Reading 2014: The Election that Changed India is a move fraught with risk. As you set out to anxiously turn the pages to get an insight into the elections that quite literally changed India come down from your high horses of hope. There is no new insight on the platter. In the 24*7 hullabaloo of television news channels and the challenging task of newspapers to come up with a fresh perspective every morning, there is probably nothing which has not been said about the Election 2014 and its results that catapulted the ‘tea seller’ straight to the prime minister’s chair.
Though Sardesai’s book offers you a delineation of events that are fresh in public memory it also goes back in the past laying out adroitly the sequence of events that brought things to where they currently stand.
Brick by brick and piece by piece he tells you that the results of 2014 had begun to be scripted long back. This book becomes a must read because it comes from a journalist who has luckily been at the forefront of news coverage through the most significant events over a couple of decades most, if not all, of which have gone on to make a simple BJP worker the prime minister of the country and pushing the ‘shehzada’ to what can safely be called the point of no return.
Sardesai takes a relatively lenient view of then chief minister’s ability or the lack of it during the Gujarat riots. He says that although Modi was CM, the real mantle was with hardliner Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Praveen Togadia. Though he does go on to say that he and his team were stopped by frenzied mob of Hindu fundamentalists just a few metres away from the chief minister’s residence.
Sardesai’s view of Rahul Gandhi, however, is much more acerbic. He describes how in several off-record interactions, Rahul failed to give any statement of concrete vision and how his series of missteps leading to the elections brought about the ultimate disaster for Congress that had to wrap up the show with 44 seats in the Lok Sabha elections. He also goes on to give a sneak peek into Team Rahul and substantiates how they cooked up a perfect recipe for disaster.
Having had access to almost all levels of political leadership through his journalistic career helps the author bring to the book personal, off-the-record conversations that give the true picture of things as they stand. Though known more for his TV news anchoring, Sardesai’s strength lies in first-hand ground reporting which made him cut across hierarchies in political establishments and gather information from people on all sides of the divide.
It’s interesting to read how he chronologically puts together the story of Narendra Modi’s rise and Rahul Gandhi’s relegation to near total political insignificance outside the Congress party. First-hand personal conversations with Modi through his transition from a karyakarta to chief minister and subsequently to the prime minister; from a person eager to be on TV news to a man who keeps media, especially English, at an arm’s length, are a total reading delight.
There are conversations, personal observations and chats with experts – all rolled into one – that Sardesai offers in his book. He talks more from personal experiences quoting often from off-the-record conversations that are interesting from the reader’s point of view.
The book also at certain turns begins to read like a professional memoir of Rajdeep Sardesai – the journalist. Like most memoirs it sometimes reads like a person’s testimony in cases where his integrity and professionalism stand under scrutiny. Like most memoirs, there are also clean chits. He cites competition, professional compulsions and above all victimhood of circumstances as he turns the judge and witness in his own cases. On how and why the cash-for-votes sting turned out to be a controversial one, he says, “Did I get the cash-for-votes sting horribly wrong? Should we have simply aired what we had right away wintout any journalistic checks? It’s a tough one to answer. Maybe I should have gone along with my original instinct, which was to simply air whatever we had on tape and let all other issues be settled subsequently. We had strong circumstantial evidence against Amar Singh even though there were plenty of holes in the overall story that needed rigorous cross-checking.”
Rajdeep Sardesai’s book is much like Tavleen Singh’s Durbar. Its relevance will only rise with time. Tavleen’s book helps build images of the political movements for those not born in the 1970s and too young to understand the developments of 1980s. As days pass people too young today to make sense of the politics of the current times can easily fall back on the book to put things into perspective. India is young and Election 2014 has shown us that the youth is becoming politically more active and alert. Sardesai’s book has a ready market to cater to.