Book: Chanakya’s New Manifesto
Author: Pavan K Varma
Number of pages: 295
Price: Rs. 248
Chanakya’s New Manifesto by Pavan K Varma is a lofty read. I was in two minds of whether I’d actually want to attempt to review this book because I was overwhelmed with the subject and its contents. But it didn’t disappoint. Every word was worth it.
Varma has had an illustrious career and his wisdom and strong grip on the present state of affairs in India is very evident in the text. That he seeks to be actively involved in public life is heartening.
Chanakya’s New Manifesto proposes a comprehensive blueprint for change. Varma analyses the multiple challenges facing the country today and proposes clear and unambiguous solutions for them. His inspiration is Arthashastra, “arguably the world’s first comprehensive treatise on statecraft and governance.” Conjecturing how a contemporary Chanakya would tackle the present-day crises confronting India, Varma outlines a detailed plan to initiate reform.
He highlights five key areas that require urgent attention:
- The Creation of an Inclusive Society
The Prologue is a brief introduction of Chanakya and his seminal work, which Varma has studied at length and quotes from at the beginning of every chapter, setting the tone for the things to come.
In the first chapter, he summarizes the problems confronting modern India and calls for a second revolution, “building on the legacy of the first, but bringing in radical change where required.” In the second chapter, he elaborates on the choice of the five key areas mentioned above.
In the next few chapters, one dedicated to each of the above-mentioned subjects, he highlights the problem at hand and provides a detailed outline of some corrective measures we must adopt/incorporate/implement in our government, judiciary, polity and bureaucratic institutions. Apart from referencing the Arthashastra, Varma also alludes to the Indian Constitution, continually highlighting its open-endedness and how it is being abused and misinterpreted.
In Governance, he recommends that “all political parties that propose to part of a coalition grouping or front must declare their intention to do so prior to elections taking place.” He also suggest that post the elections, the pre-identified coalition partners must be compulsorily committed to a lock-in period of at least three years wherein coalition partner is allowed to withdraw support or defect from the partnership.
In Democracy, Varma calls for greater transparency in scrutinizing and monitoring all party funds. He also suggests an overhaul of the Election Commission, with enhanced powers, and emphasizes that the President play a greater role in polity.
In Corruption, he propagates the use of technology to tackle the malaise. According to him, there is no reason why all public services should not be made available electronically.
In Security, my favorite bit, one can actually sense his anger. He does not mince his words when he describes how weak the Indian foreign policy is. “To see a nation with global aspirations blundering so egregiously when it comes to meeting critical defense requirements is nothing short of scandalous.” He criticizes, at least three instances in the book, former PM IK Gujral’s decision to wind down India’s intelligence-gathering operations.
And it was a little eerie that I was on my way back home from work reading these very pages when I heard of the blasts in Hyderabad last week.
In The Creation of an Inclusive Society, Varma highlights the inefficacies of welfare schemes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), the Food Subsidy Bill (FSB) and the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). He suggests that the government partners with non-governmental agencies and NGOs to implement its schemes. He also recommends reaching out to the corporate world for support and assistance, specifically, in their CSR programs, highlighting how companies in the past have responded to this call.
And thus ends Varma’s treatise, on a positive note.
At no point does he resort to populist measures or play to the gallery. What we get is a list of measures and suggestions in lucid English, written as though he was a passive observer of the Indian polity. But I have only one question for the author; who is going to bell the cat?
Chanakya’s New Manifesto, with its many facts and detailed suggestions, isn’t a book you can finish in one sitting. Some of the facts and data will leave you reeling with shock, while you’ll find yourself nodding in agreement at some of the author’s recommendations.
Read it with patience and an open mind. Take up one chapter at a time, and turn the pages feeling hopeful and optimistic.
Learn more about Pavan K. Varma.