Discussing politics fills us with enthusiasm… and so this is all that we can hear in buses, on kerbsides, in shops and offices, in homes, on the television, on radio, in colleges, and I sometimes suspect, even in the mushy conversations of lovers in some park. But there is another truth that must accompany this first one and that is about the disordered way we go about making conclusions and summaries that are related to politics. As a result we go about living our excitedly politics-imbued lives without even realizing that we suffer from multiple factual miscarriages.
Therefore, when I held ‘Mandate: Will of the people’ by Vir Sanghvi in my hands, I muttered, ‘Can political truth really fit into this slim volume?’ Moreover, a foreword written by Amish Tripathi, a writer of bestsellers that converge fantasy and mythology to weave a thriller, seemed strange and unexpected and my first thought was, ‘Has Vir resorted to marketing gimmickry or will the book stand on its own feet?’ However, just a few pages later I realised that even politics is a fast-paced thriller that has a fair share of fantasy and mythology.
As I read through the chapters I could feel cobwebs of misconstrued political facts dropping off the walls of my memory. I realised that Indira Gandhi wasn’t just ‘some nasty woman who had let the lights go out on the world’s largest democracy,’ and that Manmohan Singh had ‘stopped functioning as prime minister and nobody in the government, not his cabinet and not his bureaucrats took him seriously. Everyone simply did what they wanted.’ What I’m saying is that the book effectively lifts the haze off personalities as well as events… and for anyone who wishes to read more detailed versions of the history of political juggling in India, this book is a great primer.
I remember once Specky, my wife, while talking about her D.Phil guide at the university of York, said, ‘I attended a few PG classes in mathematics in my first year as a doctoral student and Dr Sheil-Small made every big and small concept absolutely clear without a single pause of ambiguity.’ As I read the book it became clear to me that Vir Sanghvi was what Sheil-Small was to my wife. Yes, the book is an absolute MUST for anyone who wants a reasonable introduction to Indian politics. The truth is that if we have generations of Indians with ‘no real understanding of the political history of the last three decades’ it could be partly because of misinformation and also because ‘there was so little that was available to them in the form of popular history’. Our political thoughts and summaries are like cosy cartels lobbying strongly to keep us tilted to one side and so we happily remain in a perpetually fuzzy state. This book effectively breaks up these cosy cartels.
To give you a few instances where even I had a fuzzy view… the real reasons behind the notorious Bofors issue, or the truth behind the Ramjanmbhumi issue, or the facts behind Operation Black Thunder, or the background of the inflamed Mandal issue… despite being sketchy, each one of these issues is explained clearly and readers would be tempted to exclaim, ‘Aha! Now I’m clear about what really happened… and how.’ But it isn’t these events which the book makes an effort to clarify… it goes under the skin of the dynasty rule, gives us enough reasons to believe that Narasimha Rao was indeed a PM who made a spectacle of himself, and also tells us of the little known secrets of the way Zail Singh literally silenced Rajiv Gandhi. At every step of mind-boggling political changes were the mandates of people closely woven… some with a fair knowledge of the reality and others because of the real fiction that they chose to opt for. The book, according to Amish, ‘gives one a sweeping vision of the mandates that the Indian people have blessed their politicians with over a fifty-year period.’ Like him, I too believe that ‘the impact of these mandates is felt even today.’ Therefore, it is essential read and know all about these past mandates… so our future mandates don’t go awry.
Another reason why I loved the way this political history is written is because Vir Sanghvi doesn’t shy away from expressing unsavoury opinions as well. For instance, he rubbishes his own previously written assessment of Narasimha Rao as being ‘a small-time manipulator who masquerades as a statesman’ and admits he was wrong because the man ‘was not a small-time manipulator. He was a very big-time manipulator.’
To all those who intend reading chapters in political history as written by people like Meghnad Desai or RamChandra Guha, must first charge their thirst with this slim volume by Vir Sanghvi. The book effectively transforms the coleslaw of Indian polity into a main course… and we know that Vir is an expert in doing just this.
Title: Mandate: Will of the people
Author: Vir Sanghvi
Publisher: Westland Ltd
Price: Rs 195/- (in 2015)
Review published in ‘The Huffington Post’ dated 12 May 2015:
Published in ‘The Education Post’ dated 18 May 2015:
BUY the book:
On FLIPKART: Buy Mandate : Will of the People
On AMAZON: Mandate: Will of the People
27 April 2015