From Editor Unplugged to Strangers Of The Mist to The Emergency to India’s Biggest Cover Up, the books provide insight into major events and also exposes wrongdoings and corruption. The books, written by journalists, bureaucrats, generals and spies stand out for their depth, scope and storytelling.
Veteran journalist Paranjoy Thakurta, along with environmental journalists Ghosh and Chaudhuri, sets out to uncover the nexus between the big businesses and politics in India, with the central focus on the gas reserves in the Krishna-Godavari region. Quoting directly from the book, “The Ambani brothers fought over many issues, but what sometimes got lost in the din of the battle cries was a simple fact; much of the tussle was over how India’s natural resources were intended, marketed and monetised.” While mapping the Ambani family feud, the authors also highlight how the brothers used politicians to publicly attack each other in parliament. With painstaking research, a meticulous perusal of press reports, and some exclusives, Gas Wars highlights the crony capitalism that allowed the Reliance group to blatantly exploit loopholes that were consciously retained in the system to benefit it. It must be noted that the book is published by a relatively lesser known publishing house, assuming that none of the big publishing houses wanted to publish a blatantly anti-Ambani book.
It is an unapologetic, no-holds barred account of India’s biggest military disaster by Brigadier J.P Dalvi, who was the Commander of the 7th Infantry Brigade in the North-East Frontier Agency during the Indo-Sino war. Dalvi maps the blunders committed by the Nehru government right from giving up the post in Tibet, which was maintained by the British to keep a tab on Chinese advances, to not condemning the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950. The Chinese had started making in-roads through the Aksai Chin region and had attacked India on September 8, 1962, when Nehru was not in the country. General B.M Kaul, who had been given the post citing his close connections with the P.M was also missing from the war front, recuperating from an illness in the military hospital. Brigadier Dalvi reveals how the Indian army lacked leadership, weaponry, mountain warfare equipment, and even basic amenities such as glasses, snow boots, and warm clothing. The author has not only recounted the events that led to the war and the measures that could have been taken to avoid or mitigate the effects, but also the aftermath of the massive drubbing India received. Dalvi himself was imprisoned by the Chinese for six months after the war.
Lt. General Kuldip Singh Brar was the commander of the highly controversial Operation Blue Star that led to the “cleansing” of the Golden Temple- the holiest shrine of the Sikh community, and in retrospect, the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Operation Blue Star was divided into two parts- Operation Metal (restricted to the premises of the Golden Temple) and Operation Shop (raiding the countryside to get hold of suspects). Before the operation, a media blackout was imposed in Punjab. A 36-hour curfew was imposed in the state where electricity was interrupted and all means of transportation and communication were suspended, thereby cutting Punjab from the rest of the world. The operation led to numerous casualties among the militants, army, and even civilians. The book provides an extremely rich and detailed account of the Punjab militancy. The explosive details provided in the book, could not be given by anyone else, but the commander himself. Lt Gen. Brar has backed up his revelations with pictures and documents, including operational sketch maps to substantiate his claims, and has even ensured to capture the miscalculations of the army.
In a no-holds barred account, Vinod Rai, the 11th Comptroller and Auditor General of India, who gained a reputation as a symbol of the anti-corruption movement, has given a blow-by-blow account of some of the biggest scams of the country, including the 2G spectrum scam. Rai has also revealed hitherto unknown details about the “Coalgate”, the Commonwealth games, clear display of crony capitalism in the exploration of hydrocarbon and the tragic tale of civil aviation in India. He has also re-iterated the role of the CAG as a watchdog, and given a clear roadmap and long-term solutions for better governance and policy making. The USP of the book is the rich anecdotes provided by Vinod Rai, in his capacity of an ex CAG, and the brilliant appendix which contains the letters received by CAG and the correspondence between A Raja and former prime minister Manmohan Singh.
This book is a patiently researched, brilliantly captured account of the humanity and horror of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. Padma Bhushan Dominique Lapierre, the author of Freedom at Midnight teamed up with Spanish author Javier Moro for an investigation of the gas leak at the UCIL plant in Bhopal. The authors lived in Bhopal for three years while researching in the late 1990s. The book follows the journey of different characters affected by the tragedy including an Oriya girl who got married on the night of the disaster, a missionary from Scotland, and railway station warden who tried to stop a train from halting at the Bhopal station. The last chapter follows the aftermath of the disaster, and tracks the major players behind the tragedy, including Warren Anderson, the then chairman of Union Carbide, and Warren Woomer, the supervisor of the factory in Bhopal.
Former Indian military General V.K Singh, who’s a senior minister in the incumbent cabinet, deals with his experience in the R&AW. Those who follow General Singh, are well aware of his chutzpah and brutal honesty, which sometimes leads to foot-in-mouth comments. Even this book contains his battles with the administration as he goes on to explain the problems within the Research and Analysis Wing of India. Nonetheless, it throws light upon some very crucial issues- anomalies in procurement of equipment, lack of accountability and our dependence on foreign sources, with the resultant threat to national security.The book also highlights the corruption within the Intelligence Agencies, the bitter rivalry between IB and R&AW, and the effects that it has. The biggest revelations in the book are about the procurement of arms at ten times the market price, and about the death of R&AW’s best officer Vipin Handa.
Former Coal Secretary P.C Parakh’s book is one of the finest works on the Coalgate Scam, which created ripples in the political circles upon its release in 2014. At the book launch, Parakh confessed that the main aim behind writing this book was to inspire a new generation of officers.In the book, he claims that though Manmohan Singh headed the government when the allocations took place, he could barely control the proceedings and had no control over the decisions taken. He has also countered the allegations against him by CBI’s Ranjit Sinha, and raised serious questions on the workings of the CBI, including “unprofessional investigation”, and allegations of distorting the case.
Coomi Kapoor, who was working for the Indian Express during the Emergency, has beautifully recounted the darkest period of India’s democracy. She felt the fury of the Emergency first hand- as her journalist husband was arrested, and her brother-in-law, the Jana Sangh MP Subramanian Swamy was on the run to evade arrest. Kapoor has not only relied upon her personal experiences, but also included interviews from those who were either directly involved or watched the proceedings from close quarters during the Emergency including Kuldip Nayar, Subramanian Swamy, Arun Jaitley, R.K Dhawan, Soli Sorabjee and Mark Tully.
Collection of watchdog reporting from India