10 Political History Books of South Asia

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Team P3 curates a list of recommended political history books of South Asia

South Asian history is mired with contradictions, tragedies, and paradoxes of all kinds. To do justice to all the stories that reside and have resided here would be a mammoth task, one certainly beyond the scope of our history textbooks.

In this article, we try to bring to you books that portray the hearts and minds of people who’ve lived through the defining (and the not-so-defining) moments of these nations. Because it’s never about what just happened, but about the people who lived it: their struggles, triumphs, and the varied complexities of these landscapes.

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Political History Books

List of Political History Books of South Asia

Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy

Title: Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy

Author: Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal


Price: 645

Pages: 292


A journey through the past three decades of this region that holds the stories of over a fifth of humanity, two historians come together for this piece, one Indian, another Pakistani.

The book is an in-depth exploration of the social, economic, and political circumstances of South Asia. They analyse the social relations revolving around caste, class, community, gender, and more, while looking at how subaltern resistance works.

From challenges of colonialism to the contemporary challenges facing these nations, the book is a dynamic dialogue between the past and the present and a historical journey that deserves a read merely for its comprehensiveness.

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A History of Modern South Asia: Politics, States, Diasporas

Title: A History of Modern South Asia: Politics, States, Diasporas

Author: Ian Talbot

Publisher: Yale University Press

Price: 999

Pages: 360


Talbot is known for his expertise on the Indian subcontinent, and A History of Modern South Asia displays his knowledge well. Covering the region’s history from 1757, the book adopts a broad context, looking at the external influences shaping the destiny of these countries and how they’re connected. Through his lens, you can see how modern South Asia has been shaped over the years through its colonial and postcolonial past. The book depicts the region with all its complexities and aspirations while also looking at the politics and diaspora. It’s a great title to understand the internal and external mechanics of modern South Asia.

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Pakistan: A Hard Country

Title: Pakistan: A Hard Country

Author: Anatol Lieven

Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd

Price: 649

Pages: 592


Anatol Lieven’s Pakistan: A Hard Country peels the labyrinth of Pakistan’s complex socio-political landscape. The book discards the clichéd narrative and the superficial portrayals of the nation as a “failed state.” Lieven shows the development of nuclear arms, the mysterious border regions, and its controversial role as a sanctuary for the Afghan Taliban and Bin Laden. The book dissects the paradoxes inherent in Pakistan’s identity.

The accessible prose is perfect for readers of various backgrounds. It elucidates the nation’s complexities while making it more than a mere factual account. Lieven’s confident yet kind tone is a refreshing departure from the often sensationalized narratives surrounding Pakistan.

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Gandhi Before India

Title: Gandhi Before India

Author: Ramachandra Guha

Publisher: Penguin India

Price: 415

Pages: 706


In 1893, a disheartened lawyer, Mohandas Gandhi, set sail to South Africa, and Guha’s biography shows how those two decades in the diaspora made the iconic figure we recognize. Guha’s archival research includes four continents, showing Gandhi’s journeys into dissident cults, his varied friendships and enmities, and his struggles as a husband and father. This is a human with flaws and foibles.

At the same time, however, it’s the story of how Gandhi mobilized a diverse coalition, cutting across classes and religions, with a commitment to non-violence in their resistance against a racist regime. It’s a book that captivates and educates while changing our perception of someone who, before shaping a nation, had to shape himself.

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Seven Decades of Independent India

Title: Seven Decades of Independent India

Author: Vinod Rai and Dr Amitendu Palit

Publisher: Penguin Viking

Price: 335

Pages: 304


This collection asks essential questions, from whether India’s democracy has met its people’s aspirations and whether institutions have delivered to if public policies have improved living standards. The book analyzes challenges on the economic front, healthcare, education, food, sanitation, and water supply.

It also examines the regulatory complexities amidst a socio-political landscape with diverse factors, including a burgeoning young workforce, an engaged citizenry, pervasive social media influence, and a challenging neighborhood. Seven Decades of Independent India provides a panoramic view of the country’s evolution with rare insights from experts, practitioners, and scholars. The anthology explores India’s trajectory, from its past and present challenges to the factors that will define its future.

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Understanding Bangladesh

Title: Understanding Bangladesh

Author: S. Mahmud Ali

Publisher: C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd

Price: 2616

Pages: 480


Explore Bangladesh’s socio-political landscape and the dynamics within its compact military, political, and business spheres through Mahmud Ali’s Understanding Bangladesh. The author peels out the intricate power play among the nation’s elites and their persistent efforts to establish authority in a densely populated arena.

The book is also a nuanced exploration of the struggles and victories that have shaped the nation. It looks at the many diverse attempts at nation-building and the relative merits of each approach. Ali helps you better understand the complexities of a nation marked by its resilience and determination. His analysis reflects the broader narrative of Bangladesh’s journey towards nationhood. Thoroughly thought-provoking, this book should be read by anyone eager to understand Bangladesh’s past and present.

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1971: A People's History from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India

Title: 1971: A People's History from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India

Author: Anam Zakaria

Publisher: Penguin

Price: 310

Pages: 402


In Anam Zakaria’s 1971, the titular year is a living presence that’s marked into the historical fabric of South Asia. In Bangladesh, 1971 is omnipresent: on roads, in sculptures, museums, and most importantly, the collective memory. It represents the birth of a nation, a liberation present in every aspect of life. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the memories of 1971 sit uncomfortably, whether as the Fall of Dacca or the dismemberment of the country. India, on the other hand, sees 1971 as a tale of humanitarian triumph, a major point in its journey toward regional superpower status.

Zakaria’s approach is both personal and analytical. Through intergenerational interviews, textbook analyses, and museum and site explorations, she juxtaposes state narratives with the grassroots experiences of those who lived through the war. The result is a nuanced story of remembrance and forgetting that spans countries, generations, and communities.

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The Sri Lanka Reader: History, Culture, Politics

Title: The Sri Lanka Reader: History, Culture, Politics

Author: John Clifford Holt

Publisher: Duke University Press

Price: 3117

Pages: 792


Experience a captivating journey through time, culture, and politics. Compiling fifty-four images and over ninety texts, this literary journey spans over two and a half millennia, covering the entirety of the island’s history. From ancient civilizations to contemporary times, the anthology presents the Sri Lankan cultural heritage.

The classic and contemporary texts help you better understand the island’s evolution. You’ll encounter symbolism that mirrors the nation’s journey, irony woven into political narratives, and metaphors that bring historical accounts alive.

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Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal

Title: Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal

Author: Prashant Jha

Publisher: Aleph Book Company

Price: 392

Pages: 384


Over the past decade, Nepal has had a remarkable political metamorphosis, challenging the entrenched pillars of Nepali nationalism. Identity-based politics brought marginalized groups to the forefront, toppling the Hindu monarchy. Jha dissects this transformation, exposing the fractures in Nepal’s fragile polity. From the failed drafting of a constitution to the co-optation of once-hopeful Maoists, the book navigates the political negotiations and external influences, and India’s impactful role amidst all this

Jha’s narrative moves from the corridors of power in Kathmandu to those in New Delhi, reaching the grassroots in the Tarai. The book exhaustively chronicles the day-to-day politics, showing an unprecedented account of Nepal’s rebirth. You also meet key figures like Baburam Bhattarai and Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ as Jha analyses their lives. Battles of the New Republic is an essential read for anyone interested in Nepali politics and Indo-Nepal relations. It laments the death of a dream while celebrating the rise of democracy, asking fundamental questions about power, its exercise, and its beneficiaries.

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The History of Bhutan

Title: The History of Bhutan

Author: Karma Phuntsho

Publisher: Random House India

Price: 663

Pages: 680


Phuntsho, marrying traditional insights with modern academic analysis, examines Bhutanese history in detail. From the coronation of the world’s youngest monarch to the present day, Bhutan’s journey is enchanting throughout. More than a historical account, it’s a look into Bhutan’s geography, culture, and society. And let’s not forget the Bhutanese policy of Gross National Happiness, something that continues to captivate the world.

Despite its rising popularity, Bhutan remains a mystery, one of the least studied places on our planet. Phuntsho’s work acts as an incisive introduction to Bhutan. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a cultural explorer, or seeking a deeper understanding of this magical land, The History of Bhutan is a must-read.

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Amritesh Mukherjee

Amritesh Mukherjee

Amritesh doesn't know what to do with his life, so he writes. He also doesn't know what to write, so he reads. Gift him a book if you chance upon him and he'll love you forever.

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