This is an insightful book by a sensible politician. Baijayant Panda, or ‘Jay’ Panda as he is known in Delhi’s political circles, has come out with a book that answers many questions and addresses several problems that bother us. Panda is certainly not an oddball in Lutyens’ Delhi as the title claims; indeed he has been very much part of the principal seat of the polity. In the 18 years that he served in both the houses, he has tried to keep one foot in Delhi resolutely and another foot back in his constituency, state and country. That makes him an exceptional politician.
Few politicians in current recall have been able to bring such a fairly coherent, varying and centrist viewpoint to the hard issues that confront Indian politics today as the author has done in this book. As the blurb says, “it is a political commentary – incisive, lucid and always engaging.”
Although the book is a collection of essays and articles Jay Panda has been writing since 2009 for various journals and leading Newspapers, the responses that this anthology offers are surely not straight-jacketed. Then, the timing of the book is to be noted. General elections are due in a few weeks and the issues confronting the voters are countless. In a way, the 200-page book serves the purpose of further debate and deliberation.
There is a core unity and continuity in the volume. A little more than fifty articles, delving into a whole lot of issues and painstakingly divided into six broad chapters with an epilogue, this hardback has an unequivocal point of view, a clear approach and yet not being judgmental. Panda’s personal observation about the book is instructive: ‘I think often that there tend to be two worlds that don’t understand each other and don’t always talk in the same language. It is crucial for all whether they are in media, politics or are from any other walk of life to bridge the gap and that is what I have tried to convey in my book.”
Jay Panda – four-time Member of Parliament – may be out of the party he represented for such a long time, but that doesn’t deny him in putting forth his arguments in a celebratory and smooth-tongued manner. May be his holding a ‘dual degree course’ in Engineering and Management in Communications from Michigan Technological University, USA evenly helped him understand the concerns of an average Indian voter. May be his scholarship helped him in comprehending the basics of governance and politics. But the book certainly goes for a kill.
In this anthology of op-ed essays, there is frankness and restraint when it comes to criticism, but they are also coated with appreciation of the “achievements” of, for the most part, the Narendra Modi-led NDA government.
From the reliability of EVMs’, reservations, amendments to the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, religious conversions, Centre’s handling of issues of death-row convicts, demonetization, GST, row over the Collegium system in appointing Judges to the higher judiciary, several issues concerning women’s security, gender, Triple Talaq Bill and movement towards a uniform civil code, right to privacy, cultural vigilantism, ‘Aadhar’ and data protection, to overall economic slowdown and the loosening of ‘identity politics’ , Panda wades through various positions with meticulousness . At places, he offers his own considered views.
‘Lutyen’s Maverick’ has some important posers too: Would India be better served by one nation, one election; why shouldn’t Modi go for reforms in political funding; can the new Pakistan PM deliver a cooling of border tensions, what are the stakes in uniform civil code and whether capital punishment is the answer to the horrific rape cases across the country et al.
The book makes a reasonable read for two simple reasons: one, the vast range of issues the author has engaged himself in and the solutions he offers. What does this book hold for the political class? Here is a tickler: ‘My chosen path in politics has been to avoid knee-jerk responses in favour of more considered ones. My fraternity often sees, or at least espouses, black-and-white alternatives. I tend to think that there are shades of grey that are interesting and worth exploring.’
In as much as the subjects are deep-rooted and scurrying for practical answers , the book is a precious contribution to understand India’s democratic governance, political correctness, Modinomics, principles of realpolitik, law- justice, and citizens holding up a mirror to twenty-first century India. A must read for those who want to understand the various dynamics of India’s politics.
‘Lutyens’ Maverick’: Ground Realities, Hard Choices, and Tomorrow’s India’
By Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda,
Rupa Publications India Pvt Ltd
7/16, Ansari Road, Daryaganj
New Delhi -110002
(The writer is a senior journalist and Consulting Editor, OdishaLIVE)