A people’s history of modern India, a study of life as Muslims, a data-driven analysis of the country, and a biography of an artist are among the ten books longlisted for the New India Foundation’s annual Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize for 2022. The winner – to be announced on December 1, after the shortlist is revealed on November 8 – will be awarded a prize of Rs 15 lakh for the best nonfiction book on modern or contemporary India published in 2021.
This year’s jury includes political scientist and author Niraja Gopal Jayal, entrepreneur Manish Sabharwal, historians and authors Srinath Raghavan and Nayanjot Lahiri, former diplomat and author Navtej Sarna, and attorney and author Rahul Matthan.
Here is the longlist, in alphabetical order, of the 2022 Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize, along with the publishers’ descriptions.
- Accidental Feminism: Gender Parity and Selective Mobility Among India’s Professional Elite, Swethaa S Ballakrishnen
- Born a Muslim: Some Truths about Islam in India, Ghazala Wahab
- Congress Radio: Usha Mehta and the Underground Radio Station of 1942, Usha Thakkar
- Governance by Stealth: The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Making of the Indian State, Subrata Mitra
- Midnight’s Borders: A People’s History of Modern India, Suchitra Vijayan
- Syed Haider Raza: The Journey of an Iconic Artist, Yashodhara Dalmia
- Tata: The Global Corporation that Built Indian Capitalism, Mircea Raianu
- The Chipko Movement: A People’s History, Shekhar Pathak
- The Truths and Lies of Nationalism as Narrated by Charvak, Partha Chatterjee
- Whole Numbers and Half Truths: What Data Can and Cannot Tell Us About Modern India, Rukmini S
Accidental Feminism: Gender Parity and Selective Mobility Among India’s Professional Elite, Swethaa S Ballakrishnen
Elite workspaces are notorious for being unfriendly to new actors, so what allows for aberration in certain workspaces? Drawing from observations and interviews with more than 130 elite professionals, Accidental Feminism examines how a range of underlying mechanisms – gendered socialisation and essentialism, family structures and dynamics, and firm and regulatory histories – afford certain professionals egalitarian outcomes that are not available to their local and global peers.
Juxtaposing findings on the legal profession with those on elite consulting firms, Ballakrishnen reveals that parity arises not from a commitment to create feminist organisations, but from structural factors that incidentally come together to do gender differently. The author also asks whether gender parity produced without institutional sanction should still be considered feminist.
Born a Muslim: Some Truths About Islam in India, Ghazala Wahab
Who are the Indian Muslims? Are they a monolithic community practising a faith alien to India? Or are they a diverse people, geographically rooted in the cultural ethos of the land? Is there an Indian Islam? Has the power of Islam declined over the centuries because the faithful have forgotten the spirit of the religion, and are sticking to dogma and rigid rules instead?
Born a Muslim attempts to answer these questions by taking a look at how the world’s second largest religion is practised in the country. The author takes a clear-eyed look at every aspect of Islam in India today. She examines the internal and external factors that have stalled the socio-economic and intellectual growth of Indian Muslims. The book shows what it is like to live as a Muslim in India and the challenges that the community faces. Weaving together personal memoir, history, reportage, scholarship, and interviews, the author also highlights how apathetic governance have also contributed to the Indian Muslim’s vulnerability and insecurity.
Congress Radio: Usha Mehta and the Underground Radio Station of 1942, Usha Thakkar
‘This is the Congress Radio calling on 42.34 metres from somewhere in India,’ Usha Mehta’s voice rang defiant and clear to the entire country on a ghost transmitter. These words would come to reverberate across the struggle for Indian independence. It was August 1942. The Quit India Movement had just been launched at the Bombay session of the All-India Congress Committee by Mahatma Gandhi. Inspired by his rallying cry, the 22-year-old student of Wilson College stumbled upon the idea to start an underground radio station to cut through the imperial din of the government’s mouthpiece, the All India Radio.
Risking it all for country in the face of crackdown, Mehta and her intrepid co-conspirators filled Indian airwaves with the heady zeal of rebellion. The clandestine station – Congress Radio – broadcast recorded messages from Gandhi and other prominent leaders to devoted followers of the freedom struggle. Moving from location to location to dodge authorities, reporting on events from Chittagong to Jamshedpur, the radio station fought the propaganda and disinformation of the colonial government for three months-until their arrest and imprisonment in November of the same year.
In this riveting account, Usha Thakkar brings to life this high-voltage tale of derring-do, complete with stouthearted revolutionaries, thrilling escapes and a cruel betrayal, through the extraordinary story of Usha Mehta, the woman who briefly became, quite literally, the voice of the resistance.
Governance by Stealth: The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Making of the Indian State, Subrata Mitra
India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, with its striking durability, and ability to adapt to the transition from colonial rule to post-colonial governance, is a remarkable example of institutional resilience. Home’s special expertise in governance by stealth – maximum order with the use of minimum force – was instrumental for the department to acquire a secure niche within the colonial structure. Following the end of colonial rule in 1947, the Home Department mutated into the Home Ministry of the Indian Republic.
