Inquiry into the sinister underbelly of business and politics in India
Academy of International Studies,
Jamia Millia Islamia
Josy Joseph’s book – A Feast of Vultures: The Hidden Business of Democracy in India – is a big hope, if not for changing, then at least for challenging the prevailing development discourse and pervasive corruption in the upper echelons of power, in India. A compelling multi-layered inquiry of deep corruption and rivalry at the highest level of business and politics, the book provides materials to activists, writers, teachers, students and public intellectuals to check the claims of transparency in governance and integrity in delivery of public promises, and find out the contradictions between those promises and their outcomes in the light of some daring serious investigations.
A Feast of Vultures: The Hidden Business of Democracy in India by Josy Joseph, HarperCollins Publishers India, 2016, ISBN 978-93-5029-751-3, pp 231, Rs 599
Key words: Democracy, Corruption, Middleman, Money, Murder, Economic Liberalization, Thakiyuddin, East West Airlines.
If you want to be lied to, all you have to do is believe everything that the government tells you. Nothing sums up the stories of A Feast of Vultures more than the above remark of author and leadership writing expert Steven Magee.
A Feast of Vultures: The Hidden Business of Democracy in India is the outcome of a daring investigative journalist’s hard-nosed reporting of India’s political underbelly and its murky relationship with the corporate houses. The book, as author Josy Joseph notes, is the outcome of the anguish at the staggering size and scale of the ‘deep immorality at the heart of our democracy’. The stories show lack of compassion of the government at people’s problems. The contradictions between what is claimed of the Indian democracy in public and how it exists in practice in crucial sectors like education, health, public transport and even judiciary are not hidden from keener observers like Joseph.
Mohammad Anwer Hussain’s restlessness at the cries of his sister Shahda, gone into labour, in an ordinary Indian village in Jehanabad (now in Arwal), Bihar which has neither road nor hospital still ring in his ears. A village with eighteen families has ‘not a single bathroom’. What Anwer learns later in Delhi is that democracy in India works in two ways: money and persistence whenever you want to get something done. But it works even better when you know the right middlemen.
Joseph calls Anwer’s quest for a road and hospital in his village and his frequent trips to government offices in New Delhi “a tutorial on the modern Indian state.” If you wish to get anything done, you must know the right middlemen who have the ears of their bosses. Money is the biggest shot that get India’s creaky government machinery moving. ‘If you fight persistently, you can get something you deserve with a lot of difficulty. If you have money, you can get it without a fight’, says Anwer, who through his persistence was able to get a road built and he become sort of an icon in his village Hridaychak. However, Anwer’s sufferings did not end there.
And, Anwer is not alone to have experienced this. There are hundreds of such sufferers across India’s 6,38,000 villages and thousands of medium and small towns most of whom lose the battle either for want of money or lack of access to the right facilitators. A Feast of Vultures is the story of such suppressed voices in the everyday functioning of a country claiming to be the largest democracy in the world.
On the question as to what has led to this situation, Joseph himself said during the book launch discussion that the biggest problem is that the economic liberalization was implemented without necessary ‘political reforms’. One biggest mistakes was the political parties’ allowing the black money. If that is corrected, change will happen. We have created two Indias: one India very much like the rich and famous: the India where we are sharing the booty of economic liberalization, and the other India where there is growing anger, frustration, militancy, insurgency, armed struggle, etc. It is frightening that people are killed on a daily basis in Bastar and the surroundings. The media need to expose this contradiction, Joseph urged stating that if we do not write, we will be the same.
Anwer and people like him are poor victims of a system which runs for the rich, of the rich and by the rich. These rich or neo riche can be found in the form of the facilitators, or those for whom they work and, the rich business class for whom the laws are bent and the rules twisted.
While the government and its go-between earn as much as their tenure allows, the businessmen can make the two toe their line by dint of their wealth, the modern day god before whom most seem to bow their heads. Most skyscrapers standing tall and making the poor commuter look bony stand either on some poor’s land or his labour. However, it is the poor who cannot even think of entering these highly guarded structures and the fortified government offices.
It is not that everyone is in an unfair business. What frightens, however, is the existence of high risks, unethical practices and cutthroat competition so much so that one of India’s richest persons like Ratan Tata once felt not dare challenge it. The competition and rivalry is so deep that it can take the life of the richest of the rich and yet the story may remain shrouded under layers of deep mystery.
One such major mystery which Joseph tries to reopen is the murder of a Malayali businessman Thakiyuddin Abdul Wahid, the managing director of the East West Airlines, India’s first private airline, whose last flight touched down in Mumbai ‘One morning in June 1977’, two years after Thakiyuddin was gunned down on 13 November, 1995 and, just five years after it began its domestic service in 1992, following the government’s ‘Open Skies Policy’. What could have been one of India’s most successful private airlines is now a ‘mere footnote to India’s frantic growth’.
Having covered some of the most startling scam stories like the Adarsh Apartment scam, scandals such the conduct of the Commonwealth Games, the 2G Spectrum Allocation scam, A Feast of Vultures is perhaps Joseph’s most astounding and unprecedented finding of not just one murder but hundreds of big losses, scams, scoops, scandals and loopholes that go either unnoticed or are made to be forgotten in a democracy where ‘everything is on sale’ and where money is the real buyer and ruler and, those who have it, have everything else: the law, the land, the government and the mediators working for their own good and for the good of their masters.
A Feast of Vultures is lending voice to millions of Indians, simmering with anger over huge corruptions, who either do not have patience and courage to persist like Anwer or money to grease the itching hands of the intermediaries sneaking into government offices. The understanding between politicians and business tycoons is all the more sinister. If you attempt to unmask them, they will ‘deploy ingenious methods to silence you’, writes Joseph.
Joseph’s book is a big hope if not for changing, then at least for challenging the prevailing development discourse and pervasive corruption and rivalry in the upper echelons of power. A compelling multi-layered inquiry of deep corruption at the highest level of business and politics which must be read by activists, writers, teachers, students and public intellectuals to check the claims of transparency in governance and integrity in delivery of public promises.