Let’s Talk: Corruption and its discontents

Let’s Talk event by Kochi Biennale Foundation saw discussion on India’s shadow democracy


Kochi, Sept 29: An evening discussion between award-winning investigative journalist Josy Joseph and intelligence expert Hormis Tharakan here today delved into the murk of contemporary Indian corruption to identify elements that seek to undermine its democracy.

Pegged around Joseph’s new book, A Feast of Vultures: The Hidden Business of Democracy in India, the conversation – part of the Kochi Biennale Foundation’s (KBF) popular ‘Let’s Talk’ series – also queried the fallibility of national institutions and the perceived rot in national processes. 

“When I first began working on the book in 2007, the purpose was to relay stories without varnish from the mortuary of reportage that I had accumulated over my journalistic career,” Joseph said. “The theme is evident from the book’s cover: the home of a debt-ridden farmer who committed suicide against a backdrop of the Mumbai skyline.”

Sundry subjects from all-pervasive corruption, the various created economic castes and puppet masters, the culpability of supposed watchdog bodies, to a decaying system’s discontents and disaffected were woven into the conversation.

Former RAW chief and head of state police – as also a KBF Trustee – Hormis Tharakan brought his own considerable experience of encounters with this shadow government of politico-corporates and their intermediaries into the conversation.

“Corruption is the scourge of our democracy. By listing out the wrongdoings of very public people, the book serves as a guide to organized corruption at the highest levels of power,” Tharakan said, referencing studies that point to political interference in police matters as the main source of corruption.

“It is also the story of contemporary India: of everyday corruption such as when one applies for a passport through an intermediary or why one is afraid to approach the police. These are the kind of discussions we should be having as a country,” Tharakan said.

The two or three legal notices served to Joseph upon the book’s publication is why he says he approached it like an academic researcher – backing up specific references with primary source documentation when such was available and couching allegations in vague language when it was not.

Inasmuch as it was an attempt to unspool the crises gripping the world’s largest democracy, the talk was an intervention to dispel the gloom clouds hovering over it. The conversation saw a countercurrent of optimism about emerging pockets of accountability, the stirring of consciences and opposing voices, the growing clarion calls for change, among other such victories.

“It has been my experience that the corrupt are in the minority. There has been in recent years efforts at mounting an anti-corruption movement, but these have not been able to sustain themselves. Still, more and more people are recognizing that the status quo needs to change,” Joseph said.

The Let’s Talk event also served to launch the book here.

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