Bookseller's Diary | Rise Of Modi And The Change In India's Reading Choices

In Mann Ki Baat 2.0, prime minister Narendra Modi put emphasis on reading the printed word in this digital age. It was great to see a leader recommend what he had read. It was also heartening to see people share their reading lists on the Namo app.

Illustration by Saahil

Reader-in-leader Modi  

Former US President Harry S. Truman had said: “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” I love reading both as they play a critical role in helping me become a better leader. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi started his first innings as a writer, it was heartening to see a leader recommend books and authors, and hit the government offices with a new slogan ‘give a book instead of a bouquet as a greeting’, which was a welcome surprise for the bookselling community. Modi then exhorted the nation to read through his Mann Ki Baat, encouraging us to read Premchand, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Benjamin Franklin and other authors throughout various editions of the radio channel. In Mann Ki Baat 2.0, he put emphasis on reading the printed word in this digital age. It was great to see a leader recommend what he had read. It was also heartening to see people share their reading lists on the Namo app.

No leader since Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has had the kind of influence on its citizens like Modi. What Nehru did with his writing, Modi has done through his charisma. The ascent of Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has seen a change in reading and publishing patterns across India. Books on Hinduism, nationalism, history and biographies of freedom fighters, are now being published on demand by people. As the French political scientist Christopher Jaffrelot puts it: “Not Hindu nationalism, but it is society that has changed.”

Aligning with the government

A myth-lit trend (after chick-lit and lad-lit trends) started by authors Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi around 2010 reached its crescendo in 2014. Kavita Kane, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Kevin Missal, Vineet Bajpai, Ashok Banker, Krishna Uday Shankar, Shatrujeet Nath, Christopher Doyle and others joined in, as the Hindu narrative fast took centre stage. For instance, a new book series on the Ramayana and Mahabharata for children, creatively illustrated by Arshia Sattar, is a big draw. Authors Vikram Sampath, J. Sai Deepak, Devdutt Patanaik and Sanjay Dixit have included nationalism and Hinduism in their narratives and received stupendous responses from readers.

A reason why reading tastes have changed is directly connected to the change in the government in 2014. This slowly changed the social discourse and the party in power, the BJP (alongwith the RSS), slowly started promoting authors aligned to its ideology. Since 2014, books on PM Modi became a huge draw, and later books on nationalism, freedom fighters, etc., gained ground.  

Different folks, different strokes

The entire ecosystem of reading/publishing has seen metamorphous change in the last decade. Never before have readers had so many genres to choose from. The surge in stock markets since 2020 has seen readers develop an affinity for stock market books. Others are reading bestsellers such as The Psychology of Money to better manage personal finance. Some others are reading books on time management like The 4-Hour Work Week, and others are reading up on better communication. However, a sizeable population is reading to find tools that can transform their lives. This is why the demand has increased for The Secret Series by Rhonda Byrne, and books by Sadhguru, Om Swami and Gaur Gopal Das.

Pandemic bent of mind

The pandemic has been an eye-opener for readers, giving them sufficient time to prepare reading lists, experiment with their reading and even change their reading genres. Post-pandemic, many are on a soul-searching journey, full of existential questions such as why they are here, what’s their life’s purpose, etc. There’s a reason Man’s Search for Meaning became a timeless bestseller, and so did Ikigai and The Alchemist. In a nutshell, the reader is spoilt for choice. And what has remained constant in the reading sphere are books by Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekanand and BR Ambedkar; and literary icons, Premchand, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Rahul Sankrityayan, Shrilal Shukla, Jaishankar Prasad and Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, whose writings have time and again proved to be timeless.

(This appeared in the print edition as "Bookseller's Diary")

Randhir K Arora (Is the owner of Dehradun’s leading bookstore, Book World)