‘Despite the State’ is back!

It’s time for another update on Despite the State. Six months after Amazon shuttered Westland (its subsidiary and my publisher), it is now returning to bookshops — new copies began reaching bookshops last weeks.

I am still with Westland — the team moved to Pratilipi, India’s biggest self-publishing platform (2 crore readers). I am curious about what lies ahead. Most of Pratilipi’s readers read on their smartphones. And so, in addition to publishing Despite the State as paperback and ebook, Pratilipi will also serialise it for english readers (for a start). This is something new — it takes me back to how Sherlock Holmes gained popularity, through stories published as instalments in periodicals — and leaves me wondering how the book will fare.

The book is much the same as before. Over the last year, it has received a lot of kind feedback and so, being opportunistic through and through, I have expanded endorsements in the second edition — we have now included Ben Rogaly, who taught me at the University of Sussex; Dan Taylor, whose deeply perceptive book on pre-Brexit Britain was cited in Despite the State; Indrajit Gupta, who taught me my journalism; veteran development reporter Latha Jishnu; former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan; and Suchitra Vijayan, who runs the fearless Polis Project. The book has also been reviewed by MoneyControl, Tribune, Malayala Manorama, QindeelOnline, Business Standard, Seminar, Open, The Hindu, Scroll.in, Biblio and Le Monde. Apart from these, the book also made it to top book lists (for 2021) in The Hindu, Himal Southasian and The Wire. We have bunged bits from most of these into the book’s opening pages as well.

And so it goes. One minor hiccup has passed. The book will now resume its journey through the world. It has been a memorable set of months. And so, some photographs.

In this period, a clutch of other memorable moments. The announcement. Its first page on Amazon, its appearance on goodreads, the first discussion on the book, the book’s launch (online, coz covid), reader feedback (here, here, here, here), more online discussions (like this lovely one in Goa, hosted again by indie bookstore DogEars; and this one by Polis Project), an interview on the book, and then another interview, more book signings, my first physical event, at Gangtok’s superb Rachna Book where I ended up getting to know both Raman Shrestha and Pema Wangchuk (I don’t say ‘superb’ lightly. I ended up buying about 20 books at Rachna + hurriedly relocated to his excellent airbnb on the top floor + had a long, lovely chat late into the night with him and another friend in the bookstore after closing hours).
And then, Amazon’s decision to shutter Westland. Which, among other things, resulted in my panic-buying a lot of Westland titles. My publisher Karthika, and her team, however, are capable people. They found Pratilipi. And so, here we are again — back in the shops, with a new edition and a new Amazon page.
The book will now resume its journey though the world. And I, I get back to good ol’ journalism. :-)

One response to “‘Despite the State’ is back!”

  1. Patrick de Jacquelot

    Shekhar, it’s great to hear that your book is doing so well. Congratulations!

    In the list of your international reviews, you could add Asialyst: https://asialyst.com/fr/2021/05/15/inde-covid-19-deces-masse-etat-obscurantiste-responsable/ https://asialyst.com/fr/2021/05/15/inde-covid-19-deces-masse-etat-obscurantiste-responsable/ This story was at the same time a review and an interview.

    Best regards

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I am an Indian journalist with interests in energy, environment, climate and India’s ongoing slide into right-wing authoritarianism. My book, Despite the State, an examination of pervasive state failure and democratic decay in India, was published by Westland Publications, India, in January 2021. My work has won the Bala Kailasam Memorial Award; the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award; and five Shriram Awards for Excellence in Financial Journalism. Write to me at despitethestate@protonmail.com.


