Review: Rajdeep Sardesai’s Book On The Elections

An election that changed India – a cliche trotted out after every general election is doing the rounds again. It is perhaps more accurate to say that a profound change has been kickstarted by these election results. For the first time in Indian history a right wing government with an absolute majority has five, perhaps ten, years to drive their agenda. India has married the right. For better and for worse, in sickness and in health…

Rajdeep tells the fascinating story of the rise of the people who hold the fate of this country in their hands. He is honest and sincere. His opinions are balanced with a healthy dose of soul searching evident in what we read. It is an important story – no matter what your politics.

I should explicitly state my politics here: I am a middle of the road, wishy washy liberal on social issues and a centrist on economic issues (I support ease of business but don’t think we should abolish all elements of the welfare state and I support universal healthcare). Generally, I find it easy to agree with Rajdeep’s worldview.

I was surprised to find that this book makes me uncomfortable in parts – in his telling of the story of Modi and Rahul Gandhi (clearly not versus) one emerges as scarily able and the other as scarily incapable. He is fair to both, and hard on both. There is sympathy for both and a clear articulation of the expectations both have to live up to. Most importantly the book challenges and clarifies long held perspectives on Modi, his motivations and his ambitions.

In his analysis of both, he is harder on Gandhi – who he sees as a 9-to-5 politician who is disconnected and perhaps more worryingly disinterested. Modi needs a strong opposition to make sure he keeps working hard, and doing what’s right. It is the lack of an opposition today, and Rajdeep’s indictment of Rahul Gandhi as a weak, ineffectual leader that should serve as a wake up call for the Congress.

In many ways this book is also about Rajdeep and his journey. From the newsman at the Times of India to the first of the second generation of news entrepreneurs, to being amongst the first of those who exited the news channel he created. Unlike Raghav Bahl he never became a businessman. He was, and is, a newsman. Driven by a need to hold the powerful to a higher standard of probity and performance. And this increasingly in the face of charges of bias from both the left and the right. And that perhaps is his greatest challenge in the years ahead. Rajdeep likes being liked, and the next few years will require him to do his job in an increasingly hostile environment- ala New York 2014.

We need him and his ilk. The opposition is asleep, and when awake flailing about with no ideas and a tired vision of two Indias. At the India Economic Summit last week, the BJP ministers and big business were high fiving each other. The only notes of discord were struck by the WEF’s own global shapers and young global leaders who kept bringing up the notion of purpose driven organisations and sustainable development. And then there was Aruna Roy – forever tainted by her role in Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council – who took on the dogma of the right with her characteristic flair. There was no sign of an alternate political discourse from anyone in the Congress.

Rajdeep is a democrat – who believes in elections, who respects (not reveres) elected leaders, and who is willing to ask the hard questions.

More importantly, this book shows he is willing to explore his own biases and prejudices.

And he’s never boring.

Disclaimer: I worked at CNN IBN between 2005 and 2007. I haven’t met him since.

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