How a colonial institution whose key task was to hold Indian nationalism at bay became the architect of the post-colonial state and nation, is one of the questions that the book attempts to answer. The ministry’s multiple roles as the keeper of public order, mentor to public services, and the invisible sinews of the state explain its exalted status in India’s governance and politics. The analysis is based on declassified files of the Ministry of Home Affairs, correspondences, biographies and interviews, and explores the multiple roles of the Ministry and its penchant for governance by stealth.
Midnight’s Borders: A People’s History of Modern India, Suchitra Vijayan
India is a land of borders, its peripheries nestling against seven countries. Over seven years, across 9,000 miles, Vijayan travelled these borderlands. The more she travelled, the clearer it became to her that local history and memory bear no resemblance to the political history of the nation that claims these lands and peoples.
From the densely populated border that India shares with Bangladesh to the highly disputed one with Pakistan, the stories in this book engage with how people live, struggle, fight, and survive. These are stories that question our ideas of what freedom means and what it means to be a citizen. At a time when millions in India face loss of citizenship, Vijayan’s empathetic reportage provides a re-examination of the idea of territorial sovereignty. Midnight’s Borders, featuring over forty original photographs, is a compelling narrative of a country in crisis, turning against its own people while coping with the legacy of colonialism and Partition.
Sayed Haider Raza: The Journey of an Iconic Artist, Yashodhara Dalmia
Ashok Vajpeyi Sayed Haider Raza was one of the greatest painters of modern India. This book traces his journey from his birthplace in Barbaria, Madhya Pradesh, to his involvement in the founding of the Progressive Artists’ Group in Mumbai, the impact he made on the international art world in Paris, and his subsequent return to India in his last years.
Interwoven through the narrative are glimpses of his personal life – his childhood and family, his interactions and friendships with fellow artists, and his relationship and marriage with the French artist Janine Mongillat. Drawn from the letters, reminiscences and writings of Raza’s friends and critics, and accompanied by reproductions of his masterly work, Dalmia’s nuanced rendering is the definitive biography of one of the most significant artists born in this country.
Tata: The Global Corporation That Built Indian Capitalism, Mircea Raianu
After getting their start in the cotton and opium trades, the Tatas, a Parsi family from Navsari, Gujarat, rose to commanding heights in the Indian economy by the time India gained independence. Over the course of its 150-year history Tata spun textiles, forged steel, generated hydroelectric power, and took to the skies.
In this sweeping history, Raianu traces the growth of Tata – a complex process shaped by the eclipse of imperial free trade, the rise of nationalism and the developmental state, and the return of globalisation and market liberalisation. Today Tata is the leading light of one of the world’s major economies while also operating philanthropic institutions. Tata elucidates how a titan of industry was created and what lessons its story may hold for the future of global capitalism.
The Chipko Movement: A People’s History, Shekhar Pathak
In India, modern environmentalism was inaugurated by the Chipko Movement, which began in 1973. Because it was led by Gandhians, included women participants, occurred in Himalayan regions, and used innovatively non-violent techniques of protest, Chipko attracted international attention. It also led to a major debate on Indian Forest policy and the destructive consequences of commercialisation. Because of Chipko, clear-fuelling was stopped and India began to pay attention to the needs of an ecological balance which sustained forests and the communities within them.
In academic and policy-making circles it fuelled a wider debate on sustainable development – on whether India could afford to imitate the West’s resource-intensive and capital-intensive ways of life. Chipko’s historians have hitherto focused on its two major leaders, Chandi Prasad Bhatt and Sunderlal Bahuguna. Pathak places Chipko in its grassroots contexts and shows that in leadership and ideology Chipko was diverse and never a singular Gandhian movement.
The Truths and Lies of Nationalism as Narrated by Charvak, Partha Chatterjee
Written in the voice of the mythical atheist, naysayer, and general all-purpose heretic of Indian philosophy, The Truths and Lies of Nationalism as Narrated by Charvak presents a completely new way of telling the history of Indian nationalism. Severely criticising the doctrines of both Hindu nationalism and pluralist secularism, it examines the ongoing debates over Indian civilisation and recounts in detail how the present borders of India were defined by British colonial policy, the partition of 1947, and the integration of the princely states and the French and Portuguese territories.
The emphasis is not so much on the state machinery inherited from colonial times but on the moral foundation of a new republic based on the solidarity of different but equal formations of the people. After a trenchant critique of the present-day conflicts over religion, caste, class, gender, language, and region in India, the book proposes a new politics of revitalised federalism.
Whole Numbers and Half Truths: What Data Can and Cannot Tell Us About Modern India, Rukmini S
In Whole Numbers and Half Truths, data-journalist Rukmini S draws on nearly two decades of on-ground reporting experience to piece together a picture of India that looks nothing like the one we might expect. There is a mountain of data available, but it remains opaque, hard to access and harder yet to read, and does not inform public conversation.
Rukmini marshals this information – some of it never before reported – alongside probing interviews with experts and ordinary citizens, to see what the numbers can tell us about India. As she interrogates how data works, and how the push and pull of social and political forces affect it, she creates a blueprint to understand the changes of the last few years and the ones to come – a toolkit for India.