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Rogue Elephant


A distressed democracy
KS NARAYANAN | Issue Dated: March 23, 2014, New Delhi
Tags : Simon Denyer | Rogue Elephant | BBC | Washington Post | Simon Denyer | Sam Miller | 2G scam | Commonwealth Games scandal | RTI | Narendra Modi | Arvind Kejriwal | Aam Aadmi Party | BJP | Congress | Rahul Gandhi | Robert Vadra | Manmohan Singh | Nirbhaya gang rape case |

Foreign correspondents in India are increasingly turning authors and spelling out their takes on the country. BBC’s Sam Miller authored A Strange Kind of Paradise, and ex-Financial Times journalist John Elliott wrote Implosion: India’s Tryst With Reality. Joining this exclusive club is Washington Post’s Simon Denyer whose, book, Rogue Elephant: Harnessing the Power of India’s Unruly Democracy. He sees the country with a fresh eye.

Denyer is a veteran journalist who has visited and reported from several trouble spots during the last two decades. He moved to India in 2004 when the country was over-optimistic with its “India Shining campaign” undertaken by then NDA government. Before he proceeded to China as the Chief of Washington Post in 2013, Denyer witnessed how India’s irrepressible self-confidence had turned into pessimism.

A slew of corruption cases – the 2G scam, Commonwealth Games scandal, the coal blocks scam – has badly tarnished the nation’s image, while the economy has slowed and violence against women continues hitting the headlines every day. The nation is no longer ‘shining’ and Indians are left wondering where the magic has gone.

Denyer has used his reporting skills to tell the story. Reporting from across India, meeting  activists, farmers, factory and office workers and media figures, and interviewing influential political leaders, he exposes the battles taking place all across the nation between powerful vested interests and those trying to foster change.

By delving into many of the country’s most troublesome issues, from gender relations to education, from corruption to populist politics and erratic power supply, he analyses the Indian malaise.

While doing so Denyer takes on everybody and spares none – whether it is Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi or Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal and even anchor-editor of Times Now Arnab Goswami. Further, he has featured former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Vinod Rai, Haryana bureaucrat Ashok Khemka who sought to expose Robert Vadra’s land dealings, anti-AFSPA protestor Irom Sharmila and a host of RTI and pro-democracy activists.

On Manmohan Singh’s stint as Prime Minister Denyer believes that Singh had more power as Prime Minister than he exercised. “For me, that tragedy lies in his inability to live up to the hope that was vested in him, and his inability to overcome the dysfunctional nature of the democracy over which he presided.”

Singh, who was hailed as the architect of economic liberalization in 1991 seems to have fallen from that pedestal. Echoing the popular notion on Manmohan Singh Denyer concludes: “Singh now seems like a man on the wrong side of history, in the words of an old Elvis Costello song, ‘A Man Out of Time’.”

Turning his attention to another under achiever – Rahul Gandhi, Denyer strongly believes the Gandhi scion carries the burden of expectations. Pointing out that Rahul’s rise to prominence is only because of his position as the crown prince of India’s political ‘royal’ family, Denyer asks: “The question that faces India is whether the product of a dynastic and sycophantic political culture can breathe new life into its politics”, adding, “Waiting for Rahul has become a national pastime.”

In the postscript, Denyer sums up that the battle ahead is to build a new India… The battle will not simply be about voting every few years, but will involve a constant struggle to build a better nation, through protest, through voluntary work and advocacy, through the media and social media. There are undoubtedly pockets of darkness in India, there are also rays of hope.”

In a chapter titled Headline Hustler the ace global correspondent acknowledges how the Indian media holds the powerful to account. “The media has helped wrench information out of the tight grip of the powerful elite, and helped deepen India’s disorderly democracy.”

The book begins with the horrendous Nirbhaya gang rape case on December 16, 2012 that shook the nation and provoked an unprecedented outcry and gives a different treatment to it unlike those who reported it in Indian media. “If J (Nirbhaya) once represented the Indian dream, the seventeen-old-boy who beckoned them on board the bus symbolizes its anti-thesis. His story is one of child-trafficking and child labour, of abuse and the denial of opportunity, of exclusion from India’s bright future and alienation...”

No doubt Rogue Elephant is a fascinating read. It can be enjoyed by those who want to know India better and for those inquisitive as to what happened during the decade-long rule of UPA the government while they were away.

Author: Simon Denyer
Edition: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-4088-5705-2
Pages: 440
Price: Rs 599
Publisher: Bloomsbury

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017