From Editor Unplugged to Strangers Of The Mist to The Emergency to India’s Biggest Cover Up, the books provide insight into major events and also exposes wrongdoings and corruption. The books, written by journalists, bureaucrats, generals and spies stand out for their depth, scope and storytelling.
If you have ever wondered what it was like to interview the gangsters from Mumbai’s underworld in the colourful decades of 1980s and 90s, Ajith Pillai’s book provides definitive answers. When Pillai did a cover story for Outlook on Dawood Ibrahim, titled “India’s No.1 Enemy”, little did he expect that he will receive a call personally from Chota Shakeel, asking him to publish an apology or “face the consequences”. Some very interesting anecdotes focus on how he reached truce with “bhai” and arranged V.S Naipaul’s meeting with the underworld bigwigs of Mumbai. From chasing Silk Smitha for a story, witnessing the first shots of the Kargil war, being the lone reporter in the Pioneer office in the riot torn city of Bombay in 1993, to catching red-faced politicians in red light areas, Pillai’s diary is rife with scandals and sensationalisms.
'The Meadow' charts the fates of ten backpackers taken hostage by the extremists in Kashmir in July 1995. It tells of the escape of one hostage, the secret letters another wrote and hid in his clothing as he contemplated his situation, and how, with a brutal beheading, the kidnappers took an irreversible step into the abyss. Its painstaking research and stellar writing make it a sparkling specimen of good investigative writing. It delves into the intricate details about the personal lives of the tourists, making it very easy for the readers to empathise with the hostages. Though it is slightly sensationalised, it adds to the drama, making the story more gripping. Levy and Clark, master storytellers, brilliantly connect the dots to break the monochrome view that the public holds for Kashmir.
This book stands out from all other works on North East India, since the author has actually gone out to the field to meet and interview people, unlike the armchair scholars who write on the troubled region sitting in their AC cabins. Rajeev Bhattacharya visited the rebel bases in eastern Nagaland and Myanmar, and stayed in the ULFA camp, interviewing its chief Paresh Baruah. He also interacted with rebels from many banned outfits. He has also authored Lens and the Guerilla: Insurgency in India’s North East, and is the founding executive editor of Seven Sisters Post in Guwahati. The book gives a brief assessment of ULFA’s movement so far, the mistakes that it made and the reason why it stands where it does today, and includes a subchapter on the political developments in Nagaland since its independence in 1948. Therefore, his analysis is historically contextualized and juxtaposed beautifully with the contemporary realities. During his investigations, he met S.S Khaplang, the chairman of NSCN (K) in Myanmar and other ULFA rebels in East Nagaland. The book also attempts to analyse the ISI-North East Indian Rebel nexus, how the change in Bangladesh’s government affects ULFA. The author aims to break the preconceived notions and provide a holistic view of the troubled region, and is successful in doing so.
Dulat’s account of Kashmir comes from his own experience as the R&AW chief and a member of the PMO, specifically appointed to look into Kashmir. The book, co authored by senior journalist Aditya Sinha, attempts to give a thorough picture of the entire political spectrum of Kashmir, which diverges from mainstream media’s tendency to paint everything into black or white, on issues that are related to Kashmir. It gives a rare glimpse into the mess that is Kashmir, the foreign and domestic policy of the Vajpayee government, as well as Dulat’s own tales of negotiating and getting the separatists and government officials on the same table. The book gives a glimpse of the nitty-gritties of statecraft, which could have been provided only by someone of Dulat’s authority. The book was a best seller even in Kashmir, where it piqued the interest of the locals who wanted to know who decides their fate, and what murky businesses go on in the top tiers of this decision making.
Mark Tully, the former Bureau chief of BBC has authored several books on Indian politics and culture, and has reported some of the watershed events in Indian history from ground zero. Both Satish and Mark had reported the Operation Blue Star and Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The book, first published in 1985, analyses Bhindranwale’s rise to power, the Akali politics, and the cycle of violence that had engulfed Punjab. It also attempts to find out how the Prime Minister of India was killed by something that she herself had fuelled, though the authors never directly name Mrs. Gandhi. A key figure in the book is Indira’s dummy Zail Singh, whose involvement is confirmed by the then CM of Punjab, Darbara Singh in an interview in the book. The only chink in the armor is Mark Tully’s soft corner for Mrs. Gandhi and his exceedingly optimistic hopes for her son. Nevertheless, it is a fairly unbiased account of the conflagration of Punjab insurgency and the bloody end to it.
B Raman had been a part of the IPS and IB, before being chosen to be a part of the Research and Analysis Wing by the spymaster P.N Kao. He was a part of R&AW for 26 years, working with the founding fathers of the organisation. He takes the readers through the journey of landmark events from the perspective of Intelligence officers – the 1971 war with Pakistan, the Emergency, the Afghan War, the insurgency in North East India. In the first few pages of the books, the author talks about the NSA of USA, and how USA’s manipulations and coercions, and arm twisting through soft power are nothing but a form of neo-colonialism. Raman has also revealed how the government controls the strings of the Intelligence agencies, to the extent that the appointment of a potential Director of IB got cancelled because he had refused to meet Sanjay Gandhi.
In this explosive book, Maloy Krishna Dhar, the former Joint Director of the Intelligence Bureau reveals shocking details about the polity and bureaucracy of the country. He has recounted his stints in the conflict-ridden areas of North-East India, Kashmir and Punjab of 1980s. The author has been very candid about some highly controversial topics such as the insurgency in Punjab, the Babri Masjid demolition, communal riots, and corruption in the highest ranks of the political leadership. Along with the exposes, the book also gives a fair understanding of the working of Indian Intelligence Agencies, especially IB.
The poor in India, Sainath famously argues, are too often reduced to statistics. In this thoroughly researched study of the poorest of the poor, we get to see how they manage, what sustains them, and the efforts, often ludicrous, to do something for them. The people who figure in this book typify the lives and aspirations of a large section of Indian society, and their stories present us with the true face of development. The book is essentially a compendium of reports that Sainath had written for the Times of India. The Magsaysay Award winner has talked about the real issues of grass-root realities in India, by the end of which you are left thoroughly depressed, and slightly delusional. Nonetheless, there is perhaps no better rural reporter then Sainath, and no better first-hand account of the most backward districts of India.
Collection of watchdog reporting from India