An autopsy of India’s messy democracy (Book Review)

Title: A Feast of Vultures: The Hidden Business of Democracy in India; Author: Josy Joseph; Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers India; Pages: 231; Price: Rs 599

It comes natural to India’s elite to brag about the country’s democratic system and its post-1991 economic status. In reality, Indian democracy is deeply flawed and heavily titled against the mass of the poor. Award winning journalist Josy Joseph wrote this book feeling anguished by the sheer scale of corruption in India, its dilapidated institutions and the deep immorality at the heart of its democracy. This is a fascinating study of an ugly India, a must read for those who care for the country and its future.

Joseph, who has often faced the wrath of the mighty after exposing them in his stories, doesn’t mince words. The rules of the game in modern India are simple: use fake promoters, accept bribes, commission murders, intimidate media, manipulate courts and grab power. There is only one rule: don’t get caught, please.

So how robust is Indian democracy? Are the periodic elections improving the lot of the poor, the country’s overwhelming majority? Have its institutions matured over the decades? Why do other institutions not take on the duplicity of the political class often enough? Is there a grand conspiracy to subvert the republic?

Joseph goes to answer the questions with cold-blooded facts that do not bring glory to the Indian political system. And he doesn’t hesitate to come to the unfortunate conclusion that for a vast majority of Indians, their country is not much of a republic and even less of a democracy. Except for a small number of privileged residents in its cities, most Indians, those living in the country’s 638,000 villages, have not really enjoyed the economic boom of the rising global power. This is a crisis privileged Indians love not to acknowledge.

Joseph speaks about India’s super rich who sustain many political parties by pumping them with black money but do not figure in the list of their donors. The most powerful middlemen sometimes decide the very fate of Indian democracy. One such character boasted to the author how he “managed the high priests of India’s judiciary and politics”. At the highest echelons of decision-making, “it is hard to figure out who is a mere middleman and who is a mere industrialist”.

Joseph doesn’t spare Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There is no credible evidence thus far that Modi is working to bring back to India black money stashed abroad by the filthy rich Indians. And for all its anti-corruption rhetoric, the Modi government has been conspicuously silent about a CBI chief who was hugely controversial and now leads a peaceful retired life.

Is the future looking bleak for India and Indians, then? No, there is a change coming, Joseph says, but only in the long-term — by when all of us will be dead. “In the short term, too many Indians live without hope in a crony capitalist state. This monopoly of the few over the resources and will of the state must end.”

–IANS

mr/sar/vd

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