Tuesday, 26 February 2013
Book Review: Swaraj by Arvind Kejriwal (Part - 1)
"So it is clear that neither than the MPs and MLAs help solve our daily problems, nor can they help in getting good laws passed. This is the dichotomy of the situation. We elect them, but they act according to the wishes of the party they belong to. And if they dont toe the party line, they are punished and may even have to lose the membership of the house or assembly. So, even if you elect a good and honest person as a MP or MLA from your area, it will neither solve the issues of your area, nor will he or she be able to help pass a good law. Isnt it a queer democracy, where neither the public is heard, nor its representatives?"
The above lines should touch a chord in every Indian hearts. It is difficult to argue with such powerful logic. And that is the central thrust of this book: that the people of India are effectively powerless, and have been emasculated by the current system. This is a feeling that all of us can empathise with, having dealt with it all of our adult lives. Arvind Kejriwal is a man who has worked in the system, and is aware of its many pluses and innumerable minuses. This comes out very well in the book, which makes it worth a read for that alone.
The key issue here is both the diagnosis of the problem, as well as the cure - if any. First, the problem. Mr Kejriwal makes a powerful case for the emasculation of the people and their utter helplessness to do anything about the current situation. This comes out most powerfully in the frank self-appraisal of the Jan Lokpal agitation, wherein the author agrees that it is difficult to imagine a situation in which any political par
ty can bring about a strong Lokpal. The bugbear of corruption is presented as one of the 2 or 3 central problems related to governance in India. The other problem is the total lack of accountability of the public servants in the state, central governments as well as the state and central bureaucracy. The way in which these people tend to serve their master rather than the people is brought out with stunning clarity. It helps you grasp the depth of the problem as well as the basic hindrances in the path of setting things right.
The second problem is related to the first; lack of effective utilisation of government funds, improper allocation and ineffective controls on the way these funds are spent - leading to the third problem, corruption. This is where Arvind Kejriwal is at his practical best. The focus of the book is on the centralised plannng model, which leads to fund allocation to the states and the districts. Schemes are run - and dictats are issued that this has to be done and this way. The concentration of power in one hand - or a few hands - combined with the lack of proper accountability leads to corruption as funds are misappropriated. The difficulty in seeking information (with regard to legal as well as real-world problems - like threats being issued) regarding funds and implementation completes the circle.
The net result of all this is the oft-repeated leakages in the system, where very little of the money actually spent reaches the people whom it is meant for. These people have no say whatsoever, and no recourse to rectify this issue. The current avenues are so tedious, so cumbersome, and have so little tangible results to show that people have lost faith in them. As anyone of you can see, this is a hard reality. That is the real power of this book - it goes into the root causes of corruption, lack of proper implementation, various problems ailing India like Land acquisition protests, Naxalism, MNREGA, concentration of power and the attendant lack of responsiveness of the system.
The utter helpless of the people to do anything has been brought out in an extremely lucid fashion; you will find yourself nodding your head in agreement. The diagnosis of the problems is spot on; not only that - there are no grandiose claims like demographic dividend, GDP growth etc. This is a book about the people of India, written by a common man for the people of India. The beauty of the book is that the solutions - with a few changes (in my opinion, of course) will lead to the realisation of those very same grandiose goals - Gini coefficient, GDP, Per capita income etc! Furthermore, the language and terminology used is very simple. Almost anyone can understand - there is no jargon in any of the 151 pages that comprise the book. It is a fast, fact-filled and fun read that has an excellent presentation and simple language. It is available in both Hindi and English.
The book also delves into solutions in some detail; this being too complex and too important a topic, I will deal with the solutions part in a separate review - the Part-2 of this book review. Suffice it to say that this is a book that attends to the real problems facing India - Health, Education, Life Expectancy - the core factors that determine how able a population is in taking advantage of the opportunities offered by a growing economy. This is a refreshing approach, and one that merits serious contemplation and study. Yes, there are lacunae, scope forimprovement as well as some criticisms. In a couple of areas, I felt that additional clarifications are needed; one area of the solution threw up questions in my mind as to the downside. But overall, I have to say that it is a much superior approach to the current one. With some details, practical methods and modifications, this could indeed be worth a try... What are the solutions presented? For that, read the Part-2 of this review. Watch this space!