Title: Speaking truth to power: My alternative view
Author: P Chidambaram
Pages: 229; Price: Rs 595
Speaking truth to power: My alternative view is a collection of former Union Minister for Home and Finance P Chidambaram’s incisive essays published last year as a weekly column in The Indian Express. The articles covered a range of subjects like demonetisation, economy, politics, foreign policy, Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat and nation at large.
Chidambaram is known for his analysis and he expresses his opinion irrespective of whether it is a politically correct or not. His style is simple and even common people can understand economics and politics from his writing. It is also a reason why he is one of the most popular columnists in India. He gives a different perspective. In a democracy, citizens wish to hear the voice of an articulate opposition that can offer reasoned criticism of government and suggest alternative policy solutions to challenges faced by the nation. The hallmark of the book is unbiased criticism based on sound logic. Former President Pranab Mukherjee, in his foreword, writes, “Speaking Truth to Power is a collection of well-argued, thought-provoking articles on the gamut of issues facing the nation and provides a counter-narrative to India’s political, economic and social discourse, with style and substance.”
In one article he narrates the history of Aadhaar. He says the idea of Aadhaar was born in 2009, it faced fierce opposition. Yashwant Sinha, then chairman of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, led the charge against Aadhaar. Chidambaram writes, “From the pronouncements of prominent BJP leaders at that time (Narendra Modi, Prakash Javadekar, Ananth Kumar) it was evident that Mr Sinha had the support of a powerful section of his party.” It shows the sad reality of Indian politics. Once opposition comes to power they follow the same policies which they opposed earlier.
The author also talks about the issue of privacy. He says, “While a unique identity mark is necessary, it cannot become a potential device to spy on people’s lives or gather private information that has no relevance to good governance. We must remember we do not yet have a comprehensive law on data protection or privacy.” Supreme Court’s nine-judge bench ruled last year that right to privacy is a fundamental right.
He expresses concern over rising prices of petrol and diesel in an article Gujarat after 22 years of BJP rules. He writes, “The obvious solution is to bring petroleum products under GST.” He also talks about water scarcity in Gujarat. The water from Sardar Sarovar Dam cannot be distributed to water-starved Saurashtra and other districts including Kutch, because the bulk of the canal network (30,000 km) has not been built in the last 22 years.
The author is consistently expressing concern over the deteriorating situation in Jammu and Kashmir. The sad thing is one central minister charged him as ‘anti-national’ for his opinion on Jammu and Kashmir. The prevailing situation in Jammu and Kashmir should be a matter of concern for everyone. He writes, “The writing on the wall is clear. The alienation of the people of the Kashmir valley is nearly complete. We are on the brink of losing Kashmir. We cannot retrieve the situation through a ‘muscular’ policy – tough talk by ministers, dire warnings from the Army Chief, deploying more troops and killing more protesters.” He suggests few steps to retrieve the situation. Chidambaram says the central government must begin a dialogue with all the stakeholders, reduce the presence of Army and paramilitary forces and hand over the responsibility of maintaining law and order to Jammu and Kashmir police, defend the border with Pakistan by all means, etc. The author writes, “If the current medicine of tough talk and together action has not worked in Jammu and Kashmir, why is it not opportune to try an alternate cure?” The country needs to think out of the box in bringing enduring peace in the valley. The scenario cannot be changed unless Indian state wins the heart of the people of the valley. The policy should be developed keeping in mind people at the centre. It needs the courage to question ‘muscular’ policy and Chidambaram has proved that he has that courage.
Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar emphasised on the annihilation of the caste system. His undelivered speech was later published as a book. Now many people talk of the irrelevance of caste system. But, shockingly one observes caste system is getting strengthened in the last few years. The caste is getting more importance in the present political scenario and it should worry right-thinking people. The author correctly says, “In my view, caste is a curse that diminishes the potential of India and the Indian people. The annihilation of caste is nowhere in sight.” The book presents an alternate view to the existing policies and for rational and objective thinking it is a must read.