastra: Reflections on the Nation in our Time talks about the events that have shaped India until May of 2014. Section I, “India Modi-fied,” scrutinizes the first six months of the BJP government’s performance chart. Interestingly, despite himself being a Congress MP, Shashi Tharoor has displayed a remarkable sense of appreciation for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s genuine accomplishments such as the Cleanliness Initiative, but is equally critical of Modi’s purported “silence” on communal voices rearing their ugly heads from time to time in myriad nooks and crannies of the country.

Section II, “Modi’s India and the World,” dwells on the foreign policy actions and decisions of the new government, the problems afflicting the country’s foreign policy, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s successful diplomatic breakthrough during her Afghanistan visit, the infamous Khobragade scandal, and other such incidents that have been colouring recent new.

The section which I found the most endearing and alluring was undoubtedly the third one on “The Legacy,” which speaks, among other topics, on the forgotten Indian soldiers who participated in the First World War, the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, the ideals of Sardar Vallabhai Patel, the teachings of Swami Vivekananda, the aura of the inimitable Rabindranath Tagore and about many such great personalities, and the heritage that is a part and parcel of India’s rich cultural past. About Tagore, Dr Shashi Tharoor writes: “And yet this magnificent wielder of words spoke modestly of the value of poetry. ‘Words are barren, dismal and uninspiring by themselves,’ he said in a 1922 lecture, ‘but when they are bound together by some bond of rhythm they attain their significance as a reality which can be described as creative.'” The fact that India has inherited such great legacies in terms of thinkers, philosophers, visionaries, political leaders, authors, poets, et al is a matter of national pride, and the author has done a remarkable job in clustering these under this evocative third section of essays.

The fourth section entitled “Ideas of India” deals with the changes in age-old ideas of Indian democracy and talks about fresh perspectives sweeping the hearts of Indians, be it the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party after toppling established legacies, or the new-fangled definitions of development, which, for a modern evolved Indian represents a better quality of life and not just a figure denoting a plumped-up GDP (Gross Domestic Product) figure or some infrastructural achievements. For instance, Tharoor explains that one of his “most favourite images of India is from the last Kumbh Mela of a naked Sadhu, with matted hair, ash-smeared forehead, rudraksh mala and scraggly beard, for all the world a picture of timeless other-wordliness, chatting away on a cell-phone.”  In h