Monday, February 25, 2013

Book Review - Chanakya’s new manifesto – To resolve the crisis within India - by Pavan K. Varma

Living room conversations revolve around politics, the state of decrepitude, ineptitude of politicians, and the general issues that assail our day-today life outside the confines of our homes and beset our country at large.
Pavan K. Varma, the author, has gone a few steps ahead of these idle conversations. In this book, he has pointed out key problems and provided meaningful solutions inspired from none other than Chanakya, one of our finest strategists to date.

The book starts with an introduction to Chanakya’s way of thinking going on to the crisis that currently prevails in India and finally detailing concerns and potential solutions for each area.  Whole books can be written of course, on each the mammoth issues that inundate Indian administration, but the author has tried to condense them and provide high-level suggestions that can ‘initiate an urgent and intense nationwide debate on change’.

The state of affairs have been highlighted for five areas in the book
  • Governance
  • Democracy
  • Corruption
  • Security
  • The creation of an inclusive society

The book does not really talk about a lot of things we may not already realize, but brings things to perspective when all the issues and solutions are put together.

Each area first talks about key issues and then brings some potential solutions to the table based on theories from the Arthshastra, the great Indian treatise on statecraft. 

In Governance key focus areas are lack of economic reform, education, agriculture, infrastructure projects, railways and inflation. Several good suggestions are made such as having a lock-in period for coalition parties so no one can withdraw support and create instability, set up an independent evaluation body for governance, strengthen the president’s role in protecting jurisdiction and authority from interfering bodies.

Democracy was a particularly interesting topic that spoke about the criminalization of politics, the entrenchment of black money in our system and acceptance of dynastic politics. Excellent suggestions have been made in making the political parties more accountable for the finances they own by strengthening certain laws, having more stringent checks in the screening process for nominations for elections and measures to discourage political parties from fielding candidates with criminal backgrounds.

For the most widely talked about topic in India, - Corruption, the author has several suggestions. He suggests combating corruption using financial accountability of political parties, using technology, bringing in transparency in dealings and judicial reform for deterrent action.

Security articulated the importance of an effective foreign policy, defense preparedness and an intelligence gathering mechanism. The inclusive society topic brought to light the dark side of the uncaring and indifferent India that cannot be called progressive unless it includes everybody.

All in all, I must say for a lay person who has a rudimentary understanding of the Indian milieu, this was simple enough reading and much less taxing than I had imagined it to be. The issues were bang-on and are of prime importance for the progress of India.  Not being an expert on any of the topics, I can’t say if the solutions were perfect, but like the author has said, they may not be the best but could be worthy of being considered for a debate.  I can’t say what this book will really achieve either – if it will spark off any real interest in the powers that rule us, or will merely make a few readers blink at the atrocious state of affairs in some areas and grumble a little more or optimistically, bring about some real change by some genuinely concerned citizens/politicians.

The only grouse I had in the book was the fact that, although the areas were broadly structured into five, the subdivision of the topics in those areas would have made for easier reading instead of merely bulleting the solutions.  All it needed was some more headings subtopics for an easier flow.

The language used in the book is excellent and I have no complaints there.

I will highly recommend this book to people interested in politics and the governance of this country. For those who are not particularly deeply interested in politics, but have some interest in reading newspapers might find this book a good read too.

My verdict is 4/5 stars for this non-fiction book.

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About the Author

Pavan K. Varma studied history at St Stephen's College, Delhi, and took a degree in law from Delhi University. He has been press secretary to the president of India, official spokesman of the Foreign Office, director general of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, and India's ambassador to Bhutan. Having taken premature retirement from the Indian Foreign Service, he now seeks to be actively involved in public life.

Pavan K. Varma has authored several acclaimed and bestselling books, among them, Ghalib: The Man, The Times; Krishna: The Playful Divine; The Great Indian Middle Class; Being Indian: The truth about why the 21st century will be India's; Becoming Indian: The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity and When Loss is Gain. He has also translated into English the poetry of Gulzar, Kaifi Azmi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.


  1. Those who need to read it, the politicians, bet half of them don't know who was Chanakya and the other half is not interested in changing anything because the system works just fine for them right now!

    Very nicely written review. :)

    1. So true. One only hopes there is a ray of light that shines through this abyss that politicians have dumped India into and some one steps up to dictate that much required change.

  2. I agree with the statement sunil sir made ...!!!

    and it's a good summarized review...
    here are my views on this book...

    1. THanks Anjan. Will read your review too.