Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize 2021 longlist announced


Bangalore: The longlist for one of the most prestigious literary awards in the country, the Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize, was announced on Thursday.

The Prize, awarded by the New India Foundation (NIF), recognizes and celebrates excellence in non-fiction writings on modern and contemporary India.

From a large pool of books encompassing a range of topics, the Jury has longlisted 12 books for the Prize this year.

The books reflect a compelling picture of the diverse narratives which embody independent India's cultural, political, and social milieu in showcasing the finest non-fiction writing from and about the Indian subcontinent.

They cover decades of modern Indian history, nourish creative and conscious conversations around the Indian polity, and display a diversity of approaches and themes.

Many of these works mirror India’s heterogeneity and intricately blend the country’s complex past with aspirations for its future.

This year's longlist was selected by an eminent Jury including political scientist Niraja Gopal Jayal, entrepreneur Nandan Nilekani, historian Nayanjot Lahiri, entrepreneur Manish Sabharwal, and historian Srinath Raghavan.

“We are delighted with our longlist which is not merely a collection of outstanding books but is also incredibly diverse, as it covers more than a century of modern Indian history, and encompasses several genres: biography and autobiography, politics and history, art and music, gender and society," a statement from the Jury read.

The 2021 Longlist (in alphabetical order):

Muscular India: Masculinity, Mobility & the New Middle Class by Michiel Baas (Context, Westland) 

Jury's notes: A fascinating account of how the Bollywood ideal of a lean and muscular physique has inspired lower-middle-class men to seek social mobility, by working as fitness trainers in gyms, or as competitors in the world of bodybuilding and modelling. Baas follows the trajectories of several fitness trainers, exploring their aspirations, their anxieties, and the resilience of class barriers.

The Death Script: Dreams and Delusions in Naxal Country by Ashutosh Bhardwaj (Fourth Estate, HarperCollins Publishers) 

Jury's notes: A searing and stunningly crafted narrative based on the author’s reportage from India’s so-called ‘red corridor’. All sides in the conflict find a voice in Bharadwaj’s sensitive treatment, offering poignant reflections on the human predicament in a danger zone: fear and love, betrayal and violence, and above all the yearning for justice. 

India’s First Dictatorship: The Emergency, 1975-77 by Christophe Jaffrelot & Pratinav Anil (HarperCollins Publishers) 

Jury's notes: A masterful study of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, and her son Sanjay’s role in it. This is a comprehensive and deeply researched book on a dark period of our history, in which democracy was suspended and a constitutional dictatorship was instituted, with little popular resistance. 

Brand New Nation: Capitalist Dreams and Nationalist Designs in Twenty-First-Century India by Ravinder Kaur (Stanford University Press) 

Jury's notes: A compelling and provocative book about how the shiny new Brand India of the 21st century was created and advertised overseas to attract investment by global capital; and how it was deployed to fuel nationalism within the country, as the very idea of the nation was shaped anew.

India’s Founding Moment: The Constitution of a Most Surprising Democracy by Madhav Khosla (Harvard University Press) 

Jury's notes: An elegantly written book about the political thought of India’s constitutional founding and how the founders of the republic crafted a constitution designed to produce democratic citizens. 

Sebastian & Sons: A Brief History of Mrdangam Makers by T.M. Krishna (Context, Westland)  

Jury's notes: A celebrated musician explores how the main percussion instrument in Carnatic music, the Mridangam, is actually made. The book offers a multi-layered account of the process, and of the lived experiences of the people, especially Dalits, involved in it.

The Greater India Experiment: Hindutva and the Northeast by Arkotong Longkumer (Stanford University Press) 

Jury's notes: A path-breaking study of the rise of Hindu nationalist politics in northeast India, this book explores the tensions between the vision of Akhand Bharat and the local political arithmetic and indigenous nationalisms.

I Could Not Be Hindu: The Story of a Dalit in the RSS by Bhanwar Meghwanshi; Trans. Nivedita Menon (Navayana) 

Jury's notes: A powerful memoir of a Dalit activist and journalist, once a deeply committed RSS worker in Rajasthan, whose painful experience with untouchability leads to disillusionment and disavowal.

Naoroji: Pioneer of Indian Nationalism by Dinyar Patel (Harvard University Press) 

Jury's notes: An outstanding biography of Dadabhai Naoroji that illuminates his life and work – from his pioneering critique of imperialism to his engagement in British parliamentary politics, from his building of political alliances in Europe and America to his eventual declaration of self-rule as the only way forward for India.

Gandhi in the Gallery: The Art of Disobedience by Sumathi Ramaswamy (Roli Books) 

Jury's notes: A handsome, beautifully illustrated volume that explores how and why Mahatma Gandhi came to be the muse of several modern Indian artists who, by making him visually familiar through their art, have become Gandhi’s conscience-keepers in the present.

The Coolie’s Great War: Indian Labour in a Global Conflict 1914-1921 by Radhika Singha (HarperCollins Publishers) 

Jury's notes: A pioneering history of the 550,000 non-combatants in the Indian Army who participated in the First World War as menial labour – porters, construction workers, cooks and water carriers – and on whose largely invisible labour the war effort of the British Empire depended so greatly.

Jugalbandi: The BJP Before Modi by Vinay Sitapati (Penguin Random House) 

Jury's notes: An engaging account of the six decades-long friendship between Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, and how their partnership and ideological unity forged the original success of the Bharatiya Janata Party.


Last year, the prize was jointly awarded to Amit Ahuja for his debut Mobilizing the Marginalized: Ethnic Parties without Ethnic Movements (Oxford University Press) and Jairam Ramesh for his biography A Chequered Brilliance: The Many Lives of V.K. Krishna Menon (Penguin Random House).

In 2019 it was awarded to Ornit Shani for her scholarly work How India Became Democratic: Citizenship and the Making of the Universal Franchise (Penguin Random House) and in 2018 to Milan Vaishnav for his remarkable debut When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics (HarperCollins Publishers).

Instituted in 2018, the Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize, which carries a cash award of Rs 15 lakhs and a citation, builds on the Foundation's mission of sponsoring high-quality research and writing on all aspects of the world's largest democracy.

It is named in honour of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay: the great patriot and institution-builder who contributed significantly to the freedom struggle, to the women’s movement, to refugee rehabilitation and to the renewal of Indian theatre and handicrafts.

The Shortlist of 6 titles of the Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize 2021 will be announced in the last week of October.

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