UC Santa Barbara professor wins India’s prestigious non-fiction award

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Professor at UC Santa Barbara Amit Ahuja wins Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize 2020 for his book ‘Mobilizing the Marginalized: Ethnic Parties Without Ethnic Movements’.Photo:
Courtesy – UC Santa Barbara

Political Science Professor at University of California, Santa Barbara Amit Ahuja, was awarded the Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize 2020 for his book on Dalit representation in India, ‘Mobilizing the Marginalized: Ethnic Parties Without Ethnic Movements’, New India Foundation (NIF) announced on Dec. 10.

The jury of the award for this year announced two winners. Jairam Ramesh, Member of Parliament representing Karnataka state is the co-winner for his book, ‘A Chequered Brilliance: The Many Lives of V.K. Krishna Menon’.

The two winners were selected from a diverse shortlist of six books covering a century of modern Indian history and encompassing several genres.

The Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay Book Prize recognizes and celebrates excellence in non-fiction writings on modern/ contemporary India by writers from all nationalities, according to a press release.

The 2020 winners will share the prize money of Indian Rupees 15 lakhs (US$20,385 approx) for their respective books and will each receive the Book Prize trophy.

The Jury citation for the winners for NIF Book Prize 2020 reads:

Ahuja’s book is an outstanding debut by a young scholar. Through extensive field research in four states, Ahuja unravels an intriguing puzzle: why is it that Dalit ethnic parties perform poorly in states where their social mobilization has historically been strong, yet perform well in states where such mobilization has historically been weak?

According to a press release by UC Santa Barbara, Ahuja in recent years visited hundreds of Dalit communities to understand their evolving place in Indian politics. The result was his book.

To conduct his research, Ahuja made multiple trips to four large states — Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar — that are home to 43% of India’s Dalits. In those visits he conducted 400 one-on-one interviews and 80 focus groups. He observed several electoral campaigns and protests, and spoke to social activists, and party workers and leaders.

As he writes in his book, “Without organization, the weak just do not get taken seriously. Organization is their first weapon. It is the only way they stand any chance of getting a seat at the table. This is what drew me to Dalit mobilization. I wanted to study Dalit movements and parties.”

Professor Ahuja’s research has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Institute of Indian Studies, the National Bureau of Asian Research and the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, the Hellman Family Foundation, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the University of Michigan.

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