Shri Chidambaram is nothing if not consistent, focused and prolific. For four years now his weekly commentaries have made available to interested readers facts and analysis of facts that remain undisputed. Together, they constitute a compendium on the state of the nation. The present volume is timely because in the coming months the citizens of this polity would exercise one of the most fundamental of their democratic rights, the franchise, to pronounce upon the performance of the government.

In ages gone by a powerful advocate of democracy had opined that citizens ‘are fair judges’ of policy. This remains the standard by which to assess the pronouncements and performance of public leaders, be they statesmen or demagogues. This scrutiny has to go beyond the surface and explore the interstices and processes that led to individual acts of decision-making. It has to identify the gap between profession and practice and share it with the citizen body. Free societies the world over welcome it while those who view freedom differently deprecate it.

In times when criticism of state action is frowned upon, our author is undaunted. He has in these columns examined most aspects of our polity. An international journal of repute has this month enquired if India is faltering in its commitment to liberal, pluralistic, democratic order? The concern is serious and the quest for an answer would seem to lie firstly in our adherence to proclaimed principles and secondly to the efficacy of institutions.

What then is the score card?

There is no ambiguity about principles. These are inscribed in the Preamble and text of the Constitution – Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. So every action violating these principles or condoning their violation is a contravention and many instances of both are cited in these essays. The same holds for the efficacy of institutions. These are instruments of governance. Are they being used or misused? While a decline has been in progress for some time, it has been aggravated in recent years. Instances are many. If the budget is passed without scrutiny and debate by parliament and if important pieces of legislation are endorsed without reference to standing Committees or select committees, then it is evident that parliament as the designated legislative institution is not doing its duty and the government of the day is failing in its primary duty.

The same holds for several other institutions. Some have imploded, others have faltered on their essential functions. Still others have succumbed to backdoor control. Together they raise doubts in the public mind and undermine the confidence essential in a normal, open, system.

The author highlights the resulting situation and draws attention to “the belief in impunity that seems to have infected every public functionary” as a result of which “every value of the Constitution is under attack – freedom, equality, liberalism, secularism, privacy, scientific temper, etc” He concludes that “there is a clear and present danger that the Constitution of India will be replaced by a document that will be inspired by an ideology called Hindutva.’ This ideological deviation, conscious and unabashedly public, undermines the core values of the Constitution, differentiates between citizens on grounds of faith, seeks to impose a single cultural denominator to homogenize a plural society, and undermines secularism and the principle of fraternity.

The four essays on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir make disturbing reading. From all available accounts, the ‘muscular, militaristic policy’ has caused alienation particularly among the youth. The late Shri Vajpayee had suggested a solution within the ambit of humanity (insaniyat ke daere main). We seem to have opted instead for inhumanity forgetting the old dictum that might does not make right.

The essay on ‘Searching for Shangrila’ on India’s place in the world should be read along with the ‘Chilling Facts” on ‘Those Who Are Left Behind.’ This is perhaps the best commentary on the record of governance; this is how the world beyond our borders sees us.

Shri Chidambaram has done a public service by collecting these essays in this volume.

New Delhi M. Hamid Ansari