Book Review: Non-fiction/ India at Turning Point: The Road to Good Governance by T.S.R. Subramanian, Rainlight/Rupa, 274 pp; Rs595 (Hardback)
T S R Subramanian – with an insider’s insight and outsider’s rage – has made a frontal attack on the ills of Indian government and bureaucratic setup in his latest book India at Turning Point: The Road to Good Governance.
This is remarkable since Indian babus, in general, are not known for practicing forthright polemics and coming out with scathing criticism of issues plaguing their own bastion, the bureaucracy.
What is even more striking about the book is Subramanian chooses not to pepper the narrative with recollections of his own foregone privileges as a civil servant. Evidently, he doesn’t think much of those hallowed yet conceited ‘benefits’; hence, quite rightly, his narrative does justice to the underlying intent of writing this much-needed book.
The essays are incisive, and the compilation as an anthology – covering wide ranges of political and administrative issues – works at many levels.
Subramanian’s experiences travel well and far, not only into the power corridors of the Capital, but in fact, journey into the hinterlands and gather spectacular wisdom. While recalling different stages of his career, he, fortunately, doesn’t come across as either a white or a brown sahib.
Instead, he turns out to be someone who has learned his way up, cutting through the grinding formality of official procedures and the unnecessarily encumbered and slow-moving wheel of Indian administration. There are, of course, the occasional tributes.
But what really hooks you to these well-written pages is his pointed criticism of the system as well as the policy movers and shakers. Frankly, the unputdownable elements add a dash of fun and frolic to this weighty hardback.
Particularly, when he chooses an eminent politician like N D Tiwari to detail how high-ranked former cabinet ministers pick their itinerary, preferring to go Thailand and roving around in the city after sunset! Of course, flouting security and other protocols.
As an ‘India book,’ this one starts with gloom and reaches the opposite end with optimism. Primarily, India at Turning Point seeks to highlight the factors – Parliament, intelligence agencies and even cricket – for keeping governance in check and good health. The argument develops further: why our perfectly ‘curable maladies’ are not being treated?
Since 1947, India as a nation has made significant strides. However, those were not enough. The realisation is growing stronger, as democracy is deepened everyday. Despite having followed a ‘reluctant revivalist’ tendency for over six decades, now, in an increasingly technocratic situation, the overall ‘governance discourse’ is gaining ground to charter something as desired by the people and emerging directly out of the compelling necessities.
This book will be in circulation for strong reasons, foremost among them being its timing. India is passing through an unprecedented cusp of changes and really calling it the ‘turning point’ makes perfect sense.
But hope is not on the wane in this book or the atmosphere it tries to capture. Irrespective of tough challenges, the tribe of ‘incorrigible optimists’ still fires up the engines of its centre and periphery. As Subramanian asks if India has stopped following sustainable political and economic principles, we wonder if his question has an answer at all.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in Millennium Post on March2,2014)