Amazon gives you a peek into the book ‘2014: The Election That Changed India’ by Rajdeep Sardesai. In the introduction, the author makes an honest attempt to reach out to the Pehelwan Chachas, the fisher woman of the Sasson Docks and such, on his pre-election journey.
There is a brief history of Indian elections and a backdrop to the elections of 2014. The language of the book is surprisingly simple by the standards of Rajdeep (which he credits to R K Laxman’s advice). Once you start reading the first chapter though, a part of which is available to read in the peek, you don’t want to stop.Next thing you know, you have bought the book.
If you are a bug, you wouldn’t keep the book down until you have finished it. Rajdeep Sardesai narrates the story leading up to the historic Lok Sabha elections of 2014. The main characters are Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, and the rest of the cast consists of Arvind Kejriwal, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Yadav, the Maya, Mamata and Jaya trio and dotted by others like Navin Patnaik, Akhilesh Yadav, and Sharad Pawar.
Sardesai’s destiny seems quite entwined with that of Modi’s. It revolves around the three main cities of Goa, Ahmedabad and Delhi. Modi’s journey from Vadnagar to Delhi, his political milestones from being a mere volunteer and then a pracharak, to being a CM and a PM are well depicted by the author. The Rath Yatra (when he met the author for the first time as volunteer and the author a budding journalist), the Gaurav Yatra, the Sadbhavana Yatra, and the Vivekananda Yuva Vikas Yatra, (where he made the author sit on the footboard of the bus, the Supreme Leader himself sitting next to the driver) are the important milestones of the journey, with many to follow. His style of functioning, centralizing power in his own hands, trusting bureaucrats more than politicians, plotting against his own, is just a continuation of his governance style in Gujarat, as is evident from the book (oh yes, and changing clothes four times a day!).
The author doesn’t seem to have had the opportunity to meet Rahul in person as much as he would have appreciated. Skeptical of Rahul’s ‘Toyota Way’, the author finds him arrogant and condescending, who lacked direct contact with the ground reality. He minces no words when he says ‘ The Rahul factor, if there ever was one, had failed’ after the Congress defeat in the UP assembly elections, 2012. He writes that Rahul failed to identify political symbolism during events like India Against Corruption and the aftermath of Delhi gang rape incident, by being absent. “Where is Rahul?’ echoes the question on various occasions in the book. His continued absence from the the Parliament, his scarce participation in debates, his two India theory of which he himself was a victim, all added up as factors towards the defeat of Congress. Though he also acknowledges the positives of Rahul, like his contribution in taking MGNREGA nationwide, or his involvement in the women’s self help group initiative.
There is ample coverage of India Against Corruption , and the ‘toothbrush moustached’ Arvind Kejriwal of AAP, but surprisingly he is missing from the front cover. As if, he was there and then removed in afterthought.There seems to be a disproportionate blank space on the top of Modi’s left shoulder on the book cover. Sometimes enthusiastic ( while speaking their language at Jantar Mantar) sometimes cynical (calling them a Delhi phenomenon), sometimes prophetic (the author gave an advice of bringing Anna to Delhi and instead of Mumbai for Jan Lokpal to Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal which was a major factor in its visibility and success) and sometimes taking it on horns for him ( when the principled stand he took for doing a Hangout with Kejriwal against advice by a banker networked with Ambanis, which allegedly resulted in his resignation from CNN-IBN), the author’s journey with Arvind Kejriwal has not been any less eventful. The Anna-Khurshid meeting too is documented in this book, much before Salman Khurshid’s own book is published!
He contemplates deeply about media, both conventional and social. “But even if it was legal, was it morally right? Sadly none of us wanted to even consider raising the troubling ethical questions” is the author’s comment on media’s live coverage of Modi’s Varanasi roadshow, while polling was on in other constituencies. He is diplomatic in his comments on fellow journalists like Rajat Sharma despite the “Aap Ki Adalat’ with Modi controversy and the famed “Nation wants to know’ Arnab Goswami about whom he quotes ‘ slightly troubled professional equation revolving around constant one-upmanship’. He candidly admits on how he could have erred on the side of caution on ‘cash for vote’ issue, and how twitter let loose on him after his namo nemo analogy.
Some questions remain unanswered. For example, the book says Modi was packed off to north India by his detractors for his divisive politics, but doesn’t point out the details of the divisiveness. He is judiciously cautious when he says ‘Whether the ruthlessness extended to ordering extra-judicial killings, is a matter for the courts to decide’ with reference to Amit Shah, or when he writes ‘I shall not quarrel with the judicial system’ on whether the Modi government was complicit in the 2002 riots. There are tongue in cheek moments, like when he tried to lighten the mood by jokingly asking Kirit Somaiya aboutg his plans of CAG audit in Gujarat, only to receive a glare from Modi. He sounds a bit harsh when he calls Sharad Pawar ‘un-telegenic’, and ruthless when he avoided an ‘out-of-office’ Chandrababu Naidu as he did not make news.
The book also is a culinary journey with dosas at A Raja’s, burra kebabs at Arun Jaitley’s, macher jhol at Mamata Banerjee’s, and kadhi chawal at Modi’s. It seems you cannot keep a Goan and food separate from each other. Cricket is another thread running parallel to various political events and personalities.He compares Manmohan Singh and Modi duo to Pujara-Gayle battle in a T20 match, admits that media covers Ranchi when Dhoni visits and buys cricket kits for the riot-hit kids of Muzaffarnagar. His memory of events too is ingrained in cricket. He remembers ‘Snoop Gate’ in association with Tendulkar’s retirement and IAC with India’s World Cup victory of 2011.
Of the two mentions he makes of Sagarika, one is”Our deputy editor at CNN-IBN” and the second is in connection to Jashodaben issue where Modi says ‘Arre tum aur tumhari biwi aajkal bahut Twitter pe ho!’ where she is mentioned implicitly. He dedicates the book to her though. In acknowledgments at the end of the book he calls her the ‘original author in the family’ , which sounds tad romantic. However he shows no inhibitions in his emotions when it comes to his kids.’As a father of a lanky teenage son myself, I couldn’t hold back my tears’, he says when Rupa Mody, mother of Azhar from, Gulberg Society asks him why Modi would not meet her. He accepts sweet surrender in front of his daughter Tarini’s computer skills.
The book definitely is a treat for readers. Hopefully in the upcoming editions he adds an appendix on the Madison Square Garden incident, about which he has already written on his blog. But including it in the book would be welcome too.
By: Manasi Gandhi