Ambedkar, Gandhi and Patel: The Making Of India’s Electoral System: The downside of Raja Sekhar Vundru’s book is that’s written too briskly and almost bureaucratically. (Surprise: he’s an IAS officer.) The upside is that it explains how every single Indian got the vote thanks to Dr Ambedkar’s pitched battles with his nemeses in the Congress Party, way before the Constitution was a blink in anyone’s eye. So good.
How India Became Democratic: Happily, everyone did get the right to vote in independent India. But who made it possible for them to do the voting? Far from the men making important speeches in the Constituent Assembly are the heroes of Ornit Shani’s book: argumentative ordinary citizens, statisticians, civil servants and local administrators who all just took a look at a near-impossible idea and said, no, this is totally doable. Short, heavily footnoted, super-smart.
An Undocumented Wonder: If you aren’t tired of hearing how totally amazing Indian elections are, this is the book for you. Former election commissioner Dr SY Quraishi writes a glowing overview of India’s electoral history, including how the Election Commission came about (thanks again Ambedkar), how it goes about reaching “the last voter,” how difficult it is to get politicians to follow the Model Code Of Conduct, and more.
When Crime Pays: Why do we like to vote criminals into power? Milan Vaishnav’s super-popular 2017 book probably doesn’t cover the specific criminal you have in mind, whoever he (or she) is, while you scroll through this story. But this is a cool study of how criminal records and electoral democracy became besties. We even interviewed him about it!
Tamil Oratory and the Dravidian Aesthetic: This is not strictly about elections, but in a discourse that tends to get stuck somewhere north of Madhya Pradesh, it offers a beautiful new angle. Why did modern Tamil politicians start to address their speeches in an classical-sounding, literary Tamil? The answer is totally delightful. You can also thank the late linguist Bernard Bate for the most beautifully written book on this list.
Battle For Bittora: We know this was the first book some of you expected to see on the list. Voila. What better time to read (or re-read) Anuja Chauhan’s frothy rom-com about warring Lok Sabha candidates who are also crazy about each other? It’s also one of her best.
Citizenship and its Discontents: Niraja Gopal Jayal’s academic but really lucid book is the history of how Indians became citizens. It’s not exactly popcorn reading about the polls. But this year, the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill might change not only election outcomes, but also the fabric of Indian democracy. Big picture: addressed.
If you don’t like these recommendations, don’t worry: you’ll be drowning in new books about the elections soon. Look out for Ruchir Sharma’s Democracy On The Road; Dorab Sopariwala and Prannoy Roy’s forthcoming book about doing what they do best (explain smart election things); Dr Quraishi’s The Great March Of Democracy; Shivam Shankar Singh’s How To Win An Indian Election and - phew! - truckloads more.
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