A Feast of Vultures by Josy Joseph is not an easy read. It’s a book which demands the reader’s undivided attention. In return it gives an investigative journalist’s revelations about the murky world of middlemen or the true power brokers of our country. Questions that arose in my mind each time a scandal or scam broke, finds a place in Josy’s book. These are questions that countless others like me have asked but remained unanswered. We didn’t have either the tools or the inclination to move forward and find the answers, but the author has painstakingly collected the necessary information, which he lays out in this book. Each chapter is more or less like a stand-alone article. Josy declares without a doubt that it’s actually the middlemen who form the cog that makes the huge colossal wheel of the Govt machinery trundle along. We get a glimpse of the vast, complex world running parallel to the publically acknowledged system of governance, a world that actually determines how the system works.
The author has diligently and painstakingly followed financial trails and I’m sure at great expense to personal safety unearthed startling information about the immense wealth amassed by the wheeler-dealers of the country. Josy forces us to lift our heads from our laptops and mobiles and acknowledge the existence of a world that is far removed from anything we can think of. It lays out in detail the plight of the India which we prefer not to see; a country gagging under the stench of corruption, a country which has been held to ransom by middlemen, or as Josy says in his book, “……. a very rich country of too many poor people.” Much of Josy’s observations are a reflection of our thoughts, which we might have formed in our minds many times while reading newspapers or conversing with friends. Usually they create a vague feeling of disquiet within us which we forget while going about our daily lives. Josy has given a concrete form to our misgivings, about the unfathomable policies of the Govt and men in power. What comes through is the administrative apathy and the appalling lack of any humanitarian considerations. What else can you call the administration that insists on drawing a high tension electric wire through farms even when an alternative path was available ! This ensured the destruction of an entire season’s crop. In spite of all this, even after 4 years the village hasn’t got the promised electricity,
Josy has given a representative case from the aviation industry to give an idea of how the system can be used with impunity to crush competition and foster one’s own business, often at the cost of crores of rupees to the exchequer. When we juxtapose this with the lack of basic facilities for most of the citizens of this country, it leaves a sense of bitterness and bewilderment in the mind of the reader. The nexus between the underworld and business houses is indisputable and strong. After reading about the unbridled interference of the underworld, especially Dawood Ibrahim, in the industrial arena in India, I’m reminded of a dialogue from a super-hit film of the Malayalam superstar Mohanlal. The main protagonist, played by Lal himself, who is a ‘well-meaning smuggler’ blithely asks a police-officer “ Which underworld are you talking about? That is the world today!” The actual significance of these lines dawned on me while reading this book.
Another aspect touched upon is the sea change in attitudes and mindsets of the bureaucracy. “ The duty of the new officers was to push aside all kinds of obstacles and facilitate industries, and if there were laws for protecting the tribals and the forest, and for land acquisition their duty was to help the entrepreneurs overcome them, because India wanted all these thousands of megawatts of electricity and ores.”One knew about middlemen in the system, but the magnitude of their influence and the extent to which even developmental projects are blatantly subverted to further vested interests is frightening and does not bode well for a country with such vast disparities. “Democracy is a regular visitor via elections; for everything else, the villagers must look for facilitators and middlemen. This is also true of most of India.”
This book is a must-read for anybody who loves this magnificient country. In this age, when India is poised to spread her wings and fly high, we should be aware of the debris of devastation that we are leaving behind.