'Liberalisation has given a fillip to middlemen and they've grown a hundred times'

Systemic corruption that warps our democracy
'Liberalisation has given a fillip to middlemen and they've grown a hundred times'
'Liberalisation has given a fillip to middlemen and they've grown a hundred times'
Written by:

Preetha Nair

From unearthing the unholy nexus between the underworld and politicians to the staggering might of middlemen, investigative journalist Josy Joseph reveals the dark side of Indian politics in his book "A Feast of Vultures: The Hidden Business of Democracy in India".

In the book, Joseph -- who has exposed scams related to Mumbai's Adarsh Housing Society and the allocation of 2G spectrum, among others -- lays bare the systemic and deeply ingrained corruption that is hollowing out our democracy. Published by HarperCollins, the book is an angst-ridden narrative where the author also revisits some of the "buried" defence scams, black money cases and the goings on in the corridors of power.

Excerpts from an interview with IANS:

Q: Your book talks a lot about the increasing influence of middlemen in our society. Are you suggesting that they are the root of corruption?
A: In my book, I tackle middlemen from villages to typists who rose to the higher echelons of power. Intermediaries distort merit and they impose an extra cost. A story in my book about the plight of Hridaychak, an ordinary village of Bihar, is the story of every Indian village. It talks about the real struggle to get a road, school or a hospital.

Q: You attribute the growing clout of middlemen to economic liberalisation at a time we are celebrating 25 years of economic reforms...
A: It is a coincidence that my book comes at a time when we are celebrating 25 years of liberalisation and 70 years of independence. A lot of us born in the socialist era have come to believe that middlemen are part of our system. Liberalisation has given a fillip to middlemen and they've grown a hundred times. If you get the right middleman, you can even buy a government. My book is an angst-ridden narrative on the distortion of our democracy.

Q: Do you propose any solution to weed out corruption?
A: I don't have a magical solution. One of the fundamental flaws in our system is that Indian politics sucks in a lot of black money and our corporates are forced to feed the political class. If we can bring transparency in political funding, that itself will diminish corruption.

Q: Are you being hopeless here?
A: My hope is that this book will bring about an honest conversation among us. Once the conversation begins, I believe a solution will emerge. When the anti-corruption movement started in 2011 (led by Anna Hazare), it was (moving) in the right direction. Somehow it lost track. However, we are a young country, and restless. The new generation is exposed to a very high level of equality and their sense of democracy is strong. They are going to raise their voices.

Q: What was the starting point of the book?
A: In 2009, when I started writing the book, I wanted to look at the story of the civil aviation sector, beginning with JRD Tata, who brought aviation in India. I spent ample time on it and came across a lot of startling documents which I have used in the book. Among them, the murder of Takiyuddin Abdul Wahid, the Managing Director of (now defunct) East West Airlines, the man who glamourised the aviation sector, and his mysterious rise in the industry, was the most curious one. He was the victim of business rivalry.

Q: What are the major revelations in the book?
I have revisited the HDW defence scam in 1987, allegedly involving former Navy chief Admiral S.M. Nanda. It's a deliberate manipulation of facts and the CBI should reopen it. Another case is how former Army chief General S.F. Rodrigues, who later became the governor of Punjab, did direct business with notorious arms dealer Sudhir Chowdhrie.

Q: What are the major challenges you faced? And what is the degree of censorship in the media when it comes to investigative stories?
A: It took nine years to finish this book and I have already received legal notices from two business houses. I have a folder in my email account labelled as 'morgue' with the stories that are being killed. I will publish them one day.

Q: Communalism or corruption? What is the greatest threat India is facing now?
A: While it may look like I am focusing on corruption, there are other arguments in my book. One is how big corporate money has of late come together with right-wing forces and how the rise of (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi's politics is symbolic of receding moral values. We can't forget his past. The second thing I am flagging is the oligarchisation of politics, for which the Congress is guilty. The third crucial part is corruption where I tell youngsters that when a middleman comes to you, you need to resist him/her.

I believe that communal issues in India are short-lived as Hinduism cannot be controlled by some fundamentalists for too long.

Q: How do you view the current case against Outlook magazine and freelance journalist Neha Dixit for the report on alleged child trafficking in Assam?
A: I have covered six governments till now and the Modi government is the most anti-transparent and propagandist of them all. It is hostile towards the media and makes sure that only certain people have access to the government. I am also seeing too much of self-censorship among journalists. Today, suddenly I am being called a Christian and 'church agent', which is ridiculous.

(Preetha Nair can be reached at preetha.n@ians.in)

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