This election season, books on politicians in Indian languages are selling like hot cakes. But not all of them live up to the standards of a discerning reader

In the season of catchy political slogans where you are expected to grab the reader’s attention with a single turn of phrase, authors in Indian languages have been burning the midnight oil putting together books that have greater immediacy written over them than the hot cakes selling off the next bakery. While some of the books have been researched for months, in fact, years on end, many others are literature’s version of a rom com quickie. They are the ones that often cross the fine line between a biography and a hagiography, seeking to please the subject and convert the reader at the same time. Often based on the life and times of ace political leaders like Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalitha, the books occupy prime space at book stalls across the Capital and can even be picked up from the pavement book-sellers. But you must do so quick, for after a about a month when the new government is sworn in, these books would have lost their relevance, and hence their space on the shelves.

In this season of ‘quickies’ or ‘fast food books’, one cannot admire men and, of course, women who toiled for years to create works of literature. Those nuanced biographies of the past are exceptions to the rule. Take for instance, the stance of Vani Prakashan, a leading publisher in Hindi, which has studiously avoided publishing ‘instant biographies’ of political leaders. “We do not encourage panegyric garbed as research-based manuscripts. We are passionate about books that represent true scholarship and unbiased research. This is the reason we did not publish the manuscripts that were based on lives of current political stakeholders, because the works lacked a certain level of intellectual honesty,” says Aditi Maheswari, Director, Copyrights and Translation, of Vani Prakashan.

However, Vani’s Hindi version of Ajay Bose’s biography — Behenji: A political biography of Mayawati is doing well, and its latest offering is Loktantra ka naya lok, a book on the dynamics of politics in the election season, written by senior journalist Arvind Mohan. It has received very good response from serious readers.

Monobina Gupta’s biography of Mamata Banerjee, Didi: A Political Biography, earned critical acclaim, but the author rues the fact that Urdu and Hindi translations of her book have not yet been done, despite the interest of readers in the Mamata phenomenon.

In most cases today to capitalise on the poll fever, books in several regional languages on the life, work and ideologies of political leaders contesting elections have hit the bookstores, and several others reprinted, or in some cases, even translated. For instance, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay’s Narendra Modi: The Man, the Times has been translated into many Indian languages others than Gujarati. Ditto for Decoding Rahul by Aarthi Ramachandran.

Harish Burnwal, a senior journalist with a leading Hindi news network, faced massive opposition while trying to compile a book on Narendra Modi — Modi Mantra. His friends warned him against writing this book, senior BJP leaders refused to write the foreword and his publisher wriggled out of the deal at the last minute. The subject of his book, Narendra Modi, finally wrote the foreword and Harish’s wife published the book which is in its third edition and swiftly flying off the shelves.

There are four more books in Hindi on Modi, but the authors are relatively unknown. Prabhat Prakashan has come up with a Hindi version of the book Narendra Modi: The Icon of Development titled Narendra Modi: Bhavishya Ki Asha which is also being published in Marathi and Gujarati. Over 10 books in different languages, including Hindi and Gujarati, on Modi have been released in the past two months and a few more are slated to hit the market soon to cash in on ‘Brand Modi’.

Meanwhile, an interesting quick read, Arvind Kejriwal: Aam Admi Ka Nayak, by Saurabh Arya and Vineet Bansal appears to be on top of the charts. Pratibha Saini’s book Arvind Kejriwal: Bharat Nae Kshitij Ki Or is fast catching up in terms of sales figures, say officials. Omveer Tomar’s book on Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sangharsh Ke Safar Ka Nayak: Mulayam is also selling well all across U.P. A 2009 book on Jayalalitha in Tamil titled Amma Mutthal Amma Varai by J. Ramki has been reprinted to cater to popular demand in Tamil Nadu. Books on Rahul Gandhi in many regional languages are also a popular buy.

Explaining the phenomenon of ‘instant biographies’, writer-journalist Urmilesh feels that the mandate for such month-long researched books are provided by ‘netas’ who distribute these books as propaganda material to their constituents, as politics is no longer issue- or agenda-based but thrives on personality cult. “Serious biographical writings in Hindi happened in the ’40s and ’50s and now one comes across these ‘jhatka writers’ who churn out a book or a biography in a month’s time. I call it ‘Sasta sahitya’ or cheap literature which has a certain readership. Educated but unemployed youths are often engaged by publishing houses for such quick fix jobs.”

Be that as it may, the question begging an answer is whether such works truly empower the readers in the run up to polls.

A different face

In March this year, former IPS officer Nazrul Islam launched three books in Bengali — Mulnibasi Istahar, Bhaontadir Bhanr Samuhahe and Ulangini Rani. All the books criticised Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. “My earlier book on the plight of Muslims in Bengal and the double standards of the Trinamool government was banned at Mamata’s behest, and my publisher Mitra and Ghosh’s office and sales counters were all locked by the Enforcement Branch of the Kolkata police. My wife and I have been threatened. I refused to cower and wrote three more books to tell people the truth about the CM and her policies. My books have been doing quite well and are being gaily distributed by CPI-M and Congress party workers everywhere,” says the feisty retired police officer.

Expelled Trinamool Congress MLA and ex-IAS officer Dipak Ghosh’s tell-all book Mamata Bandopadhyay Ke Jamon Dekhechi (Mamata Banerjee: As I Have Known Her) published in June 2012 is selling furiously at bookstores on College Street, Kolkata’s famous book lanes.

Wearing the author’s hat

In Kolkata the election fever has increased sales of books authored by CM Mamata Banerjee — a total of 45 titles in Bengali published by the city’s reputed publishing house Dey’s Publishing. Subhankar Dey, co owner of Dey’s, feels that Banerjee’s books were a hit right from the beginning and there is an ever increasing demand for them as the poll date draws near. Apart from Mamata, Arvind Kejriwal’s books are also being swiftly picked up by readers not only in Delhi but in satellite towns as well. Swaraj, written by Kejriwal, has been translated into Marathi, Malayalam and Oriya and has already notched up sales of about 1.5 lakh, according to publishers.

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