The New India Foundation has announced the shortlist of the Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize 2021, paring down the 12-strong longlist to six non-fiction titles on modern and contemporary India. The books – a combination of semi-academic and popular writing – have been chosen by a jury comprising political scientist Niraja Gopal Jayal, entrepreneur Nandan Nilekani, historian Nayanjot Lahiri, entrepreneur Manish Sabharwal, and historian Srinath Raghavan. The winner will be announced on December 1, 2021.
The Death Script: Dreams and Delusions in Naxal Country, Ashutosh Bhardwaj, Fourth Estate, HarperCollins
My Madam. That’s what I called her. I wanted to have a baby with her. I’m a dead man now. Whom will she have a baby with, I don’t know. My name was Korsa Joga. It still is. Your name doesn’t change after you’ve been murdered. The police register says: Korsa Jogaram, alias Ranjit Madkam, alias Shivaji. Notorious Maoist. Age thirty-five years. Gond tribe.
I was murdered fourteen days ago. The first day of the year 2015. In district Bijapur, division Bastar, Chhattisgarh state. The police people got my post-mortem done. On a piece of paper, they wrote about how I was murdered, how many wounds I received, and all the spots where daggers had pierced me. I had been in the Party for eleven years. I carried an AK-47, was deployed across Dandakaranya, ambushed and killed many policemen, and never received a single bruise.
But my former comrades killed me within eighteen months of my joining the police. They attacked me when I was going to my village near Gangalur. One of them was a boy I had recruited three years ago. He lived near my village. I brought him to the Party, and he was the first to stab me. After killing me, they threw me on the road.
I knew they were planning to murder me. Additional Sahab – the additional police superintendent of Bijapur – had asked me to be cautious since I was on their hit-list, and advised me to live in the police barracks. Surrendered Naxalites live in the police lines and remain safe. But I thought that I could tackle my old friends easily. I did not leave the jungle to live with weapons and policemen. I wanted to live in my village with my Madam. I was getting a small home built for us. I was on my way to the construction site when I was attacked.
Sahab often called me for information on the jungle. Sahab gave me a new name: ‘gopaniya sainik’ or informer. I told Sahab many secrets about the Party. I had once stopped a passenger bus in Murkinar, ridden it with my comrades and ambushed a police post. I had also looted a godown of explosives at the National Mineral Development Corporation in Bailadila, Dantewada, on 9 February 2006. Nineteen tonnes of explosives, fourteen self-loading rifles and 2,430 cartridges.
India’s First Dictatorship: The Emergency, 1975-77, Christophe Jaffrelot and Pratinav Anil, HarperCollins
As a regime, the Emergency tends to escape categorisation. But it can be better understood using Juan Linz’s typology, which provides a multitude of variants on authoritarianism and totalitarianism on the basis of three criteria: the degree of pluralism, the extent of mobilisation in society, and the role of ideology.
The Emergency was certainly not a totalitarian system, as Granville Austin points out: “The Emergency had its limits. Considerable individual and political freedom existed within it, ideological purity was not demanded, opponents were not shot.” The Congress lacked the ideological zeal, as it were, required for such undertakings. It neither exercised power in the name of an ideology nor made any attempt at encouraging popular participation. On the contrary the regime encouraged the depoliticisation of society – of universities, factories, and the countryside.
The Youth Congress, the shock troops of the party headed by the prime minister’s son, was probably the only exception to this, its membership growing from 700,000 to six million over the twenty-one months of Emergency rule. In the absence of party cadres, the Congress leadership lacked the ability of totalitarian regimes to diffuse ideas and implement policies.
More significantly, a totalitarian system would not have stopped short of carrying out mass purges of the ruling elite; Mrs Gandhi, however, did: just a handful of Congress MPs and MLAs were incarcerated and only 0.19 per cent of the country’s bureaucrats were dismissed. Nor was there a systematic use of terror, a defining feature of totalitarianism.
The death toll was probably less than a couple of thousand, paltry when placed beside figures for other autocracies. Moreover, censorship did not systematically prevent some newspapers from publishing news the regime found unpalatable, and the judiciary retained a certain limited autonomy – that it sometimes chose not to use, as we shall see.
Instead, the Emergency is best characterised as an authoritarian regime which encouraged the depoliticisation of society, tolerated opposition so long as it operated in a highly circumscribed space, and faced dissident elements within the establishment itself. But there are many different types of authoritarianism. Given the odium attached to class struggle by Delhi’s rulers, and their willingness to accommodate industrialists and crush labour militancy, it could be said that the Emergency has clear affinities with the corporatist variant that Linz identifies as “organic statism”.
