‘Politicians don’t need poignant novels to understand poverty. But Amartya Sen and Al Gore have had great impact on me’


|Politicians & Literature|

Ashwani Kumar | 60 | Punjab
Minister of Law & Justice, Congress

Ashwani Kumar
Ashwani Kumar Photo: Dijeshwar Singh

READING TEACHES YOU about various facets of life, which, in turn, enables you to articulate arguments that have resonance with the realities around you. I think politicians should read as extensively as possible, but they are also taught by life itself. They don’t need to read a poignant novel to know the realities of poverty; they see it everywhere. But I agree that the more you read, the finer your appreciation of realities around you becomes.

My interests have always been philosophy, politics, biographies and autobiographies. One of the finest books on history that I have read is EH Carr’s What is History? George H Sabine’s A History and Political Thought was another book that was compulsive reading in our college days. Eric Hobsbawm’s The Age of Extremes was once my favourite book, where he predicted the pre-ponement of the 21st century. He said that globalisation, liberalisation and technology had a cumulative impact of preponing the 21st century. In the 1990s, when the globalisation wave shook the world and technology and liberalisation came in its wake, he said the 21st century was already there because the terms of reference of the world had changed.

The two volumes of Judge Megarry’s Miscellany-at-Law are my all-time favourites. In the past few years, Amartya Sen’s The Great Idea of Justice and Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason have had great impact on me.

Law is also philosophy. It’s not dry. When you read a law book, you can’t read law or the judgments based on law without knowing the context and the surrounding realities of life on the basis of which those judgments are rendered.

The little fiction that I have read, which wasn’t exactly fiction, was The Fall, which I read during my Oxford days. It was very poignant with a strong message.

Similarly, Tarun Tejpal’s The Alchemy of Desire is one of the very well-written books that I have read. It was a great statement in terms of the written articulation of an idea.

It is my great regret that I don’t get as much time to read now as a full-time politician, but that is no excuse. I can take out one or two hours a day. I will start doing that very soon because there has to be an intellectual input also. If it’s all about output and no input, then you can’t do your job properly. You must read as much as you can.

Apart from reading, I have also written a book called Law, Ideas and Ideology in Politics: Perspectives of an Activist, which is a compilation of my speeches and articles. I wish to bring out another volume with my reflections and interviews that cumulatively give an idea of how I have evolved as a politician and thinker.


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