By P.R. Ganapathy. Grade: B+
I was very excited to get started with this book. It offers a lot of firsts, the main one being that thrillers with military themes NOT dealing with American geo-politics is something relatively new by Indian writers. (Off the top of my head, I can only think of The Shadow Throne, which was recently released Pan Macmillan India, and follows in a similar vein.)
It is 2015, and India and Pakistan are enjoying peace as never before. But not everyone is happy with this state of detente…
Kargil hero Major Anwar Islam, newly inducted into the RAW, lands a big catch in his net an ISI shipment of Anza Mark III shoulder-fired missiles meant for the Taliban which the mandarins of South Block use to play an audacious game between Pakistan and China. Anwar then discovers a secret cabal hatching a sinister conspiracy that could lead to thousands of innocent deaths. With a master puppeteer playing a most dangerous game behind the scenes, Anwar can trust no one except crack policeman Vishal Karandikar. Together, they must race against time to prevent Indias own 9/11.
A fast-paced action thriller that shifts from the high passes of the Karakoram to the slums of Mumbai, The Anza Deception is a tale of rogue commanders, double dealers and high-stakes geo-political poker played out in the murky world of South Asian intrigue.
The plot is intriguing. As our protagonist, we have the Kargil hero Major Anwar Islam, whose induction into the RAW (American equivalent of the CIA) is the starting point of our story. We’re then taken to a Cabinet meeting where PM Madanjit Singh is announcing budget cuts in the defense, because the money needs to be reallocated to badly needed infrastructure development. Madanjit asserts that India and Pakistan are enjoying peace, and if India cuts its budget, U.S. promises to cut down its military aid to the Pakis, thus giving them no advantage.
However, U.S. is not the only country capable of providing military aid. China has risen to the forefront, and gains to stand from the war between India and Pakistan. What U.S. cuts down, China steps in to replenish.
This makes a lot of people unhappy. Clarification: a lot of powerful people unhappy. A group of five powerful people, who call themselves the Baaz, is formed, including head of the IB, a hero of Tololing, and a military general. They vow to protect India, even against its empty-headed elected representatives.
Fast forward to 2015, where no major progress has happened in the scenario of terrorism. The detente has been fruitful, with terrorism cases significantly down in number. The Taliban is weak, and in India, the focus has shifted to Organized Crime. People, both civilians and those in power, are relaxed, but not the Baaz group.
Gupta (hero of Tololing) has a protegee in Anwar Islam, and when Anwar comes upon a cachet of heat-seeking Anza Mark III shoulder-fired missiles meant for the Taliban, he promptly reports it to Gupta, not his immediate superior. Gupta