The Indian Republic appears to be at several junctures at the same time. The youth is questioning the status quo, and it seems that a potential ‘revolt’ is being bottled up. It is to unravel and take the lid off these bottled up sentiments that Author Pavan K. Varma spoke about in his book “Chanakya’s New Manifesto to Resolve The Crisis Within India” at JMI on Tuesday February 12, 2013. The event was hosted by the Department of English. (Buy book on flipkart – affiliate link)
Pavan K. Varma is a former officer of the Indian Foreign Service. He had also been press secretary to the president of India, and India’s ambassador to Bhutan. His works include “Ghalib: The Man, The Times;” “Krishna: The Playful Divine;” “The Great Indian Middle Class;” and “Being Indian: The Truth About Why the 21st Century Will Be India’s” among several others. He has also translated into English the poetry of Gulzar, Kaifi Azmi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Talking about why he wrote the book, Pavan K. Varma said that the country is at a crossroads, and there is a need for the youth, who will be the most affected, to take stock of the situation, or it would lead to “many years of lost or wasted potential.”
Varma mentions several reasons for why he titled his book “Chanakya.” “He (Chanakya) was a man who was capable of exceptional clarity of thought and rigour of intellectual discipline. Firstly, he believed in understanding the problem in order to prescribe the right solution. Secondly, he believed in understanding, unsentimentally, the psyche of the people. Thirdly, he believed in leadership. Fourthly, he believed in spotting talent. Fifthly, he believed that no state is of any consequence unless it works for the welfare of the people. Sixthly, you must have, in order for a functioning state, a functioning treasury. Seventhly, analyze systems, not individuals. Lastly, he believed national interest has primacy for a nation,” he said.
Varma’s book covers five key areas which according to him need urgent attention. These include governance, democracy, corruption, security, and the building of an inclusive society. And through his book, modelled on Arthashastra, Varma guides the readers to the way forward.
“The imperatives of governance and the functioning of democracy have become antithetical,” he stated. “Both (governance and democracy) are essential, and therefore, in any effective polity both have to work in sync and harmony,” he said.
Varma emphasized on the criticality of time and said that lost opportunities “at this juncture of our history are a colossal loss given the challenges we face. We don’t have the luxury of time.” Speaking about coalition governance in India, he said, “As a result of that (coalition governments) what happens is that all energies of a government that comes to power goes into political management and survival, and almost nothing to governance.”
Varma suggested that “parties must announce their intention to be part of one coalition or the other, prior to the election. The voter has the right to know.” He also suggested that the coalition parties should bring out a governance agenda. On how to tackle the issue of black money, Varma said that parties should be brought under an obligation to reveal the names of donors irrespective of the amount of money they donate to the party, and thus, donations should be through bank transactions. This recommendation is against the current practice of identifying only those donors who donate twenty thousand rupees and above.
“Lokpal is not a magic wand. And merely exposing somebody every ten days is not enough,” he said. He proposed five techniques of tackling corruption: electoral reforms, neutral intervention of technology in areas dealing with interaction of citizens with the state, transparency in state’s functions and resources, strong punishments for corrupt politicians and government officials, and an independent ombudsman in the form of the Lokpal.
Talking about creation of an inclusive society, Varma questioned the policies that throw money from the top to the bottom “through state-sponsored altruism,” leading to a chain of corrupt actions. He also mentioned that the young republic of India has the largest number of poor and the largest number of malnourished children in the world, which is a grave concern.
In his book, Varma discusses the symptoms of a grim nation that India has become, and the possible and pragmatic solutions he believes could bring a change.
Listen to Pavan K. Varma’s talk at Jamia on Feb. 12, 2013 here: