India faced public descent and dissidence in the last few years of the previous government, ultimately leading into the change in government with a thumping public mandate. The underlying cause was not the regular question of Roti, Kapda aur Makaan (food, clothing and shelter), but this time it was about corruption, scandals and failure of decision-making. And that was a paradigm shift in the way elections happened in India. This book is about the one agency that provided the public with the educated assessment of the integrity of the application of public funds. And more than that, it’s about the individual who contributed to usher in a new era for this agency – the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
Vinod Rai, the man behind the steering wheel, has been considered one of the most effective CAGs that India has seen since independence, and it’s not without a reason. He might not be a great story-teller and might not know the tricks of sensationalization, but he is definitely good with presenting the chronology of the facts that he lays down in the book. He has elaborated on five of the biggest audits conducted in his tenure, which turned out to be the most controversial as well, eventually bringing down the mighty Congress government of 10 years.
While the cases of 2G scam and Coal-gate scam highlighted the compulsions of turning blind eye in a coalition government, those of Commonwealth Games, allocation of oil fields and the failure of Air India simply highlighted the ineffectiveness and sheer moral corruption of the government of the day. In my view, Rai withstood immense pressure and showed great courage in going ahead with these audits in a period when accountability was being put aside to pave way for ‘crony capitalism’. Rai has articulated his thoughts very clearly and provided irrefutable evidence in the book for his claims, making it an interesting read.
One thing though that I found missing in the book was the answer to a key question: Why were all the audits conducted for a period that began after 2004? I am a big AB Vajpayee fan, but I would have been happier to hear from Vinod Rai that these issues (eventually leading to scams) were handled much better in NDA era of 1999 to 2004. The 2G spectrum, coal mines allocation, Air India losses, etc. were long-standing issues faced by India that stayed as-it-is during NDA regime as well. After reading the book, I cannot be confident that Rai was truly an unbiased auditor who was merely doing his job.
Nevertheless, this book is a good read and I would recommend this to a reader who wants to understand the factors that changed the political battlegrounds in India.
P.S.: The pictures have been borrowed from internet with thanks to the owner of this picture.