Aashti Bhartia’s book is an important tool in understanding the substance — or lack thereof — in the next generation of leaders. It asks questions that youth want answers to, writes Mahima Kaul
At Aashti Bhartia's book launch, one of the panelists commented that the only thing missing from the book was a chapter on Aashti herself. He wasn't wrong. To understand the real strength of her book, the Introduction chapter is crucial. Bhartia is not a political journalist, although she has clear interest in the subject. She is instead, a storyteller. Vote of Confidence
attempts to tell the stories of 17 of India's young members of Parliament, fleshing them out as more than media cut-outs. This storytelling is guided by her admitted curiosity about these MPs. As she writes, "I was intrigued by the idea of poking around Ministries, figuring out what the young politicians are up to, and clearing the cobwebs of party politics."
This curiosity helps keep her essays interesting and informative. In explaining each person, she gives some background about their parties and the issues most concerning the state, and it helps even the most casual reader build up context. Bhartia admits that she chose her MPs rather randomly — she wrote about those she had read about and those who could give her some time — and she laments that she has only featured one woman MP. Nine of the 17 MPs are hereditary MPs, but that is perhaps reflective of our democracy in general.
The chapters have no standard format. Some are almost completely interviews while others paint portraits. There's even a love story or two mixed in! I found some chapters more compelling than others — those were typically the ones about the lesser-known MPs and their struggles to build a political base in their constituency. In some ways, this book offers great advice to future political aspirants. Ghanshyam Anuragi (SP) talks about how he would visit post-mortem houses, hospitals and police stations regularly when he was out of power, to lend a helping hand to those in need. He even collected donations to fund weddings for those couples who couldn't afford one. Ajoy Kumar (Jharkhand Vikas Morcha) runs though a different area of Jamshedpur every morning when he's there, ending at a tea shop. That is where he picks up on what people are talking about. Janadhana Swamy (BJP) talks how one can convince the authorities that you are a "good product" and you should contest elections, revealing he joined the BJP and requested an interview with the CM to discuss his ideas before he actually asked for a ticket. Meenakshi Natarajan (Congress) talks about sloganeering and the importance of being able to design a movement around an issue.
The book allows, through its many essays on hereditary MPs, to delve a little deeper into what always seems like the "poor-little-rich-boy" syndrome with star kids. Most people know about Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia's stories already. But then there are cases like Nilesh Rane, formerly of the Shiv Sena and now the Congress, who was offered a ticket as part of a settlement the Congress Party had with his father, Narayan Rane. The fast talker muses about the demise of the Shiv Sena, dishing on the stylings of Bal, Uddhav and Raj Thackeray, as well as Sonia and Rahul Gandhi before telling Bhartia, "I don't talk that much." Bhartia notes the ease with which Deepinder Hooda has been able to clear projects for his constituency, Rohtak, as his father is the chief minister of Haryana. But she also notes that instead of typical Haryanvi bluster, Hooda focuses on using statistics and data to "drop references to what project was promised and what work was done after he visited the village last..."
In one of the more interesting chapters, Bhartia profiles two politicians who stand on opposite ends of the development debate in Orissa: Sidhant Mohapatra and Kalikesh Singh Deo, both of the Biju Janta Dal (BJD). The former is a famous movie star in the state who once played a Naxal in a movie, leading to him understanding and sympathising with the cause. The latter, from royal lineage and with a strong business background, believes in "a trickle-down theory, assisted by government-led social development." In contrast, the weakest chapter for me is Jayant Chaudhary (RLD)'s profile, which is more about politicking and numbers than his personal story.
Bhartia's book also has moments when her relative freshness into the world of politics reveals her naivety, and that, in my mind, cements her voice as the voice of the typical Indian youth looking for some answers. She is impressed by Janardhana Swamy's scientific past and his passion for public service, only to be disappointed to learn his name featured in a suspect land deal later. She muses, "I can only hope he doesn't prove himself lazy in years to come, fattened and jaded by politics." She isn't able to force Deepinder Hooda to delve into detail about how he would solve the problems of Khap Panchayats and Jat-on-Dalit violence in Haryana. He pleads his own version of the Fifth by telling her various incidents did not fall under his constituency. And despite ex-movie star Mohapatra's pro-Naxal stance, after the 2010 Dantewada incident, where Naxals killed CRPF soldiers, he doesn't really bother to discuss the complexities of government response with her when she calls.
Like a patchwork quilt, Bhartia's book goes from state to state, story to story, struggle to struggle, weaving for us colourful portraits of India's new youngest politicians. Along with it is the voice of the urban educated youth who wants to know where to begin understanding politics today. To answer that question, you might want to start right here! http://www.sunday-guardian.com/bookbeat/are-these-the-voices-that-will-find-answers-for-young-india