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The shadow of Xi Jinping, misinformation and hurt religious sentiments

This past week there was also a review of a book on the Big Bull Rakesh Jhunjhunwala

Books

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Vikram Gopal New Delhi
Over the past ten years, there has been a frenzied output of books that “decipher” the phenomenon that is the Chinese President Xi Jinping. If one includes news articles, mostly Western ones in the English media, the cumulative body of work is daunting.
 
This past week, Gunjan Singh, who is an assistant professor at OP Jindal Global University, reviewed another book on the Chinese leader, Xi: A Study in Power, by Kerry Brown.
 
Like all history, the history of the Chinese Communist Party has been a source of divergent readings. Many have sought to look at the continuities between the current regime and previous ones — the most popular comparison is with Mao Zedong, which this book also appears to draw on. These works often approach the subject as though it is something exotic, a quest to divine the secret ingredient in the secret ingredient soup, to paraphrase a dialogue from the hit Hollywood movie Kung Fu Panda.
 
The book under consideration looks at Xi’s past to piece together the puzzle, especially the impact of the Cultural Revolution. Singh says, “The book traces [Xi’s] personal and political growth by weaving a narrative juxtaposing his early life, his family history with his experiences during the Cultural Revolution and his role as a party worker and provincial leader”. 
 
Singh says the book fills gaps in the stories often told about Xi. “It helps the readers understand the Chinese leader a bit better than what one can attempt to do by just trying to analyse him from the prism of an authoritarian and power-hungry politician heading a Leninist Party with the goal of holding on to power for life,” she writes.
 
There are some other recent books that might also be of interest to the reader. For one, there is Isabella Weber’s excellent book How China Escaped Shock Therapy, which argues that, unlike popular narratives of a sharp turn under Deng Xiaoping, the CCP chose a smoother transition from a socialist to an international trade-oriented economy. And that the party fears radical change overnight.
 
There is also Alex Russo’s Cultural Revolution and Revolutionary Culture, a deeply researched book that suggests that the current changes in the CCP, indeed the changes since the mid-1970s, have been made with one aim — that the Cultural Revolution must not be repeated. According to the book, the principal aim of the Cultural Revolution was to thwart a tendency towards an overtly bureaucratic state, like in the USSR.
 
Religious sentiments
 
Elsewhere, journalist Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay reviewed Hurt Sentiments by Neeti Nair, a book that explores the narratives of victimhood that abound in the politics of India and the subcontinent.
 
“This sentiment is at the root of the primary political divide in India, which exists, in the words of the author, between Mahatma Gandhi and Nathuram Godse’s visions and the imagination of India,” writes Mukhopadhyay.
 
As Mukhopadhyay points out, referring to the book, the phrase hurt sentiments gained significance after the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. “Given the inverted political logic in today’s India, also Pakistan, a reasoned investigation and analysis of this divisive mind-set could not have been timelier,” he writes.
 
Safeguarding religious sentiments also took institutional form, with affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) drawing the boundaries around what were and weren’t acceptable as cultural expressions.
 
The book’s accomplishment, writes Mukhopadhyay, “is being able to simultaneously address those uninitiated in the politics of Hindu majoritarianism and minority communalism with a thought-through and riveting text, as well as provide food for contemplation for those who track the rise of divisive politics in India and its neighbours”.
 
Also, this past week, Debarghya Sanyal reviewed Amit Schandillia’s Don’t Forward That Text!
 
“The author breaks down some of the most obvious ‘facts’, not into an over-simplified judgement of ‘true’ or ‘false’ but carefully crafted analyses,” writes Sanyal.
 
From the Aryan invasion theory to the Sarasvati river and Kosambian elephants, Sanyal writes that Schandillia covers a wide range of topics. “Most crucially, the author hasn’t shied away from calling a spade a spade,” says Sanyal.
 
However, the book has limitations, writes Sanyal. The author focuses on Indian history – mostly ancient and medieval – and looks at a specific strand of misinformation, dealing mostly with those of the hard right.
 
“But when one is addressing the vast world of misinformation and ‘WhatsApp facts’, one cannot limit oneself to such a narrow strand,” writes Sanyal.
 
A distinction must be drawn in the literature between misinformation and disinformation. Misinformation need not be intentional, whereas disinformation is a deliberate attempt to mislead.
 
Market mania
 
And finally, Samie Modak reviewed The Big Bull of Dalal Street by Neil Borate, Aprajita Sharma & Aditya Kondawar, which looks at the life and investments of Rakesh Jhunjhunwala.
 
Jhunjhunwala’s appeal, or at least the appeal of the stock market, has only seemed to have grown since the crash of 2020 after lockdowns were announced worldwide to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
 
This appeal is heightened thanks to the many myths that surround Jhunjhunwala, a revered figure among investors. Says Modak that the book corrects many such myths, including the one that he turned Rs 5,000 into Rs 35,000 crore during his career — he started with a loan of Rs 2 lakh.
 
The authors use public information and interviews with his contemporaries to discern his investment decisions. “Luckily, there is no shortage of public information on the man. Unlike most stock market stars in India, Jhunjhunwala, a larger-than-life personality with a penchant for the politically incorrect, was not publicity shy... People gathered in their thousands to hear his investment outlook and stock tips (which he famously refrained from offering),” writes Modak.
 
Importantly, the book also looks at some of Jhunjhunwala’s bad decisions, apart from the obvious winners he backed, like Titan.
 
“Despite all this detail, the book is incomplete. For instance, the authors tell us little about Jhunjhunwala’s life... Nor does it delve much into Jhunjhunwala’s investment in unlisted stocks (such as Start Health, the second-most valuable stock in his portfolio after Titan) or how he went about identifying companies in which to invest,” writes Modak. 

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First Published: Apr 22 2023 | 7:00 AM IST

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