Tag Archives: Goodreads

Not Just an Accountant: The Diary of the Nation’s Conscience Keeper, by Vinod Rai

Book Review:

 Rating: 7/10

not-just-an-accountantIndia faced public descent and dissidence in the last few years of the previous government, ultimately leading into the change in government with a thumping public mandate. The underlying cause was not the regular question of Roti, Kapda aur Makaan (food, clothing and shelter), but this time it was about corruption, scandals and failure of decision-making. And that was a paradigm shift in the way elections happened in India. This book is about the one agency that provided the public with the educated assessment of the integrity of the application of public funds. And more than that, it’s about the individual who contributed to usher in a new era for this agency – the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.

Vinod Rai, the man behind the steering wheel, has been considered one of the most effective CAGs that India has seen since independence, and it’s not without a reason. He might not be a great story-teller and might not know the tricks of sensationalization, but he is definitely good with presenting the chronology of the facts that he lays down in the book. He has elaborated on five of the biggest audits conducted in his tenure, which turned out to be the most controversial as well, eventually bringing down the mighty Congress government of 10 years.

While the cases of 2G scam and Coal-gate scam highlighted the compulsions of turning blind eye in a coalition government, those of Commonwealth Games, allocation of oil fields and the failure of Air India simply highlighted the ineffectiveness and sheer moral corruption of the government of the day. In my view, Rai withstood immense pressure and showed great courage in going ahead with these audits in a period when accountability was being put aside to pave way for ‘crony capitalism’. Rai has articulated his thoughts very clearly and provided irrefutable evidence in the book for his claims, making it an interesting read.

One thing though that I found missing in the book was the answer to a key question: Why were all the audits conducted for a period that began after 2004? I am a big AB Vajpayee fan, but I would have been happier to hear from Vinod Rai that these issues (eventually leading to scams) were handled much better in NDA era of 1999 to 2004. The 2G spectrum, coal mines allocation, Air India losses, etc. were long-standing issues faced by India that stayed as-it-is during NDA regime as well. After reading the book, I cannot be confident that Rai was truly an unbiased auditor who was merely doing his job.

Nevertheless, this book is a good read and I would recommend this to a reader who wants to understand the factors that changed the political battlegrounds in India.

goodreads_icon_1000x1000-bed183559c02a417861f930e33e157d1 Click here to read my other book reviews.

 P.S.: The pictures have been borrowed from internet with thanks to the owner of this picture.

Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle, by Mark Tully and Satish Jacob

Book Review

Rating: 8/10

amritsar-mrs-gandhis-last-battle-pb-original-imae24asxnqz3uafI was born in October 1984, and those who know a little about Punjab and about India will know that it was the month when Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, was murdered by two of her guards – Sikh guards – apparently to avenge the infamous Operation Blue Star. I have grown up in the Punjab of those times when for the first few years of my life, the state was under President’s Rule. There were several incidents that I’ve heard from family and friends who were either taken off buses to be harassed or had taken to wearing turbans to avoid trouble.

Mark Tully and Satish Jacob, in their masterpiece – Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle – have given a very objective view on the background of this Punjab where my contemporaries and I grew up. Being BBC correspondents themselves that time, both Tully and Jacob had witnessed the Punjab story unfold in person. This book is an intriguing take on the events (if you may call them so) that took place in Punjab right after Indira Gandhi was ousted by the JP movement right up till the Army attack on the revered Golden Temple/Akal Takht complex in the infamous Operation Blue Star.

The book starts with building a context around the Sikhs and their grievances with the Government of India, which were later to become the major point of contention in the entire conflict. The book then dwells into the now-public theories of the creation, support and rise of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale facilitated tacitly by none other than Sanjay Gandhi and Giani Zail Singh. For the first time, I was able to understand the political compulsions of the Akali trio of Harchand Singh Longowal, Gurcharan Singh Tohra and Prakash Singh Badal in this disastrous turn of events, and how they tried to manipulate, only to fail, the increasing alignment of Punjab’s Sikhs to Sant Bhindranwale. But more than everything else, the book provides immense clarity and objectivity to the whole decade that I regard as the lost decade for Punjab – once regarded as the most prosperous state in India.

