Democracy on the Road with Ruchir Sharma

By A Staff Writer

In a significant achievement Penguin Random House India is all set to publish  of one of the most important books of our times, Democracy on the Road by Ruchir Sharma.

Sharma is the bestselling author of Breakout Nations and The Rise and Fall of Nations. The book will be published in February 2019.

With general elections around the corner India faces critical questions that will shape the future of the world’s largest and arguably most chaotic democracy. What will voters choose? Old caste loyalties, or something new? India’s comforting socialist roots, or its daring free market aspirations? More freedom for the wildly diverse states or more power for Delhi? More democracy, or more strongman rule? Will they continue to rebel against seated leaders, as they have for a half century now, or will they bring back Narendra Modi, already the most powerful prime minister in a generation?

Just in time, bestselling author Ruchir Sharma has written a stunningly vivid account of his travels through India, where he has been following pivotal election campaigns—from Naxalite country on the border of Nepal to the southernmost tip of the nation in Tamil Nadu—each year for the last twenty. The result is both a sharply insightful account of how Indian democracy works, its glaring foibles and surprising strengths, and a rollicking joyride across the nation, from the horrors of its worst backcountry hotels to the unexpected pleasures of its hidden treasures.  There has never been a book like this.

From Gujarat to Bengal, and from the Punjab to Kerala, Ruchir has traversed tens of thousands of miles along gleaming eight lane highways and, more often, pot-holed, monsoon-ravaged dirt roads, talking to ordinary voters and leading politicians in remote desert villages and leading  megacities like Mumbai and Kolkata.  Along the way he and his band of up to 20 leading journalists have interviewed many of the giants of Indian politics, and many of those interviews are excerpted here for the first time, offering telling and sometimes searing new portraits of figures from the Gandhis, Modi and Advani to Jayalalithaa, Mayawati, Kumar and Gehlot.

As a boy summering with grandparents in the sleepy rural Uttar Pradesh town of Bijnor,  Ruchir had little to do but follow the passions that drive the most politically obsessed state in a politically obsessed nation—and this childhood pastime would become an adult career. Bijnor is also where Mayawati got her political start, calling on Dalits to beat Brahmins with their shoes, and Ruchir’s account of the political dynamics in remote rural India—pillars of the community screaming curses at politicians on the TV set—is unforgettable.

No newspaper editor would give the coveted politics beat to a precocious teenager like Ruchir, so at the age of 17 he began covering global economics for The Observer and then The Economic Times. But when national elections were called in 1998 Ruchir persuaded his boss that the only real way to read the pulse of the 800 million Indian voters was to get out and talk to as many as they could. So off they went in a rented six-door Volvo on the first of more than twenty election road trips.

Though it has become commonplace to speak of India’s heterogeneity, and how the centrifugal forces of religion, caste, language and class make concerted reform impossible, the message of “Democracy on the Road”  is very different. Twenty years on the campaign road have only deepened Ruchir’s faith in Indian democracy, confident that diversity is its enduring strength, and its first line of defense against autocracy. This is a story of hope.

Ruchir Sharma says: “India comes alive at election time and I have been fortunate to witness up close more than two dozen elections since the 1990s. There is no other travel experience that is as fascinating as journeying the Indian countryside during the campaign season and I am now very excited to share my impressions of how and why democracy works in our nation.”

Adds Meru Gokhale, Editor in Chief, Literary Publishing, Penguin Random House India: “Democracy on the Road is Ruchir Sharma’s deeply insightful take on Indian politics. He has written the book India needs to read before the 2019 elections.’’

Ruchir Sharma is a global investor and a writer. He is currently a contributing opinion writer with The New York Times. His most recent book, The Rise and Fall of Nations: Forces of Change in the Post-Crisis World, was released in June 2016 and instantly became a New York Times best seller.

His 2012 book, Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles, debuted as the number one bestseller in India, and earned Sharma the Tata Literature Live! First Book Award for 2012.

Breakout Nations also made the Wall Street Journal hardcover business bestseller list, and was chosen by Foreign Policy as one of its “21 Books to Read in 2012”.

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