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Needed, civilised political discourse

Needed, civilised political discourse

Human Dignity:A Purpose In Perpetuity by Ashwini Kumar. LexisNexis.

Book Title: Human Dignity:A Purpose In Perpetuity

Author: Ashwini Kumar

Sandeep Sinha

These are times of diffidence. The sense of stability that should have accompanied the resounding win of the party in power at the Centre has been followed by turmoil, the situation exacerbated by fluidity in economy and unrest. Ashwani Kumar, a distinguished parliamentarian, legal luminary and diplomat, reflects in this book on some pressing issues of the time, defined by an advocacy of freedom, dignity and justice, along with a concern for the sanctity of the Constitution. The author pleads for a civilised political discourse, in an age of extremes, when the path of accommodation is being abandoned in a pluralist society, shaped by diversity.

Author Ashwani Kumar (L) reflects on some of the pressing issues of the time in this book, defined by an advocacy of freedom, dignity and justice, along with a concern for the sanctity of the Constitution. Seen here with Japanese Ambassador to India Kenji Hiramatsu (R) at Golden Temple, Amritsar. Tribune photo: vishal kumar

The Indian society has always placed justice and empathy as its core values but the drift is evident in the erosion of democratic institutions. The author cites farmer suicides, ordeal of the downtrodden, crime against women, use and misuse of social media, encounter killings and incarceration of citizens for petty offences to make out a case for a life with dignity, the challenge obvious in the downgrading of ratings on the Global Human Development Index and the Democracy Index.

The author says the adequacy of the judicial system is also being questioned as seen in the acquittal of the accused in the Pehlu Khan lynching case, and a journalist charged with a criminal case for exposing the mid-day meal scam in Uttar Pradesh points to faults in our response system. While declaring that the right to dignity is at the pinnacle of constitutional values, the judiciary has remained mute to its infraction even as it remains a beacon of hope for those affected by the apathy of the executive and legislature. The victory in the battle for freedom is a dividend of political mobilisation, says the writer, quoting Thomas Paine, "When my country was on fire about my ears, it was time to stir."

But this erosion of democratic values can be arrested with citizens asserting their constitutional values, says the author, describing the protests over the CAA-NRC as a push back to arrest the inviolability of people's dignity and the principle of equal citizenship. In fact, the quest for freedom, dignity and justice is the common thread in the book. With his more than four decades in public life, the author says public service is the highest form of service and thinkers should be active in giving direction because the 'destiny of man presents itself in political terms'.

About the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, the author says it is about the 'audacity of hope' and a turning point in the making of an ethnic unitary state and cautions that a 'humiliated group seeking restitution of its dignity carries far more emotional weight than people simply pursuing their economic agenda'.

The book has a chapter on Rahul Gandhi leading the Congress, and the author advises that he (Rahul) must become a symbol of selflessness and bridge divides to redefine the rules of political engagement. Unfortunately, Rahul Gandhi threw in the towel, but may again lead the Congress in future.

Ashwani Kumar played a significant role in furthering ties with Japan. He says India-Japan entente has been shaped by factors like the rise of China, turbulence in South-East and East Asia and ensuring security of the sea-lanes in the Indian Ocean. The author recalls his conversation with leaders like Ziang Zemin and Li Peng who told him that China's sole aim for next 20 years was the consolidation of its economic power and it will not seek confrontation on boundary disputes during this period. As 2023 draws closer, ominous signals like the Doklam standoff have manifest itself, making India concerned. Peace is the dividend of power which expands when asserted, this is the lesson of Doklam, he says.

The book reflects the intellectual ferment of the author, enriched by his exposure to various facets of governance and has an engaging foreword by Justice MN Venkatachaliah, who says that with conscientious citizens around, all is not lost yet and quotes Anatole France, "I firmly believe in the triumph of truth and justice. This is what upholds me in times of trial."