Firmly rooted in the back lanes of the Lutyens’ Delhi, the concluding instalment in the Raisina Series, Krishan Partap Singh’s The War Ministry gives the reader a bird’s eye view of the manoeuvring, negotiation, coaxing, plotting that goes behind the scenes to secure power and dominance in the political space. More of a political drama than a thriller, the book chronicles the tribulations of the prime minister and his administration as they tackle one political issue after another on a daily basis. However, the book is not without its moments of suspense with the reader anticipating the next course of action by the players involved.
Set in the immediate aftermath of the Indian victory in the war with Pakistan, Azim Khan rises to become the first Muslim Prime Minister of India in the deeply fractured mandate with no single party having a clear majority to rule. Becoming the prime minister is the easiest part of the job for Azim Khan when he is closely watched by the entire country and by his allies and enemies alike – who are waiting for him to make mistakes to put an end to his premiership. To top it up, China is mounting hostilities and India is in no position to fight another war.
However, Azim Khan’s most deadly foe is his one-time best friend and his biggest political ally – Karan Nehru – who has allowed Azim Khan to become the Prime Minister to put a show of his self-effacing, magnanimous self for the people, however, Nehru is anything but altruistic. Unlike the previous government heads, the task before Azim Khan is twofold – to lead India out of the war to peace and prosperity, and to earn the trust of the people in the nation that was once partitioned on the basis of the religious ideology. Azim Khan’s job is not a cakewalk with the Ulemas in his party threatening him to pull their support and declaring him as a traitor to the Muslim cause. Amidst all this, Azim Khan has not only to prove his political skills but also to stand tall and establish himself as a people’s leadership moving beyond his religious identity.
Not just a political drama, The War Ministry is also a clash between two powerful personalities that have come to dominate the political scenario – Karan Nehru and Azim Khan. While Azim Khan is more balanced and restrained, Karan Nehru is ostentatious and self-aggrandizing with the reader catching a glimpse into the Nehru’s personality at the very beginning of the book during his birthday party. Azim Khan is no saint either, having enough skeletons of his own in the closet. The book shows that in the political milieu, nothing is black and white and the people with good heart and intentions are not above corruption.
Aside from the daily political travails, the author throws in more drama with the suspense surrounding the American mole on the Indian soil, the shady dealings of the Prime Minister’s father, the bombing of the Chinese Embassy’s car by the Tibetan revolutionaries, the scandal surrounding the war promotions and the honours and the like. Despite the bickering and the planning by the people in power to maintain their clout, the ultimate message that the book delivers is about the very nature of power, “But power – that golden elixir that each of us has spent our entire lives pursuing in election after election and the endless years in between – when we do win it after great application of will and effort, it turns out to be deceptive, a slippery prize that distort every aspect of reality.”
Like The West Wing, the book is an excellent piece of political fiction detailing power brokering, diplomacy, Machiavellian tactics deployed to maintain the power, however, short-lived it may be. With a racy plot coupled with political intrigue and close-to-real-life events, The War Ministry gives the reader glimpse into the dealings of the lesser known corridors of power and captivates the attention of the reader till the end.