Political non-fiction, India’s story of the year
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Political non-fiction, India’s story of the year

It has been the year of political non-fiction with insider accounts by decision-makers and those with access to them. And more books are on their way. While such books have long been a regular fare in the west, it is a relatively recent trend in India.

india Updated: Nov 16, 2014 01:11 IST
Prashant Jha
Prashant Jha
Hindustan Times
Sonia Gandhi,Congress president,RK Dhawan

It has been the year of political non-fiction with insider accounts by decision-makers and those with access to them. And more books are on their way.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi had told reporters in July that she will write her own book – to bring out the whole ‘truth’. It is not known if she has started working on it though.

Veteran party leaders M L Fotedar and R K Dhawan, and former Delhi CM Sheila Dixit are writing their autobiographies. Former external affairs minister Salman Khurshid announced on Friday he is finishing an account of the UPA years. Former minister Jairam Ramesh is writing three policy-focused books - on land issues, Maoists, and rural India. Congress leader and former minister Manish Tewari confirmed to HT that he is writing a book on the social transformation of the past decade and its political impact.

Manmohan Singh’s former media advisor and veteran journalist Harish Khare’s memoirs of the 2014 elections – How Modi won it - will be out by the end of the year. Senior journalist Vinod Mehta’s book, Editor Unplugged- Media, Magnates, Netas and Me, is all set to be released next month.

It is striking that while most books so far have targeted the Congress, or exposed its vulnerabilities and mistakes at a time when its fortunes were declining, the next phase of books are being written by leaders primarily from the party itself. Some will be a defense of its record like Khurshid’s; but Congressmen are curiously and anxiously waiting to read Fotedar and Dhawan’s accounts too – both have been close to the Nehru-Gandhi family for decades. And if they decide to tell all, many secrets will come tumbling out.

The year began with Sanjaya Baru writing about his years as media advisor to Manmohan Singh in UPA-1. The book, for its revelations on the dual power structure, drew attention with Narendra Modi referring to it repeatedly in his campaign speeches. Natwar Singh’s memoirs which claimed that Rahul Gandhi had prevented his mother from taking over as PM in 2004 and Vinod Rai’s account of his years as CAG were out next. Manmohan Singh’s daughter, Daman, wrote his biography. And senior television journalist Rajdeep Sardesai’s account of the 2014 polls – drawing on his familiarity with Modi since 1990 – spun together a narrative of the campaign in quick time.

While such books have long been a regular fare in the west – with multiple accounts of high politics in Washington for instance – it is a relatively recent trend in India. What explains the spate of non-fiction books?

Kapish Mehra, MD of Rupa Publications, which published both Natwar Singh and Rai’s books, says that India is maturing. “Contrarian perspectives are now acceptable, and people are willing to pen down their accounts.” But the market is driving it too. “Singh’s book has sold 70-80,000 copies and Rai has sold over 40,000. General audiences are lapping it up.” Baru’s book too hit the bestseller list soon after its release.

There is now an eco-system which can support such books. There are more publishers in the market – Penguin published Baru and Sardesai, Hachette is bring out Khare’s book. There is greater media attention – with news channels, newspapers and social media lapping up new details. This helps generate awareness about the book in the larger public sphere, driving sales. There is a very large pool of the English-reading population segment, interested in current affairs. There are also more distributors, retailers, online stores which can support a high volume of books.

Tewari agrees it is a healthy trend. But he adds, “This is good as long as it is bereft of political opportunism and is not a book masquerading as a CV – looking for a job in the new dispensation.”

A senior publishing source admitted that they have to be careful not to print books which are driven solely by ‘vendetta’. But another books editor, who did not want to be named, said, “Look people write because of complex motivations. Our aim is to bring out as candid an account as possible. Baru or Natwar Singh may have been angry with Congress, but their books have enriched public discourse.”

When asked why similar tell-all books on BJP are not out, he added, “Let them be in power for a while, let contradictions emerge, people nursing grievances will write then.”

First Published: Nov 15, 2014 20:07 IST