…une plongée dans les failles béantes de la démocratie indienne, un compte rendu implacable du dysfonctionnement des Etats fédérés, minés par la corruption, le clientélisme, le culte de la personnalité des élus et le capitalisme de connivence. (…a dive into the gaping holes in Indian democracy, a relentless account of the dysfunction of the federated states, undermined by corruption, clientelism, the cult of the personality of elected officials and crony capitalism).” Le Monde

…a critical enquiry into why representative government in India is flagging.Biblio

…strives for an understanding of the factors that enable governments and political parties to function in a way that is seemingly hostile to the interests of the very public they have been elected to serve, a gross anomaly in an electoral democracy.” Scroll.in

M. Rajshekhar’s deeply researched book… holds a mirror to Indian democracy, and finds several cracks.The Hindu

…excels at connecting the local to the national.Open

…refreshingly new writing on the play between India’s dysfunctional democracy and its development challenges…Seminar

A patient mapping and thorough analysis of the Indian system’s horrific flaws…” Business Standard (Image here)

33 മാസം, 6 സംസ്ഥാനങ്ങൾ, 120 റിപ്പോർട്ടുകൾ: ജനാധിപത്യം തേടി മഹത്തായ ഇന്ത്യൻ യാത്ര… (33 months, 6 states, 120 reports: Great Indian journey in search of democracy…)” Malayala Manorama

Hindustan ki maujooda siyasi wa maaashi soorat e hal.” QindeelOnline

What emerges is the image of a state that is extractive, dominant, casteist and clientelist.Tribune

…reporting at its best. The picture that emerges is of a democracy that has been hijacked by vested interests, interested only in power and pelf.Moneycontrol.com

Book lists

Ten best non-fiction books of the year“, The Hindu.

Twenty-One Notable Books From 2021“, The Wire.

What has South Asia been reading: 2021 edition“, Himal Southasian


Journalism is a social enterprise…,” Booksfirst.in.

Democratic decay at state level: Journalist M Rajshekhar on book ‘Despite the State’,” The News Minute.

Covid-19 en Inde : “des décès de masse” dont un “État obscurantiste est responsable,” Asialyst.


JP to BJP: The Unanswered Questions“.
Mahtab Alam’s review of “JP to BJP: Bihar After Lalu and Nitish”.

Urban History of Atmospheric Modernity in Colonial India“. Mohammad Sajjad’s review of “Dust and Smoke: Air Pollution and Colonial Urbanism, India, c1860-c1940”.

Westland closure: Titles that are selling fast and a few personal recommendations,” by Chetana Divya Vasudev, Moneycontrol. (Because this happened too. In February, a year after DtS was released, Amazon decided to shutter Westland, which published the book. The announcement saw folks rushing to buy copies of Westland books before stocks run out.)

Time to change tack on counterinsurgency” by TK Arun, The Federal.

All Things Policy: The Challenges of Governing States” by Suman Joshi and Sarthak Pradhan, Takshashila Institute (podcast).

The Future of Entertainment“, Kaveree Bamzai in Open.

On What India’s Watching“, Prathyush Parasuraman on Substack.

The puppeteers around us“, Karthik Venkatesh in Deccan Herald.

Will TN election manifestos continue ‘populist’ welfare schemes?“, Anna Isaac for The News Minute.

Why wages-for-housework won’t help women“, V Geetha in Indian Express.

The poor state of the Indian state“, Arun Maira in The Hindu.

Book discussions

26 December, 2021: Rangashankara, Bangalore, a discussion with Dhanya Rajendran.

16 November: Rachna Books, Gangtok, a discussion with Pema Wangchuk.

29 August: Books In The Time of Chaos, with Ujwal Kumar.

21 May: Hyderabad Lit Fest with Kaveree Bamzai and Aniruddha Bahal.

28 March: Paalam Books, Salem, Tamil Nadu.

19 March: The News Minute, “Citizens, the State, and the idea of India

6 March: Pen@Prithvi, with Suhit Kelkar

20 February: A discussion between scholars Usha Ramanathan, Tridip Suhrud, MS Sriram and me to formally launch Despite the State.

6 February: DogEars Bookshop, Margoa.

5 February: The Polis Project, Dispatches with Suchitra Vijayan.

30 January: Founding Fuel, “Systems Thinking, State Capacity and Grassroots Development“.

25 January: Miranda House Literary Society