This book, written in 1985, provides a full account of most of the incidents, events and circumstances of those times, leading up to the Operation Blue Star and subsequently Mrs Gandhi’s assassination. I would have liked a little more coverage on two of the key characters in this story – Indira Gandhi and Prakash Singh Badal. While the book mentions a lot about Gandhi, it doesn’t explain the reasons why she kept rejecting the negotiated agreements between Centre Government and the Akalis, that could easily have prevented the progress of terrorism in Punjab. The authors also haven’t talked much about Badal in the book, which I know from my elders, had very clear political ambitions and was the primary reason why Zail Singh created THE Sant Bhindranwale in the first place.

I will summarise this review by saying that this book is an interesting and intriguing take on what conspired in Punjab about three decades back that changed Punjab forever. I will strongly recommend this book to the Punjabis of my generation in particular to understand where all the parties falter and how Punjab found itself caught in the situation that left permanent scars in its illustrious history.

goodreads_icon_1000x1000-bed183559c02a417861f930e33e157d1

Click here to read my other book reviews.

P.S.: The pictures have been borrowed from internet with thanks to the owner of this picture.

2014 The Election That Changed India, by Rajdeep Sardesai

Book Review

Rating: 7/10

2014-the-election-that-changed-india-original-imadznfpukmf3jbm

Rajdeep Sardesai is one from the league of journalists who rose from the ranks of foot soldiers of pre-privatised news industry to the owner (almost) of a multi-million dollar news channel. But still he is a journalist who is just as appreciated as a stain on your shirt – you will notice it only when it’s there, and will forget the moment you switch your shirt. I said in one of my comments during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections of India, ‘Rajdeep Sardesai used to be as good as Pranoy Roy (NDTV), but thought it’s good to be loud & outspoken as Arnab Goswami, and ended up struggling in-between trying to find his ‘original’ style.’

However much do I dislike his style of journalism, I found his style of writing very intriguing in his debut book – 2014 The Election That Changed India. His first-hand account of what conspired and how it happened in one of the most challenging, yet innovative elections of the world’s biggest democracy, this book will definitely be used as a reference for contemporary political historians. In his book, Rajdeep has covered the entire landscape of Indian politics, from “Left” to “Right” and in-between, from UPA to NDA to Third (& Fourth) Front, from “Didi” to “Behenji” to “Amma” – he has it all.

One of the key changes that happened in the Indian politics in 2014 was that this was everybody’s election, and the level of polarisation was unprecedented. Parallels can be drawn with the Janata Party government formed after Emergency, but they will never be able to match the hype that the 2014 election created. This election saw the use of modern technology, analytics and social media in almost a maddening style by the cash-rich BJP. In this high-paced election campaigning and run-up to the highest post in India, media played a crucial role, and I believed that only someone from the media could ever chronicle the events accurately. And Rajdeep, in my opinion, has done that to a highly satisfactory level.

The book is not without its flaws, though. Rajdeep has, at numerous instances, tried to break himself free from some of the most embarrassing moments of his career – Modi interview during Vivekanand Yatra and Raj Thackrey interview. Very subtly, he tries to reassure the reader that all is well between him and these politicians, and that he can always give them a casual call even in the late hours. Only he or the politicians know how much water does that statement holds. Also, his obsession with comparing politics with cricket annoyed me a lot.

Overall, I believe the book is a very interesting account of one of the most ferociously fought elections of India. If you ever participated in those heated political discussions in early months of 2014, I will highly recommend you to read this book.

Cgoodreads_icon_1000x1000-bed183559c02a417861f930e33e157d1lick here to read my other book reviews.

Click here for my Goodreads account.

P.S.: The pictures have been borrowed from internet with thanks to the owner of this picture.

The Siege – The attack on the Taj, by Adrian Levy & Cathy Scott-Clark

Book Review

Rating: 7/10

Book Poster_The SiegeIndia recently observed 6th anniversary of the unfortunate event of 26th November, 2008 when just 10 terrorists from across the border had held the world’s fourth largest city to ransom. We looked back at the incident when innocent families at CST were shot dead by Ajmal Kasab, who somehow became the face of those attacks – the attacks on India. However, the most shocking picture from that attack was the one with the dome of the Taj Mahal Hotel set on fire.

