The media in India has been shockingly silent during the past three months about an important political book of recent times: A Feast of Vultures: The Hidden Business of Democracy in India by Josy Joseph, National Security Editor of The Hindu (and previously a journalist with the Times of India and DNA among others). HarperCollins India has published it; the overall credentials are thus impeccable. It is well-written, and investigates the nexus that runs India – a network of middle-men, corrupt bureaucrats and greedy politicians. This nexus is not unknown to the middle-class: even PM Narendra Modi and his party made this a plank of his campaign to become prime minister, talking about “Lutyens Delhi”, the establishment media, the English-speaking elite, etc etc. (Few dare point to the irony of Lutyens Delhi oldest player joining Modi’s government as its de facto number two.) The BJP spoke of bringing back to India the nexus’s “black money”, stashed away in Panamanian tax havens or Swiss banks. When a book that goes deep into this world comes along, it is naturally required reading for our times.
You would think that Joseph’s book, being newsworthy and relevant, would be a talking point for newspapers big and small. Such is not the case. Even his own paper has not yet carried anything since the book’s publication in July. Perhaps it is not surprising that India’s two largest English dailies – the Times of India and the Hindustan Times – shy away from controversy, but one would have expected India’s most famous investigative newspaper, the Indian Express, to highlight a book that shares its mission and purpose. But besides a mention in a political gossip column, the Express has carried nothing. Reviews have only appeared in the business press and websites such as scroll.in and thenewsminute.in – none of these have a mass audience. Harish Khare, one of ex-PM Manmohan Singh’s spokesmen and now the Tribune’s editor, wrote his column on it, but his was the exception rather than the rule. If you peruse social media such as Twitter, you will find many who praise the book.
This neglect is not out of professional jealousy, but because of the corporate-style running of the media, which has to protect the promoters’ commercial interests and is therefore susceptible to political pressure.
It is no suprise that a government wants a pliant media. Both of Modi’s TV interviews since he became PM have been chummy affairs, devoid of any news value. The media is the watchdog of democracy, and it’s the media’s job to remain independent of pressure. If it can’t, then it has only itself to blame.