As Kapil Sibal joins the list of writer-politicians, leaders such as Shashi Tharoor and Pavan Varma explain what it entails in a country like India.
New Delhi: At the launch of Shades of Truth last week, former union minister Kapil Sibal joined a long list of Indian politicians who have written books when out of power.
That list includes names as big and diverse as Veerappa Moily, Manish Tewari, Salman Khurshid, Jaya Jaitly, Shashi Tharoor, Saifuddin Soz, Pranab Mukherjee, L.K. Advani, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Jaswant Singh and Pavan Varma.
In a country where there is little space for serious non-fiction, politicians taking the time out to write books may fascinate many. The reasons, however, vary.
Some write to express their opinion about the contemporary issues of the day while others do so to present an insider account of the events which have left a mark on history. Tharoor, senior Congress leader and a versatile writer, came up with Why I Am A Hindu as he felt the religion was being hijacked by a party and vested interests for political gains.
Former union minister Salman Khurshid wrote Spectrum Politics: Unveiling the Defense as he felt it was necessary to put the ‘facts’ about the ‘spectrum allocation scam’ which tainted the United Progressive Alliance government’s second term.
“It is not easy for a bureaucrat and a politician to write a book,” Varma, a former diplomat and a politician and author of acclaimed Adi Shankaracharya: Hinduism’s Greatest Thinker, told ThePrint.
“There are policy initiatives of the Narendra Modi government which I don’t subscribe to at all. But I’m bound by the rules and hence can’t go public with my personal opinion. But once I’m retired, I can express what I felt about the issue,” said a senior civil servant in the Government of India on condition of anonymity.
Politicians have paid prices for writing books too. The most noticeable one was Jaswant Singh.
After Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence was published, Singh was expelled from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the party felt the opinion expressed by him about Jinnah was contrary to its long held beliefs.
“May be the leadership didn’t feel there was anything wrong with Jaswant Singh writing that. But being in politics the party could not have afforded an assault on its long held belief and that too from one of its own,” said a senior BJP leader who didn’t wish to be named.
The Congress distanced itself from senior Kashmir leader Saifuddin Soz when he wrote about Kashmiris preferring Independence in Kashmir: Glimpses of History and the Story of Struggle. The party termed it a cheap gimmick to sell books.
Khurshid, who has written books like Triple Talaq: Examining Faith, said the press unnecessarily sensationalises when a politician speaks his or her mind, a way to stifle voices.
“I’m part of a political family and I’m part of this family by choice. So I respect the family sentiment. While writing a book I do exercise self-restraint in what to write,” Khurshid told ThePrint. His upcoming book about the current political scenario in the country due for release in December.
Varma, who has authored 22 books and plans to write a few more, told ThePrint, “Not all books written by politicians are books. Some are hagiographies written with a purpose to please their political masters. They better be termed pamphlets, not books.”
He added that it takes a lot of research and time to write a book.
Senior Congress leader and former union minister Manish Tewari agreed it’s not easy to take time out for research but is possible with good time management.
“I also write regular columns on different subjects and it requires equal research. I prefer to do all my production work like research, writing, editing etc on my own and so it takes time,” said Tewari whose book The Ministerial Years is also due for release.
When asked if politicians pay a price for expressing their thoughts, Tewari said, “You always pay a price for your convictions. But if you do believe in something price is immaterial.” He added that as party spokespersons, leaders do argue for policies they personally don’t believe in but it’s a part of their job.
Tharoor, who has written on various themes, told ThePrint that he hasn’t paid a price for writing a book, “Not so far, but no doubt that time too will come.”
Is there a suitable time for politicians to write a tell-all book?
Tharoor said, “The only time to do that is when you have retired from the fray and no longer care about the political consequences. Otherwise, some discretion is still necessary, which is why a tell-all book can’t work for an active politician who still wants people to talk to him afterwards!”
In a country where politicians hardly write memoirs and autobiographies, more and more leaders are willing to do that in a welcome sign.
“There are more of them in India than there used to be. One can recall only a handful of such books in the first five decades after Independence — there are at least two or three times that in the two decades since,” said Tharoor.
A leading publisher told ThePrint that selling serious non-fiction books in India is a big challenge but when it comes from a politician the task of the marketing team gets easier. And nobody is happier than a publisher if there is a controversy around the book.
However, in a telling sign, no former Indian PM has written any account of their prime ministerial years in the largest democracy of the world. Varma said, “It is their prerogative whether they want to write a book or not. Why can’t we accept that?”
The loss, however, is certainly of the country.