A gripping tale about the workings of a corrupt governmental setup.
This latest book by Veena S Rao, a former IAS officer, called ‘The Asuras of Antariksh’ is loosely based on the Antrix-Devos deal as it contains many elements that are the author’s own understanding of what transpires in the hydra-headed governmental setup in India with its corruption, favourtism and deception. A little background would help the readers understand that this fictionalised-real book is centered around a deal that was struck in 2005 between Antrix, a commercial arm of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) that helped in transfer of technology and Devas Multimedia. This government organisation provided 70 MHz of scarce S-Band space segment as well as leases satellite transponders to Devas Multimedia, an entity comprising of former space engineers from ISRO with foreign investors from Mauritius, for its digital multimedia services.
‘The Asuras of Antariksh’ has its premise well laid out with Gagan Vayu Corporation (GAVA) of the Indian Space Agency (ISA) choosing Oriont India for building a satellite and leasing its transponders and spectrum. Oriont India is an Indian subsidiary of a US telecom company, Oriont International and the deal it strikes with Gagan Vayu Corporation (GAVA) comes under the scanner of the Federal Investigation Board (FIB). The deal which passes through the Ministry of Telecom without any warning signs is suddenly thrust into the limelight with charges of corruption with regards to the sale of spectrum. This is very much in line with how the 2G spectrum scam unfolded under UPA-2. Pratap Singh, Minister for Scientific Development under whose approval the deal goes through, Shankar Raja, the Telecom Minister, and Raja Bhayya, the PM’s son-in-law are the main protagonists of the ugly saga that unfolds. Due to the nature of this crime ‘fiction’ novel, there are several plot twists which keep the reader hooked throughout.
The Minister for Scientific Development is accused of having struck the GAVA-Oriont deal behind the Prime Minister’s back, denying his power-hungry fixer of a son-in-law, Raja Bhayya, any cut from the deal. The chairman of the ISA on the hand has made a handsome amount, much to the chagrin of the PM’s son-in-law. These 2 cases of deception lead one through the quagmire of rotten forces that are embedded deep inside the whole political, law enforcement, judiciary and bureaucratic nexus which defines modern India.
The Federal Investigation Board (FIB) launches it enquiry against the Minister as he is charged on multiple counts. Here is where the novel picks up pace as all parties involved try various nefarious ways to either save themselves or implicate others. As FIB digs in further, the ISA scientists start tampering with evidence and try to delink the connection with the long chain of guilty parties. Due to the track record of the various people involved, their long sordid history comes back to haunt them as they try and blackmail each other to escape the clutches of the law. In this mess, they try and ensure that the only honest person in this wole saga gets implicated.
The former chairman of the ISA starts blackmailing Pratap Singh that he should close the FIB inquiry unless he wants that his role in the GAVA oriont deal is exposed while Singh blackmails Bhayya that his older illegal deals and remittances will be made public if he doesn’t help him and closes the case against the ISA. Lastly, Oriont also blackmails Bhayya on similar grounds as Minister Singh by exposing his offshore accounts and thus costing his uncle, the PM, his job.
The author with her decades of experience within the government setup conveys the complexities of this whole ordeal in a very witty and enjoyable manner to the lay reader. The machinations involved are described in the most efficient manner with wry humour helping us, the taxpayers, understand how our money is gobbled up and upon realising that they might be exposed, how governmental agencies escape getting caught by hiding their involvement with we, the public, none the wiser.
A must-read to understand how the original real-life Antrix-Devas deal which was ended by a CBI enquiry came into being. The various characters, government agencies and the whole premised is deemed to be fictional but anyone who has followed the Antrix Devas Agreement, which ended with a CBI enquiry, will able to relate with it.