Winner of second NIF Book Prize

09 Nov 2019

The New India Foundation today awarded the Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize to Ornit Shani for her book, “How India Became Democratic” published by Penguin Random House India.

Carrying a prize purse of INR 15 lacs and a citation, the second annual book prize was announced at the Bangalore Literature Festival by NIF trustees – Nandan Nilekani, Ramachandra Guha, Manish Sabharwal, and Srinath Raghavan.

Instituted as an annual award in 2018, the Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF prize recognizes and celebrates outstanding non-fiction books on modern and contemporary India. This year, from the 117 entries that showcased a diverse range of topics from a Dalit memoir to tribal atrocities to how young India is changing the world, six books were shortlisted. The winner was selected by a jury chaired by Ramachandra Guna, consisting of Nandan Nilekani, Niraja Gopal Jayal, Rukmini Banerjee, Manish Sabharwal, and Srinath Raghavan.

Speaking on the sidelines of the event, Srinath Raghavan said, “The Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize enables us to take the forward the mission of NIF to promote highest quality work on contemporary India. It’s the ideal complement to our flagship program of book-writing fellowships.”

“How India Became Democratic” is a scholarly work by Ornit Shani and explores the greatest experiment in democratic human history through the untold story of the creation of the electoral roll and universal adult franchise in the world's largest democracy, India during the tumultuous period following independence and in the backdrop of the partition of India and Pakistan. The deeply researched book shines a light on the extraordinary tale of drawing up India’s first electoral rolls, even before the Constitution of India had been drafted and the definition of an Indian citizen finalized. Shani makes the claim that Indians received adult franchise before becoming citizens.

In a conversation with Srinath Raghavan right after the book prize, Shani shared the incredible challenges faced by the Indian bureaucrats tasked with drawing up the lists, from bringing together the rulers of the princely states of India, to the tribal people living in the far reaches of the mountains in the Northeast. It was the longest list of voters in history at that time, Shani said, made under seemingly impossible odds.


Shortlisted Books for the second Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay Book Prize:


  1. Alpa Shah, Nightmarch: A Journey into India's Naxal Heartlands (HarperCollins)

  2. Snigdha Poonam, Dreamers: How Young Indians Are Changing Their World (Penguin Random House India)

  3. Piers Vitebsky, Living Without the Dead: Loss and Redemption in a Jungle Cosmos (HarperCollins)

  4. Rohit De, A People's Constitution: The Everyday Life of Law in the Indian Republic (Princeton University Press)

  5. Manoranjan Byapari, Interrogating My Chandal Life (Sage)

The NIF Book Prize is open to all authors writing on contemporary India independent of their nationality and published in the preceding calendar year.

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