The War Ministry, Krishan Partap Singh, Hachette, Pp 431, Rs 350.00
THIS gripping novel on the complex day-to-day functioning of a Prime Minister and his office begins with Prime Minister YK Naidu’s state funeral on the bank of River Yamuna in New Delhi. The ceremony reveals vestiges of the martial, the colonial and the ancient as Azim Khan, Naidu’s young successor, looks on. His only opponent in the leadership contest is Karan Nehru, Azim’s lifelong best friend – a bond shared since school – and his closest political ally until their bitter disagreement about going to war with Pakistan, which poisons their relationship irrevocably. When the country watchdog Karan Nehru proposes Azim’s name for Prime Minister and accepts for himself the post of Deputy Prime Minister, the country is relieved that the vacuum created by Naidu’s unexpected demise has been duly filled, without degenerating into an unseemly free for all.
As soon as they occupy their respective posts, Deputy Prime Minister Karan Nehru spews venom at the Chinese for not deputing anybody to attend Naidu’s funeral.
Although the story has three protagonists – Azim Karan, Karan Nehru and journalist Raj Mehra, the story revolves around basically two protagonists – the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, with the journalist friend popping in from time to time, possibly to remind the reader of his presence on Earth.
The socio-cultural background of the two friends contrasts, though they are more or less from the same economic background – the upper middle class, which often shows the importance of financial backing in India.
Azim Khan, on assuming power in the messy aftermath of war with Pakistan and mounting hostility with a belligerent China, heads a shaky coalition with his leadership being questioned at every turn – most visibly by Deputy Prime Minister Karan Nehru, his one-time best friend and more insidiously by other scheming detractors hidden within. Azim has to win the trust of the Indian masses in his leadership and more than that, he is the man with the ability to heal the wounds of the past and chart out a path to an untied and bold future for the nation.
The differing priorities of Azim Khan and Karan Nehru are highlighted through the clashes between the two – a man trying to uphold the Nehru legacy and the other striving to preserve the secularity of the country.
The story has all the right ingredients to hold the reader’s attention – Pakistan’s refusal to enter into peace talks once the hostilities end in the Indo-Pakistan war; Deputy Prime Minister Karan Nehru’s disenchantment with the PMO; escalation of terrorism with China and with the latter accusing India of shielding Taliban extremists and encouraging Tibetan revolt in Tibet; Ulema leaders asking Prime Minister Azim Khan to relent to Muslim demands or face agitation and Opposition parties waiting for a possible fallout of the differences between Prime Minister Azim Khan and his Deputy Prime Minister Karan Nehru to end in a split.
Prime Minister Azim and his idealists face the ultimate test in which is it possible for them to succeed? It’s a gripping tale of the complex day-to-day functioning of a Prime Minister and his office.
(Hachette Book Publishing India Pvt Ltd, 4th & 5th Floors, Corporate Centre, Sector 44, Gurgaon – 122 003; www.hachetteindia.com)