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Unedited truth
A Feast of vultures

Author : Josy Joseph

Publisher : HarperCollins, Rs 599
The author has exposed businessmen, middlemen, politicians and political aides, and demystified the auras around many of the big names of our country. Time will tell if the next generation inherits a better India, writes ROHIT SRIVASTAVA
In his Sahitya Akademi Award winning satirical novel, Raag Darbari, Srilal Shukla narrates a story about how Government and politics corrupt society. What was true then is true even today; the only difference is that things have become more violent and ugly. The political ecosystem of India was parasitic and exploitative from the beginning of the state. What Shukla, a bureaucrat with deep insight into politics and governance, told us through his novel, Josy Joseph exposes through straight and sharp prose. His book is not a fiction, but it is as gripping as any crime thriller; unlike thrillers it does not excite but makes us realise the grim reality of our nation.

Joseph states that A Feast of Vultures is intended to be a map for ordinary citizens to make sense of India and to do business with it; and for its visitors to figure out the chaos that surrounds them here. Rather than a theoretical, academic framework, this is a reporter’s inquiry into the state of the nation. Yet, it is not a gutter inspector’s report. It is an account of the reality of India as we know it. 

“The most powerful middle man in India sometimes decides the very fate of the country’s democracy.” This is one of the many hard truths dished out to readers by the author from his 20-year experience as an investigative reporter. A Feast of Vultures unravels the mystery behind the meteoric rise of powerful people, how few people rise from nowhere without any special talent, through manipulating the system or manipulating powerful people. This book spares none. The author has exposed businessmen, middlemen, politicians and political aides, and demystified the auras around many of the big names of our country.

The prologue, possibly one of the longest prologues in any book, is the story of Haridaychak, a nondescript village in Bihar, struggling to make sense of its existence against wretched poverty and exploitation by the State machinery and its agents. Why the people of this village are so helpless and unable to force the State to care for them is the question the book raises, while the rest of the book attempts to find the answer to this question.

There are no straight answers to the plight of Haridaychak or any other similar village or situation in the whole of India. The answer lies in understanding the system that runs the State. The book takes three sections and ten chapters to unravel this system. The omnipresent middlemen, the private sector and the big league men are the theme of the sections of the book, in the same sequence. 

In the chapter ‘The Mighty Typist’, Joseph narrates the story of three of India’s most famous and most powerful personal aides, RK Dhawan, the typist turned personal secretary of Indira Gandhi, Vincent George, the typist-private secretary of Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, and MO Mathai, the secretarial assistant to Jawaharlal Nehru. Although most politically aware Indians know of these three gentlemen, yet when one reads about them, one becomes acutely aware of a definite pattern in the rise of these gentlemen and how and why they became what they became. What qualification does one require to become aide to the leader of the nation?

The answer the book gives is, “The trusted aide’s qualification is often just his skill in peacefully, quickly and accurately typing on a QWERTY keyboard. Once he is in the office of a powerful boss, he acquires other skills, such as holding secrets, negotiations on behalf of his boss, reading the boss’ mind and managing various situations for her. These aides usually guard access to the decision maker’s chamber. They pass on messages between those seeking favours and their bosses, often striking deals and collecting the booty on behalf of their employers, occasionally getting a few crumbs of it, and bringing in women or wine as required. They are expected to remain silent and to carry these secrets to their graves.” 

As an investigative journalist, Josy Joseph has uncovered many scams, and understands how the world of business of Government operates. This is how he sums up the system which has an element of corruption integral to it, “In modern India, national interests are served by men and women who operate below the radar, ensuring that multi-billion-dollar deals in various sectors are not derailed, and that the Indian economy continues to spend and expand. Ensuring that a clean deal goes through is a difficult game and a corrupt deal is even more complex. This means that even the most transparent western firms operating in sectors such as defence, construction, highways, power, oil and gas are forced to engage people who have a deep knowledge of the systems. These are the players who will deploy tactics, often illegal, to ensure that the company wins lucrative contracts.”

This book leaves one wondering about the power of the common man and his vote in the world’s largest democracy. Do we as a nation have a better future? Will Digital India have less corruption or will we see newer and more sophisticated form of corruption? One doesn’t know. Time will tell whether Supriya, the author’s daughter, and her generation, to whom the book is dedicated, will inherit a better India.

The writer is an independent journalist




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