God’s gift to India

Nani A. Palkhivala — A Life by M.V. Kamath; Hay House India; Price: Rs.594; 524 pp

If you believe that history is biography or a compendium of biographies, when a defining, ideologically unbiased history of 20th century India is written, one of the heroes of that great tome will be the late Nani A. Palkhivala (1920-2002). The great majority of the people — particularly the nation’s youth born in the post-Emergency (1975-76) era — have probably never heard of this lawyer, economist, literateur and indefatigable defender of the Constitution. Yet if today the Indian economy is recording among the highest rates of annual growth worldwide and the nation — or more accurately its prospering middle class — enjoys the freedoms of speech, assembly, trade and fundamental rights, it is in a huge measure due to the unrelenting efforts in the courts of law and public opinion of this extraordinary individual, who devoted an entire lifetime to opposing the whittling down of constitutional freedoms of citizens by self-serving socialist politicians intent upon exercising maximum power with minimal responsibility.

The life of N.A. Palkhivala, described by freedom struggle stalwart the late C.R. Rajagopalachari (‘Rajaji’) as "God’s gift to India", is recounted by veteran author-journalist M.V. Kamath in this detailed and absorbing book, which is highly recommended for comprehending the history of post-independence India, and in particular to those interested in learning how the country has miraculously found its bearings after wandering for half a century in the wilderness of Soviet-inspired neta-babu socialism. It may seem laughable now, but in the tumultuous decade 1967-77 there was a severe threat of abolition of the nation’s constitutional freedoms and fundamental rights, and simultaneous sentencing of the economy to the Hindu rate of growth (3.5 percent per annum) in perpetuity. This outstanding biography details how almost single-handedly, Palkhivala took on the political establishment and waged war on both fronts — legal and economic — thus salvaging valuable constitutional and economic freedoms for the confused citizenry. Contemporary fast-track India which is recording almost double digit annual rates of economic growth owes Palkhivala a deep debt of gratitude, of which this biography is a timely reminder.

Perhaps the most prominent landmark judgements in the constitutional history of India were delivered in the Golaknath (1967) and the Keshavnanda Bharati (1973) cases, in which Palkhivala represented the petitioners. In the Golaknath Case, the issue was whether Article 368 of the Constitution which permits Parliament (with a two-thirds majority) to amend the Constitution prevails over Article 13 (2), which mandates that the State shall not enact any laws which alter or abridge the fundamental rights of citizens set out in Article 19. Palkhivala persuaded six judges of an 11-strong bench of the Supreme Court to rule that the fundamental rights of citizens were beyond the amending power of Parliament.

It is pertinent to note that Golaknath Chaterji, the petitioner in the eponymous case had protested the expropriation of his agricultural land by the Punjab state government. Therefore when the apex court held that the State had erred in confiscating his property for redistribution to the landless, communists, socialists and fellow travellers who constituted a majority in Parliament were not inclined to accept this verdict of the apex court.

Therefore they went ahead regardless and passed several amendments (24th, 25th and 29th) to the Constitution, consiging land acquisition legislation to the Ninth Schedule to place the constitutional amendments beyond judicial purview. Inevitably this constitutional sleight of hand was disputed in the Keshavnanda Bharati Case, to hear which a 13-strong bench of the apex court was constituted.

The Keshavnanda Bharati Case (1973) was the "longest case ever heard by the Supreme Court" and was heard by the 13-judge bench for 67 days, with Palkhivala arguing his case for a record 33 days during which he presented an array of arguments, facts and case law, and precedents from around the world which dazzled the bench and the legal profession in general. In the end, by a 7-6 majority the court held that while Parliament can amend any part of the Constitution, it cannot in the exercise of its amending power, alter its basic structure or framework. By advocating this innovative and unprecedented line of argument, Palkhivala prevailed, and this is the law of the land to this day.

Palkhivala was equally evangelical in opposing the Soviet-inspired, centrally-planned economic development model which sought to crush the native spirit of free enterprise and trade, in the court of public opinion. From 1958 onward, under the auspices of the Bombay-based Forum for Free Enterprise, Palkhivala began to analyse and explain the implications of the notoriously opaque annual budgets of the Union government to the middle class in the country’s commercial capital. The crowds of ordinary working people who came to hear him interpret the Union government’s annual getting-and-spending plans, swelled from a few dozen to over 100,000, forcing the forum to move this event to the Brabourne Stadium.

Perhaps no other individual speaking in English on a serious intellectual subject has proved as great a crowd-puller in the history of post-independence India. Significantly, in his budget analysis speeches, Palkhivala was usually unsparing in his criticism of the socialist budgets formulated by successive governments. It is strongly arguable that his budget analyses played a major role in exposing the infirmities and inconsistencies of neta-babu socialism, which enriched politicians but further impoverished the poor. And if in 1991, the country took a right turn towards economic liberalisation, Palkhivala was to a great extent responsible for shaping public opinion.

The author of this well-researched biography clearly admires his subject, noting that Palkhivala was much more than a lawyer and economist. In his eventful, action-packed life, he was also a successful author, advisor to the business house of Tata, and India’s ambassador to the United States.

These myriad facets of an extraordinary intellectual who played a leading role in preventing the slide of newly independent India into a banana republic, are meticulously recounted in this biography, which is mandatory reading for all who value our constitutional and economic freedoms. For writing this rich and rewarding compendium, M.V. Kamath, who for many years frittered away his talent advocating the cause of fanatic hindutva, deserves fulsome praise. Quite frankly, I didn’t think he had it in him.

Dilip Thakore

Valuable guide

Effective Parenting by S.C. Arora; Saraswati House; Price: Rs.150; 100 pp

With the class X and XII board exams round the corner, the effects of excessive parental pressure on children to excel in academics is a hot topic of debate in households and educational institutions across the country. Middle class parents are especially anxious about striking the right balance between providing an enabling home environment and driving their children too hard (see EW cover story ‘Pushy parents driving kids over the edge’, August 2006) to excel in school leaving and college entrance exams. With an increasing number of children being driven to despair, drugs and often suicide by unrelenting parental pressure, educationists are stepping forward to advise anxious parents on how to be supportive of children, and the social and psychological ramifications of excessive stress.

Against this backdrop Effective Parenting is a useful addition to the growing number of parenting books flooding the market. An educationist and principal for over 30 years in Apeejay schools across India, Arora who is currently the vice-chairman of the Lotus Valley International School, Delhi, provides valuable guidelines on how parents can motivate children to realise their academic and extra-curricular potential, without stressing them out.

The first three of the eight chapters of this slim 100-page volume offer insights into the physical and psychological changes children experience during early childhood (three-nine years), pre-teen (nine-12 years) and the teenage years. These pages also contain useful lists of do’s and don’ts for parents. For instance in the chapter ‘Teenagers’, Arora advises parents to refrain from excessively criticising adolescents as it ruins their self-esteem.

Likewise in the chapter ‘Parents and the School’, Arora suggests some useful motivational techniques to raise achievement levels in school and extra-curricular activities. There are tips on how to groom intelligence with minimal help; how to negotiate pocket money; how to deal with competition and exam stress. This is followed by advice to create a learning atmosphere at home, the importance of sharing time with children, playing together and appropriate sanctions and punishment. A list of how-to-do-it activities are also suggested at the end of the chapter. Arora has dug deep to cull from his vast experience as a school principal and educationist, and peppered the book with illustrative anecdotes.

Most parents will especially enjoy reading the chapter ‘Case Studies — Joyful Memoirs of Parenting’. Eight parents have penned their personal experiences, the challenges they faced and how they overcame them. These first person accounts make inspirational reading.

However, despite its general appeal, the book is obviously work done in a hurry, rather than a well-researched labour of love. Attention to detail is conspicuously missing. For instance in the chapter titled ‘Research Findings’, detailing the results of a survey conducted in America during Ronald Reagan’s presidency on how parents can help their children learn better, there are no particulars about the organisation which conducted the survey, and/ or the year in which it was conducted. Readers are left in the dark about this mysterious, earth-shattering research initiative.

Moreover the book lacks a bibliography or index. And it could have done without the crude paper-and-ink drawings and the colour patches/ designs which run through it. The cumulative impact of these acts of commission and omission trivialises this otherwise salutary volume. The obvious argument that there is a virtual explosion of alternative, well-paying, unconventional careers in the newly liberalised Indian economy which should circumvent middle class angst, is also an unfortunate omission.

Be that as it may, Effective Parenting is a valuable guide book for neo-literate as well as more aware metropolitan parents struggling to strike a balance between their great expectations and the aptitudes of children in the new Indian economy which has changed beyond recognition during the past decade.

Summiya Yasmeen