Green shoots, parched roots: What the microfinance industry tells us about rural India and the grassroots economy
Once again, an old contradiction is rearing its head.Talk to MFIs — or any of their associations — and they will tell you the sector is on the path to post-Covid recovery.This February, for instance, the association reported some green shoots. While the quantum of loans remaining unserviced for over 180 days inched up marginally… Continue reading
A Journalistic History of the Adani Group
What would a brief history of India Inc look like? At the time of independence, India’s private sector was dominated by a clutch of business families. Their reign continued into the license raj years – and then was challenged by newcomers like Dhirubhai Ambani. In the 1990s, the country saw the flowering of a new… Continue reading
With Hindenburg, Adani Faces His Stiffest Challenge Yet
What does the short-seller’s report mean for Adani’s plans to grow through international bonds? I write for The Wire. Continue reading
More Hindu Right Groups, Polarising With Impunity: How Communal Tensions Intensified in Khargone
On April 10, violence engulfed the small town of Khargone. While the town was celebrating Ram Navami, a rumour spread that the police had stopped a religious procession near the local Jama Masjid. In response, a second procession moved down the same path. More militant, it aired provocative songs and slogans, and even pulled along… Continue reading
Under BJP-RSS Rule, Madhya Pradesh’s Culture Department Stares at Moral, Artistic Decay
In April 2021, readers of local daily Swadesh found an astounding report in their newspaper. Headined ‘Ustad Alauddin Khan Sangeet Evam Kala Academy ka Kaarnama (‘A Great Feat by the Ustad Alauddin Khan Music and Art Academy’)’, the newspaper reported that the Academy – set up by the Madhya Pradesh government in 1979 – had… Continue reading
Marooned: Praful Patel’s War On Lakshadweep
ON THE PHONE, Muhammad, a shopkeeper from Minicoy, the southern-most coral atoll in the Lakshadweep islands, sounded worried. Sales at his provisions-and-stationery shop had crashed. By March 2022, his monthly income had dropped from up to Rs 60,000, to down to as low as Rs 10,000. “Buying has come down. Everyone is facing a problem in their business,” he… Continue reading
Hydel #3. Why states might bear the onus of supporting hydel projects that struggle to compete against batteries, electrolysers, and their ilk
India’s latest hydel push is facing strong headwinds. With a target of 500 GW of renewable power capacity by 2030, the country needs to add as much as 80 GW of energy storage to stabilise the grid, and meet peak power demand. Accordingly, not only is the government pushing technologies like Battery Energy Storage Systems… Continue reading
Making sense of India’s energy sector
For a year-and-a-half now, I have been trying to understand the largest processes shaping India’s energy sector. These variously support/weaken the growth of the principal forms of energy India depends on – and, consequently, determine the country’s energy transition. Note: Regular readers of this blog — both of them, that is to say — will… Continue reading
Finance Firm Buying Public Sector Central Electronics Ltd. for Cheap Has Links to BJP Leaders
The divestment saga of Central Electronics (CEL) deserves more attention than it is getting. The broad details are well known enough. The public sector undertaking (PSU), founded in 1974 to commercially exploit technologies developed by national laboratories and indigenous R&D institutions, briefly hit the headlines last November when the Narendra Modi government announced its sale… Continue reading
CAA/NRC protests. A sense of how deep they spread.
Early in January 2020, as protests against NRC/CAA began spreading across India, I began scouring twitter trying to gauge how anger was spreading across India. Which cities, towns, districts and mohallas were seeing protests? The exercise was slapdash but heady — that was, after all, a lovely moment in India’s otherwise depressing recent history. Nothing… Continue reading
The slab that fell (and the story it told)
Black of grackles glints purple as, wheeling in sun-glare, The flock splays away to pepper the blueness of distance. Soon they are lost in the tracklessness of air. I watch them go. I stand in my trance. Another year gone… Am reminded, all of a sudden, of this poem by Robert Penn Warren. 2021 is… Continue reading
Energy Transition #5. On the large costs of decarbonisation sans a pathway
Talk about the energy transition and coal comes up immediately. A number of researchers across the world are working on ‘just transition’ – to support the economies that run on fossil fuels. In India, ‘just transition’ is usually invoked in the context of coal. As its use falls, coal-producing regions will see revenues fall; sectors… Continue reading
Energy Transition #4. On PM Modi’s dramatic promises at COP 26.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow by storm. Speaking at the summit, not only did he commit India to a net-zero target, he also made a series of aggressive commitments on behalf of the country by 2030. By the end of this decade, he said, India will meet 50%… Continue reading
Book review: Ramrao
About three years ago, Jaideep first told me about Ramrao. The book is finally out. And it was a real pleasure to write this review. Continue reading
Why India should embrace Net Zero
In August last year, Coal India put out an eye-popping statement. Quote-tweeting India’s Union minister for coal, it said: “CIL is poised to become a “Net Zero Energy Maharatna PSU”.” The accompanying video had more details. Coal India would produce 3,000 MW of solar power by 2023-24, it said, enough to cover all of its… Continue reading
Why Did India Need a Fresh Ministry for Cooperatives?
A day before the reshuffle, Narendra Modi’s National Democratic Alliance government created a new Ministry of Cooperation.It would provide, said its statement, a separate administrative, legal and policy framework for strengthening the cooperative movement in India.A day later, it announced Union home minister Amit Shah would also head the new ministry.Singly and together, these announcements… Continue reading
Lakshadweep: Chartered Flights for Administrator Patel, Job and Welfare Cuts for Locals
On June 14, administrator Praful Patel arrived in Lakshadweep. In the background of a photo clicked shortly afterwards stood the Coast Guard plane, CG 789, he flew over in. This choice needs to be understood. The Union Territory is connected by air to Kochi. Even at short notice, a two-way flight ticket from Daman to… Continue reading
A Field Guide to Praful Patel’s Tumultuous Record as UT Administrator
My second report on Patel, and the crisis facing Lakshadweep. Continue reading
In Lakshadweep, a political administrator courts ecological mayhem
What are Praful Patel’s plans for Lakshadweep? For a week now, the administrator of this archipelago of 35 atolls and coral reefs in the Arabian sea has been in the news. Since December 2, 2020, when he took charge of the Union Territory (UT), the one-time BJP MLA from Gujarat has issued a series of… Continue reading
23 April-8 May, 2021. The first two weeks of the second wave of Covid-19.
As I start populating this page with text, the second wave of Covid-19 has broken across India. If the first wave had been terrifying, I lack words to describe the second one. Not only are some of the new Covid variants more transmissible – some also do not seem to show up in diagnostic tests… Continue reading
A reading list for reporters
For a while now, I have been thinking about listing the journalism books that taught me the most. And so, with the blessings of a rough typology, here we go. On the moral imperative of journalism: Simple, reporters should belong to the time they live in. In other words, their work should try to create… Continue reading
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
“…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
“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.
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