Anonymous intermediaries lubricating the political machinery in the country, ingenious and resourceful middlemen greasing a multitude of palms to enhance the positions, potential and power of both the needy and the greedy, entrepreneurs masquerading as politicians and politicians disguised in the garb of entrepreneurs, dreaded underworld dons with inextricable links to businesses run by an influential elite boasting a standing at the very pinnacle of a pantheon of greats, all make a stupendous albeit infamous appearance in Mr. Josy Joseph’s incendiary work – “A Feast of Vultures: The Hidden Business of Democracy in India” (“the book”).
Blasting an otherwise secure lid hiding within its confines, the salacious, sagacious and savage underbelly of corruption, crime and collusion, Josy Joseph’s endeavor is extraordinarily bold, exactingly well researched and extremely revealing. The impunity with which democracy in India is held to ransom by impropriety, immorality and indiscriminate dealings representing the preserve of elected representatives, select bunch of businessmen and a network of cronies and lackeys, has led to an erosion of confidence in the rulers among the ruled (‘rulers’ and ‘ruled’ being appropriate words since every elected party more or less treats the country as its personal fiefdom and the citizens as refined serfs). Published in the backdrop of a whopping banking scam involving a couple of unapologetic thieving jewelers, an unscrupulous bunch of bank employees and a loss to the exchequer to the tune of a dizzying Rs. 11,000 crores, Mr. Joseph’s book is a MUST READ!
Whether the Government will be successful in extraditing Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi and subject them to the wrath of the judiciary, and whether a shamefaced Punjab National Bank will be able to recover its gargantuan dues – one thing is crystal clear. The perpetration of scams, scandals and sham transactions in India will be a routine part of normal existence, unless there occurs a generational shift in thinking and a paradigm change in taking the right actions. The first reformative steps in both these spheres would be taking immediate measures to identify the perpetrators of crime as starkly laid out by Mr. Joseph in his book. Whether it be the Choudhries amassing a fortune by brokering arm’s deals; the dynastic family of the Gandhis, entangled in a plethora of suspicious transactions ranging from the Bofors kickbacks to the Robert Vadra land grabbing insinuations; suspect but affluent businessmen such as Naresh Goyal, Naveen Jindal, Gautam Adani and the Ambani Brothers who go about merrily accumulating plaudits and money – everyone must be tethered to the pole of the law and dealt with as prescribed and stipulated by the Constitution of the country. An impartial, unbiased and expeditious investigation into multifarious scams is the only way out if India needs to regain its rightful economic, cultural, social and political standing in the world.
The obliteration of this rot needs to begin right from the top – the Parliament. Consider this passage from the book that grimly highlights a brazen conflict of interest between the administrators and the businesses being administered: “over the years, various parliamentary committees have been the playground of businessmen. Kalpataru Das, an MP from Orissa whose family has vast business interests in mines, sat on the select committee that scrutinized the new mining bill in 2015; Vijay Darda, whose family owned the Marathi newspaper Lokman, the Hindi newspaper, Lokmat Samachar and the English newspaper, Lokmat Times, was a member of a committee that dealt with media regulations through the first decades of the new millennium; Chandrapal Singh Yadav from Uttar Pradesh sat on the standing committee on chemicals and fertilizers when he was the chairman of a fertilizer company in 2015…….”
There cannot be a more classic case of inmates running the asylum! As Mr. Joseph ably, eruditely and chillingly demonstrates it is less of a cumbersome exercise in India to construct a sprawling 170-meter personal dwelling abode by spending a nausea inducing Rs. 10,000 crores than getting a simple approval for constructing a road with an altruistic and urgent objective of linking a tiny non-decrepit village to the nearest hospital. We seem to be living in times where noble deeds are an invariable but unfortunate outcome of noblesse oblige. Such obligations are some of the hardest things to obtain.
Mr. Joseph also portrays with remarkable alacrity the ironies, paradoxes and contradictions that are the edifices of a liberalized, modernized and economically advanced India. In the sleepy village of Raigarh, homes are inundated with fly-ash and coal dust emitted by energy consuming pollutant spewing monstrous machinery generating electricity and power and constructed by one of the most renowned faces of Indian entrepreneurship, the Jindals. When deserving protests are launched by the affected and helpless public they are made to lead a harrowing existence, harassed by preposterous civil suits that makes them commute hundreds of miles, tormenting their near and far relatives and even attempting to murder the lynch-pin among the protesters. When foxes are made to guard chicken coops, the inevitable result can only mean perdition – for the chickens at least!
As India steps into a new threshold of prosperity and progress, it also suffers from a plethora of social, economic and political malaise. Income and wealth inequality, rampant corruption, skewed reforms and an uneven terrain of development constitute dangerous spanners in the works of peace and prosperity. If left unchecked, they may signal the death throes of hope and aspirations. The need of the hour is for intrepid and courageous voices such as that of Mr. Joseph to come to the fore and ensure that a teeming mass of interested, impacted and ignored populace take on the administrators, elected representatives and policy mavens by the scruffs of their tainted necks (metaphorically speaking) and rouse them from an unforgivable reverie of gross negligence and willful default. A reverie that takes for granted the helplessness of the people and their unfortunate fate to be exploited. The Kafkaesque red tape of Indian bureaucracy needs to be rend asunder for a new era of accountability, transparency and ownership to be ushered in.
Even if India does not need revolution, the likes of which put many a French ruler to the sword (literally), there needs to be ringed in a change which would ensure that Mr. Joseph’s vultures finally stop feasting!