Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s 2016 Reading List

There are few things in life more enjoyable than finding out what is on Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s bookshelf. Granted, reviewing the list makes one feel (at least makes me feel) seriously under-read. But the list is nevertheless full of gems, some hidden and others not. Pratap has some kind words for my new book, When Crime Pays, but focus instead on the slew of social science books on India he has rounded up.

Here’s the relevant paragraph:

But this year, the most significant books also happen to be written by friends and colleagues. They are so compelling that one has to put aside the awkwardness of mentioning friends. So, with this full disclosure, it was a joy to read my colleague Srinath Raghavan’s India’s War (Penguin) about a breathtaking intervention in Indian history; Vinay Sitapati’s Half Lion (Penguin) started a serious scholarly debate on Narasimha Rao; Shiv Shankar Menon’s Choices (Brookings) is Indian foreign policy thinking sober, not drunk. Devesh Kapur, Nirvikar Singh and Sanjoy Chakravarty’s The Other One Per Cent (Oxford University Press) is not just the best study of Indians in America, it has profound implications for understanding India’s elites; Nandini Sundar’s The Burning Forest: India’s War in Bastar (Juggernaut) is a reminder of how awfully our states can fail. Just as the year was ending, Milan Vaishnav’s magnificent When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics (Harper Collins) arrived. This book examines why we vote for criminal politicians. Prerna Singh’s How Solidarity Works (Cambridge) has won more social science awards than any recent book in American academia; it asks, is sub-nationalism good for service delivery? For stimulating ethnographic and meditative reflection on moral lives, it was rewarding to engage with Bhrigupati Singh’s Poverty and the Quest for Life (Chicago).

You can read Pratap’s entire piece here.




Interview with Democracy Audit UK

I did an interview this week with Democracy Audit UK, a research organization focused on democracy and housed at the London School of Economics (LSE), on my forthcoming book, When Crime Pays:  Money and Muscle in Indian Politics.

Here’s a snapshot:

A candidate with criminal allegations hanging over them will repel voters – or will they? Not necessarily. In India, a third of the MPs elected in 2014 faced an ongoing criminal case. Milan Vaishnav, the author of a new book about the nexus of crime and democracy in India, talks to Ros Taylor about the appeal of a strongman who can ‘get things done’, even if it means breaking the law – and considers whether some US voters share the same instincts.

You can read the whole interview here.

A (brief) preview of my new book

Nearly every month, the terrific journal, Governance, leads with a summary of a forthcoming book pertaining to democracy, governance, or public administration. For their October issue, the journal carried a short essay of mine on my forthcoming book, When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics.

The piece, entitled “Why Voters Sometimes Prefer Criminals as Candidates,” outlines the rational reasons for which voters in India (and elsewhere) decide to support a candidate with a serious criminal reputation. In contrast to the prevailing wisdom that such backing is due to a lack of information, I find that voters quite willingly lend their support to such political figures–with eyes wide open.

Here’s the key paragraph:

In settings where two conditions are operative—weak or unevenly enforced rule of law and highly salient social divisions—politicians can use their criminality to signal their credibility when it comes to protecting the interests of voters in their constituencies. This “protection” typically involves substituting for a state administration that is unable (or unwilling) to effectively and impartially fulfill its basic functions, such as guaranteeing public security, adjudicating disputes, and providing core public services. The “interests” of constituents that politicians pledge to protect are often cast in terms of preserving the status of their social (often ethnic) community. This allows a politician to spin his willingness to run afoul of the law as a necessary qualification for “defending” his community.

If you are interested in learning more, you can read the full piece here.