|Politicians & Literature|
Salman Khurshid | 59 | Uttar Pradesh
Minister of External Affairs, Congress
TAKING RIGHTS SERIOUSLY by Ronald Dworkin, who was professor of jurisprudence at Oxford when I was a graduate student there, has been the most important influence on my idea of public morality and law as the liberal basis for people’s rights. It has shaped my attitude towards constitutional disputes, as indeed about politics and public policy. On a larger canvas, John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice has been important to me, and the two principles of justice (the ‘principle of equal liberty’ and the ‘difference principle’) proposed by the author have been constant touchstones for political analysis. Amartya Sen has, in his The Idea of Justice, tested the Rawlsian thesis and provided a challenging critique that needs plenty of time to study at length. Sadly, time is a luxury unavailable to politicians. It is a constant battle to carve out quality time for one’s life outside politics.
In another dimension, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint- Exupéry, Goodbye Mr Chips by James Hilton and Abbu Khan Ki Bakri by my grandfather Dr Zakir Husain have been constant companions. They provide endless pleasure, of course, but they are also vital to my interest and work in education. Working with young children is unique as it requires combining teaching with learning. My formal university education may have prepared me for my professional life and provided me with certain professional principles, but it was the latter two books that really helped me formulate my ideas about education. In many ways, this has led me to the same destination sought in ‘Nayee Taleem’, the educational concept espoused by Mahatma Gandhi, which found practical expression in the Jamia Millia Islamia university.
Serendipitously, and fortunately, the books I read have reinforced my instinct for liberalism and allowed for an easy synthesis of instinct and analysis. I have seldom been tempted, even in passing, to change my initial postulates and preferred positions, and thus have not had to agonise over the implications of my beliefs. Yet, there have been times, particularly when I was younger, when Che Guevara’s diaries touched a chord. In my heart, then, I was a secret revolutionary, even as in my mind, intellectually, I remained a steadfast liberal!
Given this, perhaps, it will not surprise you to learn that in my first year at St Stephen’s College, I played a small role in the union production of Mario Fratti’s Che, directed by none other than Kapil Sibal (Minister of Communications and Information Technology). There is a brilliant passage in the play in which Che soliloquises about why he was a communist, what made him so, that all our contemporary Marxists should read.
My interest in public life was a natural progression, but certainly encouraged by reading biographies of, and works by, such great leaders as Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad, Indira Gandhi, John and Robert Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Ho Chi Minh and Nelson Mandela. These towering figures are lodestars for many in public life.
Of course, I continue to read; in fact, I must. Most recently, I read a lovely collection of short stories, Winter Evenings, by Navtej Sarna, an outstanding Foreign Service officer and author of considerable worldwide repute. The stories are about ordinary lives — a phrase much obscured by the excessive, reflex resort in our country to the expression ‘Aam Aadmi’! I recently reread Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, about that great man of principle, Thomas More, and found it once again to be a great source of strength. Of the other fiction that I have read lately, the most moving has been the spate of books about Afghanistan under the Taliban: West of Kabul, East of New York, The Bookseller of Kabul, The Kite Runner and the likes. I also went back to (Vibhuti Narain) Rai’s Shahar Mein Curfew. It’s amazing how we humans can so easily make our own hell right here on earth. And to do it in the so-called pursuit of heaven! Who knows, perhaps, more reading would help. All politicians should read and reflect, perhaps this latest breed of wannabe politicians more than most. There is so much more to heaven and earth than what is apparent in their philosophy (politics, really!)