It’s the season for us, of the older vintage in the
media—starting with Arun Shourie, teacher to many of us—to complain endlessly about the juvenility and narrow short-termism in our public discourse. This harms public interest and is also unfair to those targeted in such arguments. My sympathies must, therefore, go out to Arvind Kejriwal on this count. He put together his revolutionary thoughts on what is wrong with India and how to fix it, in a tiny book of no more than 35,000 words or so, called Swaraj, published by HarperCollins in 2012. To make it more affordable, Kejriwal even waived his royalties most graciously, so it costs all of Rs 135, in English. It’s been printed in large type-size with plenty of spacing to make it even easier to read.
Here is an exciting political debutante who does the one thing no Indian politician has done perhaps since Nehru wrote his Discovery of India over hundreds of intellectually challenging pages, or since Guru Golwalkar of the RSS wrote his somewhat more simple-minded Bunch of Thoughts. But what has been in discussion and debate lately? Not Kejriwal’s thoughts, but a Noida-based writer’s doubtful claim that Kejriwal plagiarised his book. Now you know what we are complaining about: this horrible trivialisation of all public discourse. Because what matters is the thoughts contained in the book, as long as Kejriwal does not deny they are his.
This columnist is as guilty as those he is blaming for this intellectual bankruptcy. I too had not bothered to read Swaraj, in keeping with the current, post-Google trend of not looking at any primary source for data or wisdom. It is much safer, and so much more fun, just to join the melee of charge and counter-charge: I know I am right, and your argument sucks and please do not try and confuse me with facts. That is why this week’s National Interest is a confession, as well as a lament and a raising of the red flag. And the choice of colour here is not merely a convenient cliche but carefully intended.
I Picked up Swaraj at the Bangalore airport bookshop. I had no work to do and needed something to read through a two-and-a-half hour flight. Swaraj recommended itself both for its size and political relevance. As also for the fact that everything else was such juvenile fiction on the alleged lives of