The best books to understand Indian politics

Shivam Shankar Singh Author Of How to Win an Indian Election
By Shivam Shankar Singh

The Books I Picked & Why

When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics

By Milan Vaishnav

Book cover of When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics

Why this book?

There’s an inexorable nexus between crime and politics in many developing nations around the world. India is no exception. This book presents statistics to show just how much Indian politics are dominated by people with serious criminal cases against them and uses case studies to show why such individuals continue to win elections. For me, the book served as an excellent introduction to understanding voter behaviour and why many developmental projects failed to have the desired impacts. For anyone trying to understand the politics of India, the book serves as an excellent introduction.


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I am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP's Digital Army

By Swati Chaturvedi

Book cover of I am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP's Digital Army

Why this book?

When I started working in Indian politics, I believed fixing issues that people faced was the prime driver of votes. It soon became obvious that it wasn’t facts and issues that determined election results, it was emotions. It was also clear that emotions could be manipulated, and the information people chose to believe in wasn't necessarily based in reality. This book details how troll farms built by political parties can be used to shape the conversation on social media, generate fake outrage, and derail rational thought, and how this influences election results. 


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The Verdict: Decoding India's Elections

By Prannoy Roy, Dorab R. Sopariwala

Book cover of The Verdict: Decoding India's Elections

Why this book?

History often offers clues into what’s happening in the current times. This book, written by one of the most popular faces decoding Indian elections on television, provides an account of elections starting from India’s first election in 1952 until now. As I read through this book, I realized that what seems to be unprecedented to a young person might not be so when viewed through a historical perspective, and this book offers that important perspective. It also documents how election campaigns have transformed over the years and the major challenges disadvantaged groups face when trying to exercise their democratic right of voting, making it an excellent read for those looking to understand India’s democratic setup. 


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The Silent Coup: A History of India's Deep State

By Josy Joseph

Book cover of The Silent Coup: A History of India's Deep State

Why this book?

Although elections are dependent on how people choose to cast their ballot in the voting booth, politics is much larger than just elections. Political power isn’t just retained by convincing citizens to vote for you, it is sometimes also retained by crushing opposition voices and concocting fake narratives. This book shows how political parties in India have used organs of the state, including the police, investigative bodies, and intelligence agencies to consolidate power. It was a heartbreaking read, but it offered key insights into understanding how political power is actually wielded in the world’s largest democracy. 


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The Free Voice: On Democracy, Culture and the Nation

By Ravish Kumar

Book cover of The Free Voice: On Democracy, Culture and the Nation

Why this book?

It takes a lot from a lot of different stakeholders for a democracy to thrive. It requires unbiased institutions that ensure a level playing field for all political parties and candidates, and one of the primary institutions that keep democracy alive is the media. A vote is only an informed decision when voters have accurate information to base their decision on. The responsibility of making this information accessible rests with a nation’s media. For this reason, it is also one of the first institutions that is targeted by any politician wanting to consolidate power. This book, written by one of India’s leading journalists details how media institutions can be transformed from sources of accurate information to drivers of fear, and how that damages democracy. 


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