That the nation with the largest number of illiterates and the largest number of high-school dropouts has its politics occasionally rocked by who said what in some book, only points to the book divide, or more precisely, the English language book divide that exists in India.
Be that as it may, 2014 had a fair share of books that generated storms in the inner chambers of Lutyens Delhi and beyond.
Here are my top five political books of 2014.
Nehru and Bose: Parallel Lives
The political chatter in the subcontinent famously revels in what-could-have-beens. This ranges from, what if Sanjay Gandhi’s life wasn’t cut short to what if P V Narsimha Rao’s Congress government had decided to clamp down on Karsevaks during their run up to the Babri demolition.
But what tops the list is: What if Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, and not Jawaharlal Nehru, had been the leader of the first post-British government. Historian Rudrangshu Mukherjee’s masterpiece “Nehru and Bose: Parallel Lives” provides enough fodder to both Bose and Nehru camps of the debate by going into their respective political ideologies, their rise in the Congress scene and most importantly, the nature of their inter-relationship. The third pole in this riveting story is, of course, Mohandas Gandhi, whose co-opting of Nehru and sidelining of Bose, decided their future political trajectories and fortunes in no small way. Solid research and very elegant prose makes this title stand out.
The Accidental Prime Minister
In the middle of the election season of 2014, Sanjaya Baru’s ‘The Accidental Prime Minister – The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh” stirred the Lutyens pot like no other book this year. As a long-time journalist and an invited courtier as the Prime Minister’s media adviser during the UPA-I regime, he watched the inner-workings from close quarters. If his account is to be believed, Singh is a man of personal honesty who looked askance at not-so-honest dealings of some members of his government.
Gas Wars: Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis
The pathetic genre of the grand “Idea of India” books had a much-needed drought this year and in its place there were publications that spoke very unsavoury truths about power. The foremost in that courageous list was “Gas Wars: Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis” by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Subir Ghosh and Jyotirmoy Chaudhuri.
In simple terms, this is the detailed story of an epic loot of India and its resources, well-hidden under stories of growth, corporate social responsibility, rich lists, politicians, bureaucrats, pimps and their inter-linked world. Backed by impeccable research, it exposed the architecture of kleptocracy around gas pricing in general and the subcontinent’s energy resources in particular.
Moral of this story—there are no self-made billionaires. The people pay.
Kanshiram: Leader of the Dalits
This year’s parliamentary elections saw the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) draw a rare blank, though it emerged as the third largest party in terms of votes. Badri Narayan Tiwari’s “Kanshiram: Leader of the Dalits” is the story of the extraordinary man who founded the third most popular political party of present-day India.
In the last two years, even as the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party has been the most talked about topic in India media, this book charts the rise of the original party of the aam aadmi (or the Dalits), rendered less than aam by systematic social, political and economic exclusion.
The First Naxal : An Authorized Biography of Kanu Sanyal
“Naxal” is a term that has found a permanent space in the subcontinent’s political imagination (there are “Naxalite” parties in Bangladesh, too). Kanu Sanyal was the principal organizer of the Naxalbari peasant uprising of 1967 and one of the most important leaders of the original Naxalite party, the CPI(ML).
Therefore, Bappaditya Paul’s “The First Naxal : An Authorized Biography of Kanu Sanyal” published in August is an important book in the sense that its looks at the life and times of one of the main leaders of a political current whose latter-day versions constitute the largest extra-parliamentary political force in India. An “authorized” biography is something that is probably damaged at birth. Nonetheless, this is a testament of one of the principal architects of what has now become India’s “principal internal security threat” in the eyes of the state.