Exposing the Indian oligarchy and battling its vultures: Interview with Josy Joseph

Award-winning investigative journalist Josy Joseph speaks to The News Minute on his book ‘A Feast of Vultures’.
Exposing the Indian oligarchy and battling its vultures: Interview with Josy Joseph
Exposing the Indian oligarchy and battling its vultures: Interview with Josy Joseph

Award-winning investigative journalist Josy Joseph’s book “A Feast of Vultures” has had the media and political corridors abuzz the last few months.  After ten years of research and investigative reporting, Joseph’s first book unearths the murky side of politics, providing some explosive revelations against India’s leading political figures and businessmen, backed by documentary evidence.  

Neeraj Radhakrishnan caught up with Josy Joseph in New Delhi, days after Jet Airways and its founder-chairman Naresh Goyal filed a civil defamation suit against him for highlighting his connections with gangster Dawood Ibrahim.  Explaining the motivation behind authoring a book that can potentially shake up the system, Joseph says, he wanted to give a first-person journalistic account, which was devoid of any censorship – as it prevails on a large scale in the Indian media. He says also wanted his book to be well-researched, academically irrefutable, and one that will find a place for itself on the shelves that will be referred to by academicians, students et al as a reference point. Joseph points out that he wanted to document the subject not for the intellectual class, who are already well aware of the scenario, but for ordinary Indians and the future generations.

Here are excerpts of Joseph’s interview:

Why doesn’t India have a whistle-blower culture and why isn’t it encouraged?

We are an amoral society when it comes to distinguishing what’s right and wrong. In India, it is acceptable to steal as long as you don’t get caught. It is fashionable to celebrate fake awards. We have inverted a lot of values from upside-down, and whistle-blowing is a victim of all that. Whistleblowing is not encouraged because at the heart of our society, we don’t celebrate truth, we don’t celebrate honesty. When I got slapped with the defamation case by Jet Airways, people called up to sympathize and not to celebrate. I think it’s time to celebrate; we should celebrate the case. Whistleblowing is not being protected because if we nurture the culture of whistleblowing, a lot of the present generation of political leaders and institutions will be exposed. We are a democracy that is surviving significantly on influence, bribe, kickbacks, and nepotism. So, whistleblowing will make it dangerous for the present beneficiaries of the system.

So, we can say that we are a democracy just on paper but otherwise we are a capitalist economy.

No. We are a democracy that justifies our democratic existence using elections, because we are able to hold regular elections. Otherwise, we are an oligarchy, where a few hundred or few thousand people decide the fate of this country, fate of our children, fate of our education, fate of our rivers, and fate of our cities. A free capitalistic economy is a good thing, maybe better. But we don’t have the free market. We have a crony-capital state.

In your view, would you rather agree or disagree that the justice system in India is privatised?

When you say justice system, there are several aspects to the system. Justice to a poor man in Maoist-infected areas would be the kangaroo courts of the Maoist, so it is privatised there. Justice system for an ordinary villager would be the cruel police and an expensive judiciary. He fetches is retail justice at the doorsteps of a politician or a goon. He is afraid of going to the courts because it is expensive, and he is afraid of the police. So is it privatized or non-existent; justice when it comes up higher to the cities, for people like you and me, even we are afraid of the judicial process. Look at me, when I was slapped with a civil defamation suit by Jet Airways, the documents and applications are vetted by not only famous, but some of India’s most expensive lawyers. And that sends a lot of concern among my friends and others. Judicial process has become very expensive, almost half of India couldn’t survive. There is also no approach for the judicial system.

There are various layers to examine justice in judiciary. The courts are so crowded that at least one High Court Chief Justice once pointed out that it will take at least 350 years to dispense existing cases. If not 350, then definitely it’s going to take dozens of years. How long are we going to stand in the queue? How long are you going to take the judicial process, which is so expensive that majority of Indians are afraid of even going to courtrooms. If not privatised, not sure of the right word to use, but it is far more complex.

Is this where “naya netas” also come into the picture?

The “naya netas” or the local political leaders, the local criminals, they are all occupying the space, which the government and the judiciary have vacated. Our governance system, especially in the north of India, is the same that we inherited from the British era and it hangs top-down. It doesn’t reach the villages. Despite Panchayati Raj, there is a huge black-hole at the bottom of the governance. That is where the naya netas exist. If you want to do a big deal with the government of India, even there you need intermediaries; because the governance is so skewed, so deeply corrupt. 

What are your thoughts on Ajay Singh who was back in the news after taking over the reign at SpiceJet?

To the best of my understanding, Ajay Singh is a very smart businessman. He understands India well, and like hundreds of other businessmen, he is only being practical. The fact that he worked with Pramod Mahajan, he seems to be flourishing now, I don’t know how. I haven’t looked into the facts. But the fact is that he has got a good deal in getting back SpiceJet and the airline is doing well.

Whether its Ajay Singh or most businessmen, they know that in India to have flourishing business, it is good to be on both sides. You look at Naveen Jindal or any other businessman, you will find that they regulate money to both parties, they know that, it’s the reality.

Why do you think rogue businessmen seek refuge in London?

The British government should really look into the fact that London’s image of being one of the largest financial centres of the world, the great city where democracy, history, and freedom is all celebrated; it will become the capital of the rogue elements taking refuge, not just India, but the Russian oligarchs who are sitting out there, it is turning out to be that. The British government needs to wake up.

Don’t you think no country, or no government, can survive without corruption?

I think corruption is an integral part of human immorality; it’s a part of human existence. Each one of us have an angel and a demon in us. In India, the average Indian is forced to be corrupt. We don’t want to bribe the police, or the clerk in the government office, but we are forced to. As the system improves and transparency sets in, the corruption levels drop, especially at the lower level. At the highest level, of course, there will always be corrupt politicians, corrupt bureaucrats, and corrupt intermediaries. It is a constant fight and in India, it is too perverse. 

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