Book Review: ‘How Prime Ministers Decide’ by Neerja Chowdhury

Good prime ministers, ≠ good politicians, and good politicians, ≠ good prime ministers.


Book Title: How Prime Ministers Decide
Author: Neerja Chowdhury
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Number of Pages: 608
ISBN: 978-9390652457
Date Published: Jul. 30, 2023
Price: INR 749

How Prime Ministers Decide by Neerja Chowdhury Book Cover

Book Review

Neerja Chowdhury’s “How Prime Ministers Decide” is a fascinating book that offers remarkable insights into the operating styles of India’s prime ministers. The book analyses six decisions of historical significance, including Indira Gandhi’s strategy to return to power in 1980, Rajiv Gandhi’s errors of judgment in the Shah Bano case, and V.P. Singh’s implementation of the Mandal Commission Report. The book provides a real sense of how these decisions were made and how the prime ministers handled them.

One of the book’s strengths is its focus on the inside stories of how things happened, who the significant actors were, and how well or poorly they got along. The book offers a unique perspective on the complexities of human relationships and the challenges of the political establishment. The author has conducted hundreds of interviews with prime ministers, critical figures in the political establishment, bureaucrats, aides, policymakers, and even fixers, providing information that future historians will find invaluable.

The book also sheds light on the biases of the narrators, which can sometimes result in selective quoting to discredit the prime ministers. However, the author has used direct quotes as her source material, putting the stamp of authenticity on the book. The author has not written about the current prime minister because his prime ministership is still a work in progress. But about the others, she has some great stories to tell.

The book also highlights the paradox that good prime ministers need not be good politicians, and good politicians need not be good prime ministers. The author argues that it is rare to find someone with both qualities, and only a few prime ministers, such as Indira Gandhi, Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Narendra Modi, have possessed both qualities. The book describes incidents where prime ministers made gigantic mistakes when choosing the wrong option.

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In conclusion, “How Prime Ministers Decide” is an unparalleled book about modern Indian politics that will change the way we view how prime ministers govern the country. The book offers remarkable insights gleaned over forty years of high-level reporting on the national political scene. It is a must-read for anyone interested in Indian politics, history, and the complexities of human relationships.

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