|Politicians & Literature|
Kamal Nath | 66 | Madhya Pradesh
Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Congress
WHEN IT COMES to seminal books that made their impact on an entire generation, I would have to nominate Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. It made me think hard about capitalism and individualism. Parts of it are vivid in my memory even today.
As my career progressed and I became a national politician and then a minister, reading about economics became an increasingly important component of doing my job. I turned to Jagdish Bhagwati, and he’s someone I continue to read and follow. He puts forth compelling, convincing arguments, his assertions impeccably backed up by evidence. I like both his books, India in Transition and In Defence of Globalisation. It was important to have Bhagwati’s arguments in my armoury as I sat in meetings putting forward India’s case at the World Trade Organisation.
I have also learned much from books about countries in our part of the world, from how various leaders of new economies have attempted to develop their respective countries. Opinions are mixed, as opinions always are, but I consider Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore to have set a great example. I have read From Third World to First with great interest to see how Singapore survived and grew and became the remarkably coherent, congenial, comfortable place it is today. Another notable Singaporean of interest to me is Kishore Mahbubani, one of the men challenging the status quo and changing the world. His books, Can Asians Think? and The New Asian Hemisphere, are astute examinations of the 2008 global economic crisis and the shifting tides, debunking the notion that only the western world has the knowhow to provide solutions and ideas to move the world forward.
Over the years, I have noticed a gradual change in the kind of reading I do. Nowadays, whatever little time I get, I devote to magazines, like The Economist and newspapers as the International Herald Tribune to get a sense of what the world is saying about India and how we can build on, alter and shape foreign perceptions of our country.
Of course, it’s often easier and more effective for me just to pick up the phone and call my friend Christine Lagarde, who heads the International Monetary Fund, for a sharp, informed picture of the financial fluctuations of our rapidly changing world.
I have read a lot about the rise of both urban and rural India. Just a couple of years ago, I wrote a book titled India’s Century in which I discuss the scale of grassroots entrepreneurship in this country and the ways in which that enterprising spirit will move us forward.
My political career has given me the opportunity to observe the changes affecting the lives of many millions across our country. I find the likes of Amartya Sen, for whom I have great respect, and Jean Dreze, whom I have read, to be disconnected from these ground realities, the facts of life in the hinterlands of India. It’s important to read those who criticise our country or the policies of our government in order to familiarise yourself with their arguments and respond to their challenges.
People recall Walter Isaacson for his biography of Steve Jobs, but I particularly enjoyed Kissinger, his excellent biography of the former US Secretary of State. I used to think Henry Kissinger’s perception of the world was rather narrow and driven by preconceived ideas about the ‘East’. But, as Kissinger himself admitted to me, his views on India evolved from the mid-2000s and he has come to appreciate India’s achievements.