Books in or for Southasia

Subordinate Ally:
The nuclear deal and Indo-US strategic relations
by Prakash Karat
LeftWord, 2007

The nuclear deal between India and the US is part and parcel of a wide-ranging alliance being built between Washington, DC and New Delhi. Joint naval engagements in the Indian Ocean helped to create the platform for the alliance, and the entry of major US firms into India firmed it up. The nuclear deal was to have been the garnish, the final (fatal) embrace. But then India's communists stood up, in an attempt to decontaminate this radioactive deal. As part of the struggle, the CPI (Marxist)'s general-secretary, Prakash Karat, wrote a series of articles on the project, which have been now collected in this brief signpost. Karat pulls no punches. "As far as the Left is concerned," he writes, "the United States is an imperialist power that oppresses countries and peoples of all faiths." (Vijay Prashad)

The Battle for No 19
by Ranjit Lal
Puffin Books India, 2007

Ever since it was Indraprastha of the Mahabharata, Delhi has suffered and survived multiple sackings and slaughters, looters and plunderers. But the pogrom of Sikhs in the wake of Indira Gandhi's assassination in November 1984 was particularly horrifying for two reasons: it revealed the communal nature of the Indian establishment, exposing the utter vulnerability of minorities in supposedly secular India. For the victims of Partition, the carnage of 1984 was a nightmare come alive. Perhaps it is difficult to capture the evil of those few days in any non-fiction work. Ranjit Lal tries tell the tale, but with indifferent effect. Dubbed 'teen fiction', this book deserves the adjective. (C K Lal)

A Flag, a Song and a Pinch of Salt
by Subhadra Sen Gupta
Puffin Books India, 2007

Freedom fighters are chic symbols for marketing niche products. Corporate India has been subtly using emblems of freedom to sell their wares for quite some time, but the hoo-ha over this year's 60th-anniversary celebrations of Independence prompted many to come out into the open. But, the netizens, blogging away from their cell phones, still do not know the name of Birsa Munda, the great independence fighter. Though Subhadra Sen Gupta tries to remedy that, the former advertising copywriter has written a book that is a bit too preachy to appeal to those who need to read this introductory tract. (CKL)

Masks of Empire
edited by Achin Vanaik
Tulika, 2007

The engine of the US empire has stalled. The Iraqi resistance has made it impossible to impose a neo-liberal state on an occupied land; the dollar's value deteriorates even as the US trade deficit increases; war with Iran seems increasingly unlikely, even as Iran's strategic footprint increases in its neighbourhood. The empire was confounded by its own contradictions and by the brave resistance of anonymous peoples. Achin Vanaik's edited volume collects the most significant voices of the global left – people such as Tariq Ali, Walden Bello and Susan George – to weigh in on these and related topics. The book is readable and useful, with two particularly engaging chapters on the concept of humanitarian intervention. (VP)

The Assassin's Song
by M G Vassanji
Penguin Books India, 2007

When a blurb from Khushwant Singh declares a book's prose to be 'impeccable', a reader is forced to plough through the entire text. In this case, it is an exhausting effort – the Gujarat violence of 2002 deserves a better storyteller. The ambitious attempt of mixing history, philosophy, spiritualism, adventure and emotion into a single narrative is admirable, but, oddly, does not produce an engrossing book. (CKL)

Understanding Nepal:
Muslims in a plural society

by Mollica Dastider
Har-Anand, 2007

The urge to get into print with the draft of an academic thesis is particularly strong among the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University. If the work deals with any international issue, a single book offers the possibility of instant recognition as an 'area expert'. Even though the book is preliminary in nature, perfunctorily compiled and poorly edited, Mollica Dastider deserves to be complemented for her choice of topic: little is written in English about the Muslims of Nepal. Before rushing to the printers, though, the author should have re-read her manuscript. Figures in tables do not add up, facts are dated or plain wrong, and arguments fashionable rather than academic. (CKL)

The Politics of Change:
A ringside view

by N K Singh
Penguin Books India, 2007

In the higher echelons of civil service, pomposity comes with the territory. There is nothing in this collection of previously published columns that portrays anything close to 'politics of change', and the ringside view has a decidedly rightwing tone. N K Singh thinks that he really is a "world class policy analyst, strategist and practitioner" because a former deputy managing director of the IMF told him so, and that he possesses a "gift of story telling" because the editor of the Indian Express has testified to it. The best thing about this collection is the cover image by M F Husain. (CKL)

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Himal Southasian