Book Review: The Honest Season by Kota Neelima

Indian Parliament building in New Delhi. (Photo by Nimrod Bar, Creative Commons License)
Indian Parliament building in New Delhi. (Photo by Nimrod Bar, Creative Commons License)
[dropcap]C[/dropcap]ataclysmic. Brutual. And Gripping.

Kota Neelima’s recent book ‘The Honest Season’ audaciously reveals the inner political-power dynamics taking place behind the closed doors of Indian Parliament, exposing the nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen, that are slowly eating away the palpable pillars of Indian democracy.

“People would not let the politicians easily get away if they had touched their homes, their furniture, their vehicles or their parking slots. But their roads, their bridges, their trains? These could be stolen from them anytime. Just like their drinking water?”

Honest seasonThe story begins with Mira Mouli, an intuitive journalist who works for a prominent national newspaper, suddenly bestowed with a treacherous mission. Sikander Bansi, a political heir, has gone missing and the only way to investigate his location is by publishing the tapes that he constantly sends Mira. These tapes are controversial, leaking the confidential conversations of corrupt politicians-invisible from reprimand and persecution-creating a false consciousness regarding the idea of India. In the process of publishing these tapes, Mira faces attacks, espionage and even an attempt to murder from these scrupulous politicians who do not want their names to be exposed.

Being an orphan, the character of Mira also brings out the naked truth that nothing in our social system can balance the inequality that has been created against women, making them the victims of their own memory. Women are so burdened by knowing. Knowing everything: what they can be, what they cannot be, what line they can cross, how they should behave, how should they pretend. Right from the time of their birth, they have been fed with this idea of false consciousness of being someone the society wants them to be. In this case, thus, their identity itself alienates them from their own individuality, which they have no idea to adhere to. And that’s how Mira is different. She valiantly and independently takes on this mission to expose the reality of Indian politics.

On the other hand, Sikander Bansi, never made political statements, demands or suggestions in the press, and was only rarely ever photographed. In a way, it was quite stunning that Sikander Bansi, son of one of the most powerful politicians of the country, almost didn’t exist politically.

All it would have taken to deceive him was a little character, a little integrity, and he would have committed his life to politics. Instead, he found effigies running the Parliament, men and women of straw, and he decided they should be properly introduced to their voters. So he recorded the conversations inside Parliament with other MPs, political party leaders, bureaucrats, policemen and businessmen—the separate species of people who are commonly found in corridors of power. These conversations were quite candid because no one imagined he might record them.

The first tape talks about the corruption in Agricultural Ministry and how the deals for regulating foreign seeds are implemented. It talks about the corruption involved in the systems related to charging of food and supplies, controlling speculation on food production, stocks, imports and exports.

[box type=”shadow” align=”alignright” width=”7cm” ]Available at Amazon
Print Length: 310 pages
Publisher: Ebury Press/Random House India
1 edition (December 24, 2015)
Publication Date: December 24, 2015
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
ASIN: B019EWKBDU [/box]The second tape, as scathing as it might be, exposed how political parties manufacture communal riots in India. Far too much money has been spent on the minorities and the underprivileged, and when the political parties aren’t ready to shelf out more, they engineer communal violence, intricately, so that communities indulge in violence against each other, for their sole benefit. Drop a butchered pig outside a mosque and a severed cow’s head outside a temple. They race out with weapons, screaming, puppets on strings ready to kill each other. It teaches that one should always remember: in a riot, the cruelest side wins.

The third tape talks about a farmer’s suicide when a revolutionary party’s spokesperson was addressing a crowd, filled with thousands of landless farmers. The revolutionary party had been started to cleanse the politics from corruption, but ultimately, the party lost its own honesty and accountability, often blaming other political parties for its own loopholes. It now believes that clean politics and transparency are good slogans, but doors of a government must be kept closed for the public. Secrecy is power, transparency is for the powerless.

Talking about whether or not criminals should be allowed to contest in elections, the fourth tape exposes the inner conspiracies within the political parties. One can say that it’s a constitutional right and contesting behind the bars further adds a new discourse to elections. But in the end, such criminals remain either a caged parrot or a lapdog of the government. And the investigations of police only serves whichever party is in power.

The fifth tape talks about the division of a state, even though the political party in power had curbed the militant outfits and there were thousands of rallies, both for the unification and division of the state. But ultimately, the contours of division were decided by the industrialists. This also ensured that no local leader of the two states will ever have the stature to oppose big business houses again.

The last and final tape exposes the deal that was behind the government decision to use drones against rebels in parts of the country. The country faces violence and terrorism in over 150 districts. Millions of lives are affected, and development is hampered. The state wanted to take action, smoke out the rebels from these areas. This plan was called Operation Green Horn and had included the use of drones, which we would have procured and loaded with other equipment. It was worth billions in contracts. Then the politics began.

Finally, as one after the other, the tapes reveal the politics in Parliament; they have injurious repercussions for Mira, even costing her life. But eventually, the fighter that she is, she survives, and so does Sikander Bansi.

The book leaves the reader with a single thought, about happy endings and closures:

“Happy dreams; what are they made of? Complete circles and happy endings? A body that’s not a cage; a soul that’s not a guest? But I like this arrangement, this hurtling down the slope towards the abyss. I like the transience of happiness. I like finding it somewhere between two desires and a lack.”


Shubhda Chaudhary is a PhD Scholar in International Relations in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
She also works as a Features Writer for think-thanks in Abu Dhabi and South Africa.

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