But in late 1975 and early 1976, when Sanjay began asserting himself, the Emergency started to exhibit key features of another category of authoritarian regime that Linz, after Max Weber, theorises as “sultanism”.
Naoroji: Pioneer of Indian Nationalism, Dinyar Patel, Harvard University Press,
On the twenty-sixth of June, 1855, Dadabhai Naoroji inadvertently caused a major traffic jam on the streets of Bombay. That evening, crowds turned out at Apollo Bunder, a promontory jutting out into the city’s harbor, to watch Naoroji board the steamer Madras and thereby begin his first-ever voyage to Great Britain. It was a momentous event. Naoroji’s departure made the headlines of local newspapers. Despite the threat of a monsoonal downpour, well-wishers turned out in force, turning the muddy lanes off Colaba Causeway into a sea of horse carriages and people. Leading Indian citizens of Bombay marked the occasion by presenting Naoroji with scrolls of honor and purses of money.
By the midpoint of the nineteenth century, the departure of an Indian for Europe was no longer a rare occurrence. Why, then, did part of Bombay come to a halt to send off a twenty-nine-year-old Parsi? There are a few possible explanations. On that June evening, Naoroji left Bombay in order to help start what was reputed to be the first Indian mercantile firm in Great Britain. Along with the Camas, a wealthy Parsi business family, he planned to set up shop in London and Liverpool and, from the heart of empire, stake out a portion of the Indian textile trade that had hitherto been controlled entirely by Englishmen. This was a daring and risky endeavour, but one that understandably excited many Indians.
A few days after the Madras steamed out of the harbour, a Bombay learned society, the Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy Philosophic Institute, held a special lecture entitled “The Probable Effects upon India of the New Mercantile Relations between India and England Formed by the Establishment of a Parsee Mercantile Firm in London.”
But many Bombay citizens were probably drawn to Apollo Bunder for a far more prosaic reason: to catch one last glimpse of a man who had risen from desperate poverty to become one of the city’s most recognisable figures.
Gandhi in the Gallery: The Art of Disobedience, Sumathi Ramaswamy, Roli Books
It was March 1919 in the city of Madras (now called Chennai), although the artist who later recalled the moment got the year wrong and perhaps also some of the specific details, but no matter, for he was seeking to create with broad strokes the look of a new kind of leader who was on the ascendant in national politics after making a name for himself amongst the downtrodden Indians of South Africa. In his own words,
It was Mrs Sarojini Naidu who took me one morning to the house where Gandhiji was staying at the time. I found him sitting on a taktaposh (wooden bed) with only a loincloth tied round his waist, talking to several people who sat round him on the floor. His hair was closely cropped, but he had a shikha, the Vaishnava Hindu’s tuft of hair at the back of his head. It stuck me [sic] that he was a great saint and a political leader at the same time. Mrs Naidu then introduced me to Gandhiji and told him of my errand. Gandhiji smiled sweetly at me, as if signifying his consent to my doing his portrait. He went on talking to the people in the room, while I busied myself with my pencil. I finished the portrait within an hour. Gandhiji looked at it and said, “Do I really look like that? Of course I cannot see my face from that angle.” Then he passed it round to the persons assembled there. At my request he put down the following words in Gujarati: “Mohan Das Gandhi, Phagun Badi 3, Samvat 1975.” After thus putting his name and date on the drawing, he again gave me another of his characteristic smiles.
At the time of this encounter, Mukul Dey (1895-1989), for that was the name of the artist whose words I quote, was not yet the notable print-maker he was destined to become. He had published his first book, Twelve Portraits, in 1917 after receiving his early training in Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan ashram school, and in Chicago. The portrait he reportedly completed in pencil within an hour after meeting Gandhi shows the latter in profile with close- cropped hair, a dark moustache, and a prominent shikha.
Dey recalls that he was barely clad “with only a loincloth around his waist,” a garment that the Mahatma was to formally adopt for public consumption only two years later, as I note in the next chapter. Although not in the best of health in the wake of a surgery in January, Gandhi was also poised to launch his first nationwide campaign (the Rowlatt Satyagraha, as it came to be called) that would secure for him the status of the (moral) leader of the anti- colonial movement against British rule until his death three decades later. So, Dey’s portrait captures Gandhi at the very cusp of his critical transformation from a moderately well-known activist into the national – and global – icon he was to become.
The Coolie’s Great War: Indian Labour in a Global Conflict 1914-1921 by Radhika Singha, HarperCollins Publishers
In 1919, English journalist Edmund Candler wrote that:
The Labour Corps in Mesopotamia introduced the nearest thing to Babel since the original confusion of tongues. Coolies and artisans came in from China and Egypt, and from the East and West Indies, the aboriginal Santals and Paharias from Bengal, Moplahs, Thyas and Nayars from the West Coast, Nepalese quarrymen, Indians of all races and creeds, as well as the Arabs and Chaldeans of the country.
