Unveiling India

Must-Read Books for Society and Politics

Abhinit Singh
3 min readJul 12, 2023

My penchant for politics may appear boring to many, and I don’t blame them. The circus aired over primetime news shows has tremendous potential to dissuade people from the apparent filth. Truth be told, I would’ve felt the same way if not for some masterpieces that I luckily stumbled upon.

Without further ado, here are my book recommendations for anyone wanting to understand Indian society and politics:

The Anarchy by William Dalrymple

Cover of ‘The Anarchy’ by William Dalrymple.

Here’s an excerpt from Dalrymple’s masterpiece:

We still talk about the British conquering India, but that phrase disguises a more sinister reality. It was not the British government that began seizing great chunks of India in the mid-eighteenth century, but a dangerously unregulated private company headquartered in one small office, five windows wide, in London, and managed in India by a violent, utterly ruthless and intermittently mentally unstable corporate predator — Clive. India’s transition to colonialism took place under a for-profit corporation, which existed entirely for the purpose of enriching its investors.

Sounds familiar?

More than seventy-five years post-independence, a vast majority of Indians remain oblivious to the sheer magnitude of violence, brutality, and profit-mongering that had reduced their country to ‘a poster child of third-world poverty’ by 1947. And in an era of free-market capitalism and insanely powerful profit-driven multinational corporations, some of the lessons hidden in the dark history of colonial India are more relevant than ever.

William Dalrymple’s “The Anarchy” is an excellent way to understand the past as we comprehend the present and contemplate the future.

Jugalbandi by Vinay Sitapati

Cover for ‘Jugalbandi’ by Vinay Sitapati.

“Jugalbandi” is a tale of two unlikely partners who crafted the political force that now rules India. A cosmopolitan Sindhi from Karachi who had become the face of political Hindutva. A Kanyakubj Brahmin from the Gangetic plains who grew into a universally acceptable consensus builder. An unlikely pair that set the trajectory of twenty-first-century India.

The Vajpayee-Advani duo remained remarkably relevant through the defining moments of modern Indian politics: the emergency, the assassination of Indira Gandhi followed by the Sikh riots, the implementation of the Mandal Commission report, the opening up of the Indian economy, the demolition of Babri Masjid, and the coalition politics of the 1990s. “Jugalbandi” is a retelling of the story of Independent India through the lens of this defining partnership.

A must-read.

India’s Power Elite by Sanjaya Baru

Cover for ‘India’s Power Elite’ by Sanjaya Baru.

This is a relatively quick read, albeit a little heavy on philosophy and analysis for beginners. It ably examines the relationship between power and the social hierarchies imposed by factors such as caste, class, language, and geography.

Honestly, I’d suggest you pick this one up only after gaining some understanding of the society and politics of today. The book assumes such knowledge at places while making arguments. Unlike the first two on this list, which are written like stories, “India’s Power Elite” is presented in an analytical manner.

Nonetheless, it offers remarkable clarity in its domain. Add this to your wishlist for when you’re ready to dive deeper.

I have deliberately chosen books that are relatively easy to read and do not require much external research. This list is meant for anyone who would like to start understanding society and politics out of curiosity’s sake.

Thanks for reading.