Transforming the Steel Frame: Promise and Paradox of Civil Service Reform, Vinod Rai

The bureaucracy in India has been a study in contradictions. On the one hand, it represents the dream job for an entire population of Indians who take the UPSC examination to keep the country running. On the other hand, it is rife with tales of corruption and red tape, such that citizens dread any interaction with government officials of any order.

Transforming the Steel Frame: Promise and Paradox of Civil Service Reform examines the roles and responsibilities of the bureaucracy in modern times. It sets forth a vision of the future through an analysis and review of past attempts at reform, in the process revisiting the strengths of the systems as well as the flaws that prevent its optimal functioning. It includes the perspective of former civil servants who have been a part of this system for their entire lives and reflect on its problems while making recommendations for the future; officials who have participated in setting evaluation standards for the civil services and who have headed training academies and businesspersons who have worked both in the private and public domains and collaborated extensively with the bureaucracy.

In the breadth and thoroughness of its coverage, Transforming the Steel Frame provides an excellent overview of the civil services as they are and, more importantly, as they should be.

Most of What You Know About Addiction is Wrong, Anirudh Kala

In Most of What You Know About Addiction is Wrong, psychiatrist Anirudh Kala debunks common myths on the largely misunderstood topic of addiction. The book introduces readers to the ways in which man has been engaging with addictive substances over time and our complicated ongoing relationship with them.

Beginning with the early humans and the formation of their bonds with mind-altering substances, it goes on to share a comprehensive account of the use of various substances in India with a special focus on Punjab. The book closely examines the links between addiction and the social and economic changes plaguing the state, urging policy makers and law enforcement to stop viewing addiction through a moralistic prism and to adopt a more holistic and scientific approach to manage it.

These Seats Are Reserved: Caste, Quotas and the Constitution of India, Abhinav Chandrachud

Reservation or affirmative action is a hugely controversial policy in India. While constitutionally mandated and with historians, political scientists, and social activists convinced of its need, many resist it and consider it as compromising “merit” and against the principle of equality of opportunity.

In These Seats Are Reserved, Chandrachud traces the history and making of the reservation policy. How were groups eligible for reservations identified and defined? How were the terms “depressed classes” and “backward classes” used in British India and how have they evolved into the constitutional concepts of “Scheduled Castes”, “Scheduled Tribes”, and “Other Backward Classes” in the present day?

The book delves into the intellectual debates that took place on this matter in the Constituent Assembly, the Supreme Court and Parliament. Several contentious issues are examined dispassionately: are reservations an exception to the principle of equality of opportunity? Do quotas in government service undermine efficiency? Can “merit” really be defined neutrally? What is the thinking behind the rule that no more than 50 per cent of the available seats or positions can be reserved?

A Constitution to Keep: Sedition and Free Speech in Modern India, Rohan Alva

When we think of the Indian Constitution, we think of the glorious chapter on fundamental rights which guarantees paramount civil liberties such as freedom of speech. But there is also a tension, because freedom of speech is compelled to co-exist with laws such as sedition – contained in Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). In 2021, numerous individuals petitioned the Supreme Court to take sedition off the law books.

But what is sedition? What is its provenance? How was sedition used in colonial India against nationalist leaders? Is there any constitutional justification for its continuance? A Constitution to Keep makes a case for why political speech must be constitutionally protected and how the Supreme Court can do this while ensuring the purity of political discourse.

In Pursuit of Peace: India-Pakistan Relations Under Six Prime Ministers, Satinder Kumar Lambah

No relationship has been as complex and so difficult to manage as India’s relations with Pakistan. Four wars, cross-border terrorism, and Pakistan’s persistent hostility and relentless campaign on “Kashmir issue” have been a source of strategic challenge for every Indian leader. Yet, each has pursued peace in the interest of India’s progress and security with differing strategies, but with the same result.

As a diplomat who served around the world and in Pakistan, the author’s unique position tells an insider’s story of the turbulent history between India and Pakistan. He writes of his personal experiences of India-Pakistan relations having served six Indian Prime Ministers, whom he worked directly with and offered counsel. He also traces, with great insight, the roots of Pakistan’s evolution since its birth and the challenges its army-driven polity poses for India and reflects on the way forward in dealing with Pakistan to secure peace in the region.

The Story of My Life, Dosebai Cowasjee Jessawalla

The granddaughter of Seth Cursetjee Manekjee Shroff, Dosebai Cowasjee Jessawalla (1832-1911) was one of the first Indian girls to receive the benefits of an English education. This decision made by her mother, Meheribai, triggered both criticism from the Parsi community and mockery from the popular press. However, its life-changing effects were apparent in just a few years – and endured for a lifetime – as Dosebai became a part of both Indian and Western society and was empowered in ways unimaginable for most women at the time. In her lifestyle and choices, she proved herself to be of brave spirit and independent mind.

A formidable woman with a great zest for life, Dosebai marched through the Indian-Parsi society without a care for its stifling patriarchal norms that bound women to household drudgery. Dosebai went out into the world with rare confidence: she attended the Delhi Durbar of 1877 that declared Queen Victoria the Empress of India; became acquaintances with Governor-General Lytton and his wife; travelled widely, from Europe – where she met the English monarchs at Windsor Castle and the Pope in Rome – to Japan and the United States; learnt to drive a car and rode a hot air balloon.

Dosebai’s remarkable autobiography describes her youth, education, marriag, and global travels. Her experiences are not just a reflection of the challenges faced even by privileged women in the 19th century, but also of attempts to indigenise European practices.

The Indian President: An Insider’s Account of the Zail Singh Years, KC Singh

A study of the institution of the President of India, The Indian President is based on the author’s term as Deputy Secretary to the seventh president, Giani Zail Singh. In particular, it examines the President’s role when authoritarian governments are voted in power. Things are all the more challenging for a president with a popular prime minister who has an overwhelming majority, as happened in the case of Zail Singh and Rajiv Gandhi.

The book recounts how the guardrails painstakingly created by the first two presidents – Rajendra Prasad and S Radhakrishnan – were partly resurrected by Zail Singh. Richly anecdotal and incisively observed, The Indian President makes a compelling case for why the Zail Singh years are crucial to understanding both the limits and the possibilities of the country’s highest office.

A Cop in Cricket: Inside the World of BCCI’s Anti-corruption Unit Neeraj Kumar

Neeraj Kumar, a police officer – and a former BCCI anti-corruption chief – takes us inside the seamy world of corruption in cricket. What one encounters is an ungentlemanly game of cops and robbers: swindlers who cheat young players while the BCCI looks the other way, sham matches held just for the sake of betting and top administrators who care more for commerce than the integrity of the sport. This is an eye-opening and shocking insider’s account of the rot within Indian cricket.