Battle for Bittora is the second book by Anuja Chauhan and I enjoyed it even more than The Zoya Factor. First because I am a much bigger fan of politics than I am of cricket, and second because I think the writing and plotting have both improved.
Jinni is a computer animator, designing cartoon germs for toilet cleaner adverts. She is also the granddaughter of two famous politicians, and when her grandmother comes to ask her to come and campaign for the parliamentary elections, Jinni finds it hard to refuse.
"Oh, I do realise, being grown up now, that it is gruelling and chaotic and horribly stressful, and hearbreaking and possibly heart-attack inducing. But I also know that the only thing worse than taking part in a Lok Sabha election is not taking part in a Lok Sabha election."
Yep, that sounds familiar.
Jinni agrees to go and help campaign for her grandmother Pushpa Pande, but then discovers that the party top management want her to fight the seat instead. And her opponent will be her childhood best friend Zain, descended from the area's former royal family.
What follows is a gripping account of an Indian election campaign. Now, my knowledge of Indian politics is what I have picked up from reading the Economist. Even so, I recognise the two very thinly-veiled parties that Jinni and Zain represent. Some parts of campaigning are familiar to my UK experience (door-knocking, public meetings, attending important local events, dealing with the press, the importance of polling, the need to know where a toilet is at all times) and some are startlingly different (the constituency size, the length of journeys, the atmosphere of meetings, the number of parties, the grinding poverty, the importance of caste, the bribery and financial irregularity).
The contest between Zain and Jinni rather pointedly puts inherited privilege of one kind (former royal family) up against another (political family). One of Jinni's support team, Munni, is clearly the better politician - but from a poor family without a famous grandmother, and she rightly gets furious when Jinni makes a big mistake that may waste most of Munni's (and Pushpa's) efforts. Jinni's friend from work, Rumi, drops in and draws attention to the "poverty tourism" side of Jinni just dropping in on this rural state from her nice job in the capital. Jinni herself means well, but all too often gets caught up in the Need To Win, though she does also start asking awkward questions, and in one case take personal direct action against something awful.
Overall I do appreciate the way the book sets up stereotypes and then shows It's More Complicated Than That, and does it all with the same humour and exuberance as I loved in The Zoya Factor
. And I would love to see the Enforcer 49 comics, as drawn and written by teenage Zain and Jinni.
Especially touching is the photograph in the end of the author's notes at the back, of her real-life relatives who inspired the story, the first couple to be elected to India's parliament.
I remain indebted to deepad
for introducing me to Anuja Chauhan, and to her Anuja Chauhan Reading Club for the opportunity to read Battle for Bittora