The Seige, written by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark, takes back its readers to those unfortunate 68 hours starting from the evening of 26th November, 2008. Every incident explained in this book is a real incident from those 68 hours, and that is what gave me goose bumps. The narrative of the story is based on the multiple interviews with the survivors, policemen and journalists, complemented by investigation reports and site visits. So, this is as real as it can get.

While I am not a great fan of the writing style of the authors who have jumped between multiple characters, incidents and places in just a few pages creating confusion, I liked the details that they went into. The book starts with the David Headley story, leading up to Lashkar-e-Toiba and finally to the Taj. For me, there were times when I felt angry about the incompetence of the Indian security forces to manage just ten rats. There were other times when I put down the book to do my google search and reconfirm if all what I’m reading is actually true, because it seemed to be fiction.

Overall, I liked the storyline, I liked the research and I liked the detail. But I think it could’ve been a little less confusing at times, and that it would have gone a little beyond just stating the facts and incidents.

Cgoodreads_icon_1000x1000-bed183559c02a417861f930e33e157d1lick here to read my other book reviews.

Click here for my Goodreads account

P.S.: The pictures have been borrowed from internet with thanks to the owner of this picture.

And The Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini

Book Review

Rating: 8/10

and-the-mountains-echoedKhaled Hosseini is turning out to be my favourite all-time author, thanks to his innovative storytelling style and the honesty in his stories. I have been a big fan of his first two books – The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns – and I was excited when I first knew that his third book was about to release. And I must say it was a great experience reading this book and I was very happy that I picked this book over others in my To-Read list.

This story does not have a lead character like I would have expected, but it’s even more exciting because of the multiple lead characters that it has. This is a story about a family whose three children have been separated by the conditions in Afghanistan and have lived completely different lives in the different parts of the world. While the eldest brother – Abdullah – has moved outside of Afghanistan and grown up with his daughter and wife, the sister – Pari – grew up in Paris with a lady whom she always thought to be her mother. The youngest stepbrother, Iqbal, got lost trying to make his living shuttling between the refugee camps of Pakistan and his parental village of Shadbagh in Afghanistan.

Khaled has told the same story from various perspectives – the perspective of every character in the story. This new style makes sure that you never lose the plot of the story and are always engaged to the story-line across the book. The story transports you very close to the Afghanistan that was marred by the constant fighting, attacks and destruction over decades; to the Afghanistan where the families were separated my miles, dollars and diseases.

I would completely recommend this book to anyone who is looking to read an honest take on the Afghanistan after years of war.

Click here to read my other book reviews.

Click here for my Goodreads account  goodreads_icon_1000x1000-bed183559c02a417861f930e33e157d1

The Immortals of Meluha: A Review

Book Review

Rating: 8/10

Aah! Just finished with just another book by just another IIM graduate. But the story this time was not just another story that we listen to or read every other day. This story was of none other than that of Lord Shiva who has been portrayed as not the God but a superhuman who earned that status of Lord Shiva through his righteous fight against the evil.

The story is of Shiva, the tribal leader of a Tibetan tribe who’s invited by Nandi to his kingdom of Meluha in the lands of Sapt Sindhu. The people of this land are blessed young-forever because of the treasure called somras that they drink. This civilization is an extremely advanced one where everything seems to be perfect and everyone seems to be rational. They have the most advanced scientific tools at disposal with most intelligent people to develop them further. Everything seems to be fine with them, except one thing. They are Suryavanshis – descendants of Lord Surya and followers of Lord Ram – and they are faced by continuous attacks from their ‘enemies’ – Chandravanshis, descendants of Lord Chandra. This is where the story begins, but it ends with the defeat of Chandravanshis by the Suryavanshis under the guidance of Lord Shiva. To know how and why, you have to read the novel.

The story has been greatly put together. The research has been fantastic. It doesn’t look like the debutant novel by Amish, I thought he’s written atleast half a dozen novels before penning this down. If you are interested in mythology and fiction, this is the best book that you can read where mythology meets fiction and creates a great story. I’m waiting for the next two novels in the Shiva trilogy by Amish.

Click here to read my other book reviews.

goodreads_icon_1000x1000-bed183559c02a417861f930e33e157d1Click here for my Goodreads account