Two-time MP from Thiruvananthapuram, former Minister of State for HRD and prolific writer Dr Shashi Tharoor speaks to Supriya Sharma about his latest book India Shastra.
How did the idea of writing India Shastra come about?
I have already done two books on India, first was India: From Midnight to the Millennium which was written for the 50th anniversary of India’s Independence. It was a whole sweep of India’s politics, economics, culture and society in those first 50 years. Then 10 years later, Penguin talked me into doing The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone, which was in a way bringing the story up to date. David Davidar, who had been the originator as it were of the idea of the first book, suggested with ‘this watershed election of Mr Modi,’ I write my third book in the series. It was a collaborative idea between the publisher and me. I had been writing, of course, all over the place for the last half-a-dozen years on all these various issues. Therefore, I was able to build on that to put this book together.
You have discussed a wide range of issues in the book. Which do you think demand urgent attention?
Frankly, our country has a number of urgent needs. I have been particularly convinced about the need to push very strongly the education agenda. Education to me is not merely a socio-economic issue; it is even a national security issue. We have over 50 per cent of our population under 25. And 225 million between 10 and 19, poised to grow up and be the workers of the future. We will have a larger workforce by 2020 than China about to start work. This could make us the engine of the world that China has been for the previous generation.
But it only works properly if we have educated our people to take advantage of the opportunities that our economy can offer. I speak of national security because the alternative is horrendous. We can see it in 165 districts where there have been Maoist insurrections. These are young, uneducated, unemployed men, who feel no stake in our society because they can’t get a job in it. If you want to prevent the rise of an internal security threat, you need to ensure such young people are educated and given the opportunities to transform India.
You’ve said in the book that there is a schism between “the articulation and implementation” of promises made by our Prime Minister. What do you think should have been accomplished in these eight months?
I have been accused of having praised Mr Modi, but if you look at it, what have I praised? I have praised his words. He is an excellent communicator who has put a number of issues out there that I don’t disagree with. But the problem has been that each of these slogans and mottos—you look at the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the MP Model Village Scheme, or Make in India—have not been accompanied by either a budget, an implementation plan or even an execution authority tasked with delivering. So what you have is TRPs, photo-ops, headlines. Through that you have consciousness raising, which is not a bad thing. But it cannot be an end in it itself.
The few things that have been implemented have all been UPA schemes, including those which the BJP bitterly opposed when they were in the Opposition. If the Indo-US deal is hailed as a BJP achievement, I’d be very amused because the BJP is the one that brought a no-confidence motion against our government on this nuclear deal. All of this suggests that the best Mr Modi can do is implement the UPA’s agenda. Now I don’t want to make this into a partisan political football. What I want to say is, show us results. The people who voted for Mr Modi thought that they voted for a man of action. So far they’ve got a man of words.
You’ve spoken about the need to educate and empower women in this book. What measures have you taken for the welfare of the women in your constituency?
First of all I’ve only had one term, so I am not pretending to have delivered miracles overnight. Secondly, I am fortunate that Kerala is already a relatively enlightened place and a number of the challenges are already in the process of being met. Two or three things are specifically attended to. One I pushed very hard for and found funding for, not only through my MP funds but through my own family foundation named for my late father, the Chandran Tharoor Foundation which Sunanda used to run. We created a number of girls’ toilets not only in schools but in community areas. We brought in the so-called electronic toilets, particularly for women.
Secondly through my MP funds, I introduced a lot of high-mast lights in a number of areas where women used to walk and go in unsafe conditions because there were no street lights. I’ve also been pushing the Kerala police to do much more in terms of all-women police stations and all-women cells so that women feel emboldened to approach the police with their concerns. These are just three examples. Obviously every other development scheme I have been involved in benefits women as well as men.