War journalists delighted in such descriptions of the wild ethnographic mix brought together at worksites of World War One. Such spectacles seemed to illustrate both the ‘belonging’ of diverse people within empire and the ability of the ruling race to bring order and productivity out of chaos.
The follower ranks of the Indian Army provided ample occasion for such self-gratifying reflections. Dizzyingly diverse, they included the departmental followers who made up the medical, transport and ordnance services, and the attached followers, who were assigned to regiments or other formations as cooks, sweepers, water-carriers, grass-cutters and grooms, laundrymen, black- smiths, and cobblers. In addition there were the “Coolie Corps” for porterage and road-building or other construction work, who were a familiar feature of militaristic border-making in India.
At some frontier stations there were virtu- ally permanent Coolie Corps, but these units were not regarded as part of the army establishment. The Coolie Corps give us a sense of the importance of the non-combatant element to that long history of mobile imperial militarism which preceded World War One. Coolie units accompanied many expeditionary forces sent from India: for instance, to Abyssinia (1868), China (1900), and Somaliland (1902-4).
Indian Expeditionary Force B, sent to German East Africa in November 1914, had two Coolie Corps of 300 men each attached to the 25th and 26th Railway Companies.4 Other units sent overseas in World War One were given the politically more acceptable label of the Indian Porter and Labour Corps to distance them from the system of inden- tured coolie migration, which was stigmatised by that time.
In 1915, Porter Corps from Madras Presidency and two Labour Corps from Punjab were raised for Gallipoli but diverted to Mesopotamia, where the Indian Expeditionary Force was facing an acute logistical crisis. Starting in 1916, the jails of India were also trawled for this theatre and some 16,000 prisoners were enrolled, the bulk in seven Jail Porter and Labour Corps, but 1,602 as sweepers or in miscellaneous units such as a Jail Gardener Corps. A total of nineteen Indian Labour Corps (ILC) and twelve Indian Porter Corps (IPC) were sent to Mesopotamia.
Jugalbandi: The BJP Before Modi, Vinay Sitapati, Penguin Random House
A tent city had been erected over the Mahalakshmi Race Course, playground of south Bombay’s upper classes. A public rally was scheduled in Shivaji Park, maidan for middle Mumbai’s middle classes. The three- day plenary session of the Bharatiya Janata Party had begun in Bombay on 10 November 1995, just months before the coming national elections.
Over 120,000 delegates attended, some even by ship from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.1 The freshly formed Shiv Sena-BJP state government deployed 6000 police personnel and four dog squads to shield participants. A BJP functionary estimated that the three-day event had cost five crore rupees. Brokers from the Bombay Stock Exchange had alone contributed one crore. And a party insider speculates that long-time donor Nusli Wadia – grandson of Muhammad Ali Jinnah – made his own offerings.
Party bigwigs had their mugshots plastered onto the backdrop of the sprawling podium. But one picture loomed large – a balding dome, oval face, white moustache and black-rimmed glasses. The sixty-eight-year-old Lal Krishna Advani had been party president for much of the past decade. He had remodelled the BJP in his radical image in these years, co-opting Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) men like Narendra Modi as well as movements like the one for a Ram temple in Ayodhya.
The seventy-year-old Atal Bihari Vajpayee, meanwhile, had spent this past decade sidelined from a party travelling in the reverse direction from his preferred “Gandhian socialism”. Vajpayee was a few inches shorter than Advani, with a face that was rounder, clean-shaven and full haired. This had been the face of political Hinduism since 1957, and Vajpayee had founded the BJP in this moderate image in 1980.
But ever since the RSS had removed him from party leadership in 1986, Vajpayee had preferred prawn and alcohol-infused evenings in his house to orchestrating the rise of the BJP from party headquarters. He had become a relic to be revered rather than a front-runner to be followed. The crowd that had gathered in Bombay that November had no interest in him. As India Today magazine put it: “For long, BJP cadres have looked upon their president, LK Advani as the prime-minister-in-waiting, confident as they were of the party’s success in the next general election.”
The backdrop of the stage additionally had a picture of the Red Fort in Delhi. The depiction of the spot where Indian prime ministers ceremonially give their yearly Independence Day address was deliberate. Elections were scheduled for April-May 1996, and Advani’s agenda this plenary was to ensure that on 15 August 1996, it would be a BJP prime minister who spoke from its ramparts.