HT Picks: The Most Interesting Books of the Week
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HT Picks: The Most Interesting Books of the Week

This week’s good reads include Yashwant Sinha’s critical look at the government, a book on searching for the Mahabharata, and another that looks at how elections make dictators respectable

books Updated: Jan 04, 2019 20:22 IST
HT Team
HT Team
Hindustan Times
Yashwant Sinha,Vajpayee,elections
(HT Team)

INDIA UNMADE BY YASHWANT SINHA WITH ADITYA SINHA

241pp, Rs 699; Juggernaut

Yashwant Sinha is one of the fiercest, bravest and most well-respected critics of the Narendra Modi government. A former finance minister, he has seen events first-hand and steered the country out of several crises, including the East Asian Crisis of 1997 and the sanctions that the United States and other countries imposed on India in 1998 after the nuclear tests. Sinha’s tenure as finance minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government is celebrated as a golden period of economic reform and infrastructure building.

In this book, he says the things that many are thinking but few have the courage to say. He looks back at the Modi government’s economic and development track record and separates the truth from the PR spin. He also compares the political leadership and vision of Modi and Vajpayee. What emerges is a deeply troubling portrait of a prime minister and a government that have wasted a once-in-a lifetime mandate. *

BIG BHISHMA IN MADRAS BY JEAN-CLAUDE CARRIERE; TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH BY ARUNA VASUDEV

122pp, Rs 499; Speaking Tiger

‘Where can one find the Mahabharata? The facile answer is “India”.

A chance comment in 1974 fired Peter Brook and Jean-Claude Carriere with the idea of producing a play based on the epic. Together they travelled across India, searching for all possible theatrical forms of the great poem. The result was an epic play – nine hours with two intermissions – later made into a film and a TV series, which has become a landmark in theatre. Another result was this delightful book made from the notes that Carriere jotted down during his travels, whose charm is enhanced by his piquant illustrations that run through the pages.

The ‘sacred frenzy’ of Theyyam in a Kerala village and the intricacies of Kathakali are interwoven with their encounters with the aged Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram, a ‘one-in-three saint’, and the towering Satyajit Ray in Kolkata. Here they also meet Professor P Lal, who has been working for twenty years on translating the Mahabharata into English. It is vignettes like these that make their search for the epic into a journey that shows India, through Carriere’s words and sketches, in a way it has never been seen before. *

HOW TO RIG AN ELECTION BY NIC CHEESEMAN AND BRIAN KLAAS

311pp, Rs 599; HarperCollins

Believe it or not, dictators who hold elections survive for longer than those who don’t. There are more elections than ever before, but the world is becoming less democratic.

In How to Rig an Election, Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klaas show how elections enable authoritarian leaders to hold on to power, revealing the reasons behind this seeming paradox. They develop the idea of a ‘dictator’s toolbox’ to uncover the six main strategies – including gerrymandering, vote buying and ballot box stuffing – that enable authoritarian leaders to undermine the electoral process and guarantee victory. By setting up flawed elections, leaders gain the benefits of holding elections, such as greater legitimacy and international financial support, without the costs.

This engaging and provocative book draws on global examples of election rigging, from Azerbaijan and Belarus to India, the United States and Zimbabwe. How to Rig an Election reveals the limitations of holding elections as a means to promote democratization, and provides new ideas about how democracy can be better protected from authoritarian subversion. *

*All copy from book flap

First Published: Jan 04, 2019 20:22 IST