Former Union minister Jairam Ramesh and US-based academician Amit Ahuja were on Thursday named the joint winners of the 2020 Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize. Ramesh was selected for his book ”A Chequered Brilliance: The Many Lives of VK Krishna Menon” and Ahuja for ”Mobilizing the Marginalised: Ethnic Parties without Ethnic Movements” from a diverse shortlist of six books covering a century of modern Indian history and encompassing several genres.
The Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay Book Prize recognises and celebrates excellence in non-fiction writings on modern and contemporary India by writers from all nationalities. Ramesh and Ahuja will share the prize money of Rs 15 lakh and each will receive a trophy.
The winners were selected by a six-member jury panel that was chaired by political scientist Niraja Gopal Jayal (Jury Chair) and included historians Ramachandra Guha, Srinath Raghavan and Nayanjot Lahiri; entrepreneur Nandan Nilekani; and Manish Sabharwal, chairman of Teamlease Services.
The jury found ”A Chequered Brilliance: The Many Lives of V.K. Krishna Menon”, published by Penguin Random House, an engaging biography of an important supporting player in Indian politics whose career spanned decades of political work, first in Britain and later in India.
”Ramesh has delved deep into new archival materials to produce a compelling portrait of a brilliant, complicated, and controversial man, whose public life came to a rather tragic end,” it said.
On ”Mobilizing the Marginalized: Ethnic Parties without Ethnic Movements”, published by Oxford University Press, the jury said through extensive field research in four states, Ahuja unravels an intriguing puzzle: why is it that Dalit ethnic parties perform poorly in states where their social mobilization has historically been strong, yet perform well in states where such mobilization has historically been weak? ”This is an elegantly written and accessible work of scholarship that richly illuminates the relationship between social movements and political parties in redeeming the promise of Indian democracy for marginalised groups,” the jury said.
The NIF Book Prize was established in 2018 and builds on the New India Foundation’s mission of sponsoring high-quality research and writing on all aspects of Independent India. It celebrates non-fiction literature by emerging writers from all nationalities, published in the previous calendar year, and is named after Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, the great patriot, and institution-builder who had contributed significantly to the freedom struggle, to the women’s movement, to refugee rehabilitation and to the renewal of handicrafts.
In 2018, the prize was awarded to Milan Vaishnav for his debut book ”When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics” while Ornit Shani won the prize in 2019 for ”How India Became Democratic”.