“For those fascinated by the media circus that plays out around the lives of politicians Race Course Road is bound to be an educative and enjoyable read.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
This is a novel which races into action with the Prime Minister of India dropping dead in the first chapter in the middle of a walkabout – assassination is obvious but no one knows who dunnit. His Bengali head of Security is flummoxed and stricken by conscience.
Birendra Pratap’s LJP party which is the ruling power quickly puts Birendra Pratap’s eldest son Karan in the Prime Minister’s seat. And the novel proceeds to delve into the wheels of power that grind in the Prime Ministerial conclave of Race Course Road.
Birendra Pratap was an aristocratic feudal lord who left a feudal family of two sons and a glamorous playgirl daughter behind him. While the sons are hidebound in feudalism and stiff in their approach to their public, the daughter Asha Devi is a natural campaigner and proceeds to prove how much better she is than her elder brother. However Asha has behind her a scandalous past which is exposed by the Opposition in an attempt to destroy her credibility. Somewhere along the way, the investigation into Birendra Pratap’s death takes a backseat – not that that affects the novel particularly because the campaigning strategies and tensions, not to mention dynastic interplay are what make Racecourse Road an enjoyable read.
There is also an exploration of the roles that wives and families play in the support of politicians – how wives occasionally contribute to the nuances in a campaign and also work to sort out politics on the home front. However, in Gowami’s novel, both the wives are sympathetic characters and even Asha despite her past as a swinging dollybird in London turns out to be the perfect political figurehead with a mind of her own and a heart to match.
Goswami pits media channel against media channel as well as politician against politician and the result is bound to have readers trying to guess who is who. Is that Arnab Goswami? No perhaps it isn’t. Is that Barkha Dutt or Sagarika Ghose? Well…For that matter who is Birendra Pratap Singh? A combination of two parties into one tall handsome but unpopular man who pretends to fight corruption? The two unpredictable regional party leaders are easy enough. One heads the Poriborton Party and the other, Damayanti Didi, is planning to have giant statues of herself erected in her ruling state which is a dead giveaway.
The dynamics between Centre and Regional Parties come into play when the polls do not result in clear majorities for the two central parties. Typically the two women leaders play hard to get.
Goswami’s plotting doesn’t however prevent several acurate guesses regarding the plot direction. One also wonders whether the assassination was really necessary – the sudden death of a Prime Minister is enough to destabilise the system without the additional complication of tracking down a murderer.
Seema Goswami is an experienced political journalist and her knowledge of the proceedings that take place is sound and enjoyable. She is at her best when describing the chess games that parties preparing for polls play both in terms of PR and campaigning strategy. For those fascinated by the media circus that plays out around the lives of politicians Race Course Road is bound to be an educative and enjoyable read.
Added 31st May 2018