Without a price
Reviewed by
Amar Chandel

We Must Have No Price and Everyone Must Know That We Have No Price
By Arun Shourie.
Rupa and Co. 
Pages 343. Rs 495.

Prolific will be too small a word to describe the writing acumen of Arun Shourie. This talent was in full display not only when he was a journalist, but also when he became a union minister.

Well, the frequency has increased after he got free from that responsibility. His has been a dogged crusade against corruption in high places and maladministration. He builds up his case meticulously, unmindful of the length of the article. You may or may not agree with him but you cannot fault his logic and arguments. At times, you have the feeling that this is exactly what you wanted to say; only he has put it in words.

In fact, there is not much scope for disagreement because the maladies in the administration that he highlights are such that they just cannot be denied. Equally indefensible are some of the deeds of
the government.

Being in public life, he is asked to speak often. He tries to persuade the organisers to think up some new topic so that he gets to study a subject on which he has not worked earlier. Once he gets immersed in a subject, he carries out painstaking research.

This book is born out of such lectures. Earlier, he was delivering the lectures with the help of a few bullet points written out on a few pages. But now, he has started writing them soon after they are delivered. Lectures delivered between October, 2008, and August, 2009, form the first two parts of this book. No wonder, there are some instances of repetition, which he himself asks the readers to treat as reiteration.

These deal with issues of national security and reforms. And in the third part, his focus is on recent controversies that have engulfed the BJP. Even the title of the book comes from one such essay, in which he takes his party to task for the pejoratives flung at him and some others that "these have been the pampered boys of the BJP `85They came to the party only for cream. As the party, having lost the elections, cannot give them any cream now, they are hurling various accusations".

He recalls similar accusations like "capitalist propagandist" hurled at him right since the mid-1960s to point out that many, in particular governments, far from looking up the facts, shut their eyes to them. When the facts are pointed out, they seek to bury the messenger in an avalanche of charges.

Interestingly, he quotes Gandhiji to give some rules of the thumb to every public person if he has to play his role sincerely. One, do not read the newspapers, because being obsessed with the "breaking news" of the moment and with any and everything that they can inflate into the sensation of the moment, the media deals in evanescent flickers.

Two, "public men who wish to work honestly can only rely upon the approbation of their own conscience. No other certificate is worth anything for them ..."

But the operational rule that he says he has borrowed from Gandhiji is: "Life would be burdensome if every misrepresentation has to be answered and cleared. It is a rule of life with me never to explain misrepresentations except when the cause required correction". After all, every good movement passes through five stages: indifference, ridicule, abuse, repression and respect.

Among the 17 essays in the book, the most incisive are those on national security. He sets the tone and tenor right in the very first, "Surprised", by quoting everyone from the then Home Minister Shivraj Patil, the Minister of Defence, the National Security Adviser and even the Prime Minister to show that it was very much clear to the government well before 26/11 that the sea route was becoming the chosen route for carrying out many attacks, even on land. Days later, the terrorists, using the exact same sea route, did the exact same thing that these worthies had been warning others about. "Are they consultants to the Government or ones running the Government?" he asks.

Whenever the government brings about tough laws like the Preventive Detention Act for the sake of national security, there are some who wax eloquent about the liberties of individuals against whom the provisions may be used. Shourie reminds them of what Sardar Patel said in this regard: "When we think of civil liberties of the extremely small number of persons concerned, let the House also think of the liberties of millions of people threatened by the activities of these individuals whose civil liberties we have curtailed".

Elsewhere, Shourie points out the extremely high price the country paid for starting the reforms late. And even these late reforms have taken place only in economic policy and not in administration and governance. Reforms in these fields are stonewalled because politicians donít want to commit harakiri.

One major problem before the country is the plethora of small parties who have their own narrow agendas and no national vision. Combined with the corrupt section of the business class, they derail even essential reforms.

Shourie suggests that to bring about these mandatory changes, what is needed is a lobby for excellence. Since most labour unions are affiliated to political parties, even they cannot form this backbone. Only entrepreneurs and the middle class can fit the bill.

One just hopes that more such voices of reason are heard and they become a chorus.