Book Review: “Delusional Politics” by Hardeep Singh Puri

By Namrata Kohli

He has spent forty years of his professional life as a senior diplomat and was India’s permanent representative to the UN. On the occasion of World Book Day 2021, I am sharing my book review of “Delusional Politics”- a book by Indian politician, seasoned diplomat who is the current Civil Aviation Minister of India and Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs in India, Mr Hardeep Singh Puri.

Is politics delusional? Ask anybody in today’s times and anybody who is a nobody or a somebody is bound to stay an unequivocal yes… In this “collective trauma” that humanity is facing, when you see petty politics over anything and everything, people trying to score brownie points, you are filled with delusion and disillusion, both!

Albeit here, the author is referring to a generic, all-pervasive, pre-pandemic problem which has impacted not just one nation but the entire world- he beautifully illustrates how political leadership is sometimes less about policies and more about politics and propaganda. At the heart of delusional politics is the delusional politician. He talks of the probable connect between “mental illness” and “power”- a connect which seems believable, especially when you see the psyche of the likes of Adolf Hitler, Mussolini – “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. He talks about how many democratically elected leaders of the twenty-first century have also displayed streaks of recklessness, megalomania, bizarre self-obsession and political views that are difficult to characterize.

“Delusional” that literally means having false or unrealistic beliefs or opinions is all about replacing political reality with political narratives. Truth is not determined by facts, but by what “feels” true.

Mr Puri starts his book with a poignant question and even a more poignant answer. He asks “Is truth finally dead? Not really. It has been in coma for quite some time. We have just been reluctant to take it off life support.” He says we are replacing “political reality” with “political narratives” where we often “massage” the truth, “sweeten” it and tell the truth “improved”.

He gives two primary examples- support for Brexit and invasion of Iraq amongst others to prove that we are becoming a society of “data” rather than “facts”. Data can be manipulated- example Britain’s exit from EU was not backed by facts, but only data. A prime example is how in the Brexit campaign, sources advocated that UK sends EU Pounds 350 million a week which is such a drain on its economy whereas there was no mention whatsoever of what they were receiving at the same time.. the huge monetary inflows from Brussels to UK.. a perfect case of giving one side of the story was cited.

Mr Puri talks about narratives being built by media and takes the case in point of world’ three leading democracies – US, UK and India. Americans are being fed vastly different political narratives which only works to further polarize countries and create hostility towards other end of political spectrum. He alludes to how Congress has built the secular narrative and succeeded to some extent in fanning communal hatred.

The US-Iraq war is another case in point when mainstream media was largely responsible for creating a polarized narrative. Through a systematic misinformation campaign, the Bush administration created a contrived narrative based on Saddam Hussein’s alleged possession of weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and Iraq’s links to Al Qaeda to justify use of force and military. Finally when US invaded Iraq on 19 March 2003, the fact is that they found no such evidence. Again, the terrorist attack on 11 Sep, 2001 had left Americans ready and willing to accept any narratives. The administration told the public what they wanted to hear and truth took only secondary importance.

His account of Donald Trump is marked by many funny anecdotes. Trump was an unusual President and less than 100 days into office, there were already whispers of a possible impeachment – which he refers to as “theatre of the absurd.” Trump, even in high school had quite a reputation as a ‘rogue gone vogue’.. he was always “at war with the world” but it is astonishing that this went to a point where he felt compelled to go for elections and defeat other contenders – a NObama and a ClinDone was the public verdict.

I find this interesting when Mr Puri talks about his earliest meetings with Donald Trump, the real estate czar of US– “I ain’t take him seriously.. I tend to get more easily impressed by a good author, a philanthropist or a smart politician rather than someone who has constructed impressive looking buildings”- he met Trump as a resident of Trump World Tower between May 2009 and early 2013 on both occasions at an annual party. Well, to think that Mr Puri was given the charge of a ministry where he would interact with real estate people as Minister of Housing tends to amuse me as in general he has little affection, by his own admission for property people.. but I can tell you once he is there, he is “fully” there executing his mandate with both conviction and success.

In his India chapter, he talks and predictably so as the BJP man, when he refers to his opposition leadership as “Sultanate gone, but we behave like Sultans” and the “reluctant prince”. He talks about how NDA government has not just reformed but re-formed three critical areas of both India’s society and its economy – building India’s infrastructure, but also India’s softer power such as Swacchta and toilets and finally invested in health and education.

He has quoted many authors and leaders in his book. I like the line where he quotes Russell: ‘‘Looking out of my corner fourth-floor office with a full-frontal view, across First Avenue of the headquarters of the United Nations with the flags of the 193 member states fluttering majestically, I was reminded ever so often of what Bertrand Russell said: ‘The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”

Overall a must read for students of history, international relations and politics but a good read for anyone who interested in the “politics of politics.”

Related Posts

One thought on “Is Politics Delusional?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *