What Lies Beyond the Veil of Indian Democracy?

A Feast of Vultures: The Hidden Business of Democracy in India by Josy Joseph

Book Published on 10 July 2016

Ah, the smell of non-fiction page turners!

After being fairly acquainted with literary works of Vinod Mehta, Arun Shourie, PN Dhar; I couldn’t help but notice someone from the same ilk. Josy Joseph, the author and an investigative journalist by profession has penned down a brow-raising piece, about the machinery called ‘State’. It delves into the intricate relationship between politicians, bureaucrats and ‘middlemen’, and the way they operate the wheels of democracy. 

Joseph, with 25 years of experience with big media giants like The Hindu, Asian Age, Mid-day and so on, has unearthed various scams. Adarsh Housing Society, Commonwealth, Bank of Baroda, to name a few. This book, however, goes beyond that. To quote him, “Behind every scam, there’s a larger scam that has been concealed.” 

In that sense, the book seems like an exercise in dredging out the hidden scams, so to speak! The reader will come across names like Naresh Goyal, Anil Ambani, Dawood Ibrahim and find out for themselves that the author has no reason to shy away from making controversial discoveries. He reopens the scandals that have shaped the political narratives, and the bitter business rivalries, thereof. 

 The prologue introduces us to a small hamlet in Bihar called, Hridaychak. Its tokenistic presence as an Indian village helps the reader to draw parallels between local grassroots governance and Union politics. A very anecdote of Hridaychak, throughout the book, is on a par with shooting the reader with a nail gun.

 The author builds no suspense in mentioning the failures of local governments. The reader gets familiarized with the distrustful tone while unearthing the dysfunctional unit, called Rural India. The plot here isn’t thick, and neither are the shadowy men who run it. If truth be told, it’s as simple as, “This village needs a road and that graveyard needs a wall.”

The inherent caste hierarchy in this plot is an unsurprising barrier. The author may as well have envisaged both Gandhian Economics and Gandhi vomiting in his grave. 

The Arvind Adigas of the world may have disguised such a plot with a fictional backdrop, to avoid troubles. Not this guy! The Rana Ayyubs and Josy Josephs take the arduous journey of backing the spade with concrete evidence, and substantial, in some cases. 

Naturally, when one unmasks the appalling double games of the powerful that practically run the state machinery, they will deploy ingenious methods to silence him. And, try they did! A frivolous 1000-cr civil defamation lawsuit from Naresh Goyal and his judicial henchmen. This inadvertently may have popularised the book among the masses. 

Why is it a Must Read?

An entire section of the book is dedicated to the intermediaries who grease the pistons of democracy, affectionately called ‘the middlemen’. The faceless and mysterious RK Dhawans, Vincent Georges, Narain Rais add a distinct colour to the narrative, with their enigmatic lives. Sure, these names don’t mean anything to the layman, until he/she ventures into the book. 

The holier-than-thou demeanour of the author does kick in,  now and then, to my liking. If one can manage to ignore the sermon-esque preaching he often resorts to, the reader is in for quite a ride.

Call it a troubling narrative, a call for change, or a disheartening answer to “Whatever happened to East-West Airlines”. It truly is an understanding of a chaotic Post-Socialist India, seen through a gloomy lens. 

Things may change, he says, in the long run. However, in that long run, we will all be dead.