Book Review| How Prime Ministers Decide by Neerja Chowdhury

Aaditya Tiwari
3 min readJan 15, 2024

‘How Prime Ministers Decide’ provides a captivating exploration of contemporary Bharatiya history, skillfully penned by the seasoned journalist Neerja Chowdhury. Through a meticulous examination of India’s Prime Ministers preceding Narendra Modi, the book delves into the crucial decisions that shaped their tenures. The book captures some extremely turbulent times of modern Bharat and gives detailed insights into the machinations that go behind making a political decision. The book is rich with anecdotes that Neerja Chowdhury has chronicled and collected over her long career.

The author narrates the story of post-emergency Indira Gandhi, how she dealt with her detractors Raj Narain & JP responsible for bringing down her government, negotiations with Devi Lal and the reason Devi Lal kept Indira Gandhi waiting outside her house. How the mighty Sanjay Gandhi ruled the roost while her mother was the Prime Minister and deftly handled negotiations to bring down the Morarji government. The story of Rajiv Gandhi is the story of Shah Bano and how he played the communal card to stay in power, how Arif Mohammed took a principled stand and while initially being supported by the Prime Minister, he was shunted. The chapter on VP Singh is a short history of the Mandal Commission and the political necessities that accelerated adoption of a report eating dust since 1979. PV Narasimha Rao’s tenure is the story of the foundation of Ram Temple Movement and the actors that negotiated in the background. The author also describes how PVNR almost tested the nuclear weapon but stopped due to the American pressure. He passed on the baton to Atal Bihari Vajpayee who gave the green light for nuclear tests. Atal Bihari’s tenure covers the external affairs of India-Pakistan, the Kargil War and internal affairs of dealing with LK Advani and the RSS. Manmohan Singh clearly comes across as the weakest PM among all the past PMs who put his entire weight behind one decision i.e. Indo-US Nuclear Deal and was politically crippled by the Sonia Gandhi led National Advisory Council and the Left parties. The book also tells a tale of major political leaders who were too close to becoming Prime Ministers but missed due to fate or family. Some of the most important names in this category are Chaudhary Devi Lal, Jagjivan Ram, Pranab Mukherjee and LK Advani.

Neerja Chowdhury’s work is not just a historical account but also a narrative of how leaders with opposing political ideologies maintained cordial personal relationships, standing by each other in times of need. Instances like JP refusing the idea of copying personal letters belonging to Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi ensuring cancer treatment for Atal Bihari Vajpayee in New York as part of the UN Delegation showcase the principled stands taken by such leaders. Readers are treated to a nuanced understanding of political leaders, revealing that relationships in politics are not confined to binaries. Anyone interested in policy or politics will this book will be an enlightening read.

--

--

Aaditya Tiwari

शब्द के आडम्बरों में अर्थ मेरा खो न जाये. OSD to Sh @pemakhandubjp| @TeachForIndia | @indfoundation | @ColumbiaSIPA |Quizzer|Like to write poems|Views personal