Title – Ballot: Ten Episodes That Have Shaped India’s Democracy Author – Rasheed KidwaiPaperback – 200 pages Publisher – Hachette India (28 February 2018)Language – English The 17th Lok Sabha elections are expected to take place in less than a year’s time, and a book on the electoral process and its history cannot be timelier than now. Titled aptly, Rasheed Kidwai’s ‘Ballot’ gives a speedy account of “ten episodes that have shaped India’s democracy”. Seldom does one get to read a book that is compressed with dates and numbers of electoral victories and defeats laced with “drama and drive of parties and personalities, the clash of ideology and agenda, the twists and turns of campaigns and results”. Today, when many are feeling at loss to make sense of the direction in which the nation is progressing, the Ballot isa good reminder of the strength of Indian democracy. The book is divided into ten chapters, each following a theme while maintaining continuity and keeping rhythm of electoral accounts by revealing anecdotal instances that are otherwise not so richly available in many works on politics.What one gets after reading the book is different shades of individual charisma and tactfulness with which campaigns are organised and elections won. It also offers us insights into challenges of contesting elections and running the government; and it gives us an example of how one can be a political leader without holding any constitutional post and yet receive a state funeralThe book begins by an introduction outlining the contours and constraints of institutionalisation of elections in Independent India by revealing how the ballot boxes and symbols of political parties were made available and operational for the purposes of electoral democracy. Interestingly, it also discloses the difficulties the Election Commission faced during initial years, when 70% illiteracy prevailed in a country that was in no uncertain terms more patriarchal than now. Throughout the book, one keeps encountering a range of names of significant leaders in national and regional politics offering insights into the way governments or parties function. Weaved around elections, the book offers narratives of victories and defeats sparking further curiosity into forays of leaderships and their failures.Kidwai, being a senior journalist has authored Sonia: A Biography and a book based on the Congress party headquarter24 Akbar Road that devotes a large portion of the book around the Congress leaderships, beginning from Jawaharlal Nehru to Manmohan Singh, but not limited to offering narratives on the Congress only. It also devotes,in equal rhythm, considerable attention on the Janata Party, the BJP, the TDP, the BSP, the TMC, and the Shiv Sena. Other regional parties also find mention but as a passing reference. What one gets after reading the book is different shades of individual charisma and tactfulness with which campaigns are organised and elections won. Besides, it also offers us insights into challenges of contesting elections and running the government; and it gives us an example of how one can be a political leader without holding any constitutional post and yet receive a state funeral.Throughout the book, one keeps encountering a range of names of significant leaders in national and regional politics offering insights into the way governments or parties function. Weaved around elections, the book offers narratives of victories and defeats sparking further curiosity into forays of leaderships and their failuresPerhaps, one tenable criticism of the book is that it is a view from the above and doesn’t offer descriptions of the ground, upon which the leaderships stand i.e. the social conditions, churnings and processes that determine the kind of leadership, electoral behavior, and choices to emerge. However, the criticism can be ignored keeping in mind the limited number of pages offering enormous information and insights on India’s experience with electoral democracy.Covering a vast canvas, compressed in brief –with mentions ofdates, numbers of electoral scores, innovative rituals of campaigns, anecdotal instances, outlining personalities and policies – the book offers unexpected insights and should be considered an introductory guide to the understanding of India’s electoral and democratic process and how it has evolved over the years. In a grim political moment, reading of the Ballot will surely reinstate our hope in the strength of Indian democracy. It is an essential read for the students of Indian politics. To those aspiring a career in politics, the book teaches them that politics is a long term game and requires patience to pounce upon the right moment to emerge out of the dark.Finally,the book makes full circle, beginning from the narrative of institution of ballots in India’s electoral democracy to highlighting those courageous individuals fighting as independent candidates in almost all elections, ranging from the President of India’s post to the Panchayat level, by way of writing Afterword. The author informs us that“according to one estimate, over 40,000 independent candidates have participated in the 16 general elections held since Independence” and “only 214 of them – less than one percent – have made it to the Parliament.”In the end, Kidwai indeed does speak about the NOTA button in elections, as it is now an option in our ballots, rightly articulating that “a NOTA result from an electoral seat does not result in re-election, and hence its relevance is frequently debated, it does very explicitly state the people’s mandate”.Over all, the book is a worth read and should be of interest to anyone interested in Indian politics, elections, political parties, campaigns, and challenges facing the political establishments in running government affairs vis-à-vis party affairs. A concise book of this kind is not possible without decades of experience in political corridors. With richness in content and lucidity in style, the book is of interest to both academic and ordinary readers and, perhaps, will serve the best to millennials’ interest in politics.The writer is a sociologist and political observer based in DelhiPublished in Daily Times, April 5th 2018.