Reference Books Section in Parliament of India’s library. (Image courtesy: official website of the Parliament of India)

Biographies To Books On Economy: What India’s Politicians Read

From biographies, autobiographies to Mahabharata and Arthasastra, it’s like looking at history in one glance and decisions that changed the face of politics.

Here are some of India’s leading politicians who spoke to BloombergQuint about their favourite books that inspired them.

Yashwant Sinha

Former Finance Minister

(Image courtesy: BloombergQuint)
(Image courtesy: BloombergQuint)

“I love biographies, especially political biographies.”

George Washington: A Biography

“It was special because he led the American war of independence and became the first president of the U.S. and that needed a lot of courage,” Sinha said. “That is why it was a life full of struggle resulting in his being able to hold the highest office.”

Indira Gandhi: A Biography

Unlike what most people think, hers was a life of struggle, Sinha said. “She had a troubled childhood and marriage which was not successful, but she was able to get over all that and then she got the opportunity to be the Prime Minister. Except for the Emergency that she imposed, she did well and will go down in history for carving out a new country in the world.”

Biography Of Jayprakash Narayan

“He is my icon so I have read with great interest his struggles that have been captured. He was not only a freedom fighter but a romantic leader who escaped from the British jail, from my town of Hazaribagh, tolerated all the tortures by British,” Sinha said. “His remarkable feature was that he did not accept office, despite the fact that he led a movement against the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi, and gave India the second freedom.”

Shashi Tharoor

Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram; Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs

(Image courtesy: BloombergQuint) 
(Image courtesy: BloombergQuint) 

The Dialogues Of Plato

Plato’s Dialogues, rather than his alarmingly utopian The Republic, are a must, even if its most famous lines — those attributed to his teacher, Socrates — are of debatable authenticity. (Thomas Jefferson suggested that Plato invented his own Socrates “merely to cover his own whimsies under the mantle of his name”). But there is no better exposition of the idea of universalism, of the existence of timeless verities applicable throughout the world, according to Tharoor.

Biographies To Books On Economy: What India’s Politicians Read


At about the same time, the vigorous Indian epic the Mahabharata, first composed around the 4th century BC and retold for hundreds of years, continues to hold great relevance not only in a political context, but also the philosophical, cultural, personal and beyond. The great epic depicts a world of conflict and betrayal, opportunism and high principle, lust and disinterested action. It rewards reading in any of its re-tellings. The Mahabharata is a monumental body of moral discussions and deliberations, anchored in the real world (one whose heroes too have feet of clay), which offers us insights indispensable to our contemporary polity and its problems, Tharoor said.

Arthasastra Of Kautilya

A lesser-known Indian classic, the Arthasastra of Kautilya (about 320 B.C.), may be the world’s most pragmatic political primer, and certainly the oldest. It is a ruthlessly unsentimental disquisition on statecraft, rooted in the assumption that politics is about power rather than principle. And its analysis of the competing interests of neighbouring states could be applied to many parts of the world today without amendment, according to Tharoor.

The Discovery of India, By Jawaharlal Nehru

This book spells out the profound vision of what has made India and shaped Nehru himself, according to Tharoor. It is a magnificent evocation of India through its history, culture, politics and ideas. At a time when Pandit Nehru’s life and legacy are being reinterpreted, reinvented and misappropriated, reading his own work provides the best insight into his own mind. My own Nehru: The Invention of India (2003, but recently reissued) anchors itself in his intellectual contributions as well as his life and work, he said.

Biographies To Books On Economy: What India’s Politicians Read

Abhishek Manu Singhvi

Congress leader and senior advocate

(Image courtesy: BloombergQuint)
(Image courtesy: BloombergQuint)

“I am always inspired by biographies and autobiographies,” Singhvi said.

Napoleon Bonaparte: An Intimate Biography, By Vincent Cronin

This book underlined the remarkable “multifacetedness” of Napoleon – emperor at 29: a very talented mathematician: creator of the civil and criminal Napoleonic Code which governs Europe: not merely general but soldier of the highest order, almost became emperor a second time after exile; indefatigable energy, unceasing curiosity. A true renaissance man, master of many, Tharoor said.

Long Walk To Freedom, By Nelson Mandela

The ultimate book for will, grit, and determination of an unparalleled and unimaginable degree, according to Tharoor.

A Sparrow’s Flight: The Memoirs Of Lord Hailsham Of St. Marylebone

This is a textbook example of how legal biographies should be written, according to Tharoor. “A clear, limpid, poetic prose of a remarkably blessed and versatile jurist.”