Friday, June 25, 2010

Book Review - My Country My Life

My Country My Life by L. K. Advani: This book is about the long 60-year political journey of Mr. L. K. Advani packed into a whopping 1000 pages - reading it is a long journey as well. He makes his views known, both good and bad, about a host of political personalities in India starting with Nehru-Gandhi-Patel years, Indira Gandhi-Rajiv Gandhi years, until his recent rendezvous with Rahul Gandhi, that makes it pretty comprehensive. It was also enlightening to learn about less popular personalities like Dr. Shyam Prasad Mukherjee, Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya and Jayaprakash Narayan, who are portrayed as better visionaries but could only lay the ground work, given the Indian political situation. His tireless efforts are inspiring to read - in building BJP as an alternative to congress, dealing with the draconian emergency era and its legacy, dealing with the alliance politics that has produced little output in nation building - the last one still remains an issue. On the one hand, it gives hope that sharp minds starting from Swami Vivekananda, Dr. Mukherjee, Pandit Deena Dayal Upadhyaya and Mr. Advani himself have continued to build so much momentum over 100 years, on their vision for the nation. On the other hand, it also feels hopeless as we read through the challenges faced from compromising politics, sycophancy, lust for power and bad ethics resulting in bad leadership and leaving the nation in shambles time and again. There is a strong defense of RSS as an organization committed to churning more ethical and disciplined people each generation, as well a strong tinge of Hindutva, though he tries to provide a secular view and explain the Ram temple or Ayodhya issue in a cultural context as a means of building a strong future with roots in glorious past traditions. I get the feeling that if the same efforts were put in a different more progressive strategy without past hangups, it may have resulted in wider acceptance and better results. Some interesting tid-bits from the book:
  • India got its name from the Sindhu river; Sindhustan became Hindustan in Persian, and Indu in the regional language. Now, the Sindh province or Sindhu river doesn't run in India at all!
  • Mr. Advani did not know Hindi until he was 20 years old! He learned it later after migrating to India from Sindh.
  • The Vivekananda memorial in Kanyakumari was a result of tireless efforts and leadership of a person by name Mr. Eknath Ranade.
I have also read another book, Gandhi and Churchill, which provides a good narration from 1850 to 1947, prior period to much of what is in this book. As well, books like the Argumentative Indian, by Amartya Sen that provides glimpses of Indian history way back to Akbar and Ashoka (BCE) days. Going by these, it seems Indian politics was always a mixed bag of good and evil alliances with pockets of illustrious rule, and will continue that way at least to the foreseeable future.

The best tribute to this book is what I heard the renowned journalist Cho Ramaswamy say; Not verbatim, but it goes something like this: "As far as Mr. Advani is concerned, My Country and My Life are the same thing - his life has always been about this country"!

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