Book Review: Songbird In Political Nest

Songbird In Political Nest

Title: The 21st Century: Geo-politics, Democracy and Peace

Author: Balmiki Prasad Singh

Publisher: Routledge — New York, London

No. of Pages: 364

Price: $150

By Ved Marwah

The author Balmiki Prasad Singh (also known as BP Singh) is himself aware of the magnitude of the task he has undertaken in covering three important subjects; geopolitics, democracy and peace in one slim volume. Not an easy task by any means! But the reader will not be disappointed. Singh has done full justice to each one of them.

In his illustrious career in the public administration, BP Singh has held many important posts including that of the Union Home Secretary. But he is more than an administrator: a genuine scholar who has been in constant touch with intellectual endeavors that has enriched both his scholarship and administrative acumen. His erudition comes through on every page of this book.  He has carried forward the best tradition of the Indian Civil Service as visualized by Philip Mason (popularly known as Philip Woodruff) in his book – The Men Who Ruled India.    BP Singh can be a role model for the young civil servants. Instead of being preoccupied with perks and privileges and divorced from intellectual activities, they should concentrate more on their responsibilities and cater to public welfare. In a country like ours where the majority of people still live in poverty and sub-human environment and where the gap between the haves and have-nots is increasing instead of reducing. The 21st Century should be made compulsory reading for every civil servant.

In this book, BP Singh has analyzed important issues like terrorism, climate change, and migration that are destabilizing the international order in great detail, but without taxing the patience of an average reader.  He has not minced words in giving a graphic picture of the not very pleasant world today that afflicts the mankind. But he is not a pessimist. A note of optimism runs through the entire narrative. As stated by him, he draws strength from his firm belief that human nature is basically good. This according to him is reflected in the institutions of governance and growing number of men and women who want peace and harmony and admire ethical behavior than smartness to achieve the ends without caring for the means. His antidote to discontent and restlessness enhanced by technology is not shunning technology, but its adaptation to ‘historical visions’. This requires skill management of unprecedented changes that are taking place in the world today. And that cannot be managed without finding solutions that cater to local and regional problems.

Information Communication Technology (ICT) has heralded a new phase in human evolution. It has brought closer the ancient, medieval and modern world in contrast to common public perception. It has also made the world smaller and within reach of every citizen. Military conquests are abhorrent not only to humans but are very expensive in terms of economic and financial cost. Trade and commerce are the new avenues of prosperity in place of military might. Even the growing powers like China have realized this new reality of the contemporary world. 

Harmony is prerequisite for peace in world that is interconnected. But extremist and fundamentalist groups are growing and getting more organized to spread an environment of disharmony and conflict. Proliferation of fundamentalists in religions all over the world is a matter of serious concern that needs to be tackled. The growing radicalization of Islam is a serious threat to world peace. Within Islam Shia-Sunni conflict is assuming a violent turn.

Education has, no doubt, a central role in bringing peace and harmony, but that education has to start from home. India has always been in the forefront of the battle against orthodoxy and ignorance. Buddhism and Jainism have also their birth place in India and it is from here that they spread all over the world. The tragic partition of the country on religious lines has, however, left its ugly marks even in contemporary India that cannot be wished away. But it is also a fact, as the author points out, that 4,635 communities live in India in a predominantly Hindu society with a sizable Muslim population.

BP Singh’s ‘Bahudha’ approach that takes into consideration the dissenting view has a lot of relevance in today’s world, especially in our own country. His perspective has taken into consideration the interaction between current affairs with history and his critique transcends local cultural-bound tendencies.  The book will be of immense value to the young as well as to the old and to all researchers, social scientists, journalists, public bodies and all who are in general interested in understanding contemporary affairs. He has successfully struck a balance between ‘idealism and realism’.  Citing the example of 9/11 tragic event, he has underlined the threat to world peace from religious fanaticism that ignores basic religious values. Democratic values are not much different from religious values and they have developed their own ‘soft power’. This soft power is reflected in contemporary arts, dance, drama, painting, sculpture and ‘philosophical quest that will go a long way in building common secular beliefs among people’. He does not underestimate the influence of NGOs in the polity and economy.

BP Singh has tremendous faith in democratic values.  He advocates that democracy must move beyond periodic elections to good governance that demands enlightened political leadership and policy making as well as a dedicated professional civil service. Sardar Patel aware of this need laid the foundations of a professional and permanent civil service in free India. Indian democracy has flourished much to the surprise of western doomsday forecast in a diverse land suffering from widespread poverty and illiteracy, though factors like caste, ethnicity and religion are still very much there. Money and muscle power also continue to play a role in our electoral system.

‘Non- inclusive growth is also related to patronage politics.’ Market economy has only increased the gap. Greed and graft have exacerbated the problem. Emergences of many more political dynasties have further sullied the picture. There are more than 150 dynasties that have encroached on democratic space. Poor governance is the biggest stumbling block in progress of democracy. It should mean empowerment of people, accountability and solving endemic problems afflicting the society.

A professional and non-partisan civil service is an essential for good governance. According to BP Singh there are five aspects of democratic governance that need deliberation: the functioning of Parliament, freebies, subsidies and welfare state, interface between bureaucracy, political leadership and businessmen; policy making and technology; and public vigilance.

Reckless deforestation has brought about major changes particularly in the Himalayan eco-system that can have ‘far reaching effects on the physical environment, plant, animal, fungi and micro-organic communities, interacting as a functional unit.’ Their conservation requires efforts both of the state and civil society. GDP alone does not define development. It should include both ‘human development and ecology’. Land reforms and some check on deforestation can be major contributory factors. Globalization should not be allowed to become an instrument of privatizing the global resources as a source of profit for corporate houses. 

The author has rightly pointed out that India which has rich tradition of higher education should not neglect it. He advocates a rational approach to spirituality and science that constructs a reasoned argument of both nature and ideal ways of life.  

In short, the 21st Century ignites the mind of its readers.  It deals with major issues like ecology and climate change; roles of ideas and innovations; science, spirituality and education; the future of peace and harmony and the need for Bahudha approach; about democracy and good governance; international political and economic architecture; and relevance of Individuals and institutions for betterment of society and more.  This superbly written book with commitment for peace and welfare of humanity is also a good read and BP Singh, the author emerges as a global thought leader of the 21st century.

(Author is a retired IPS, former Governor of Manipur and Jharkhand. Currently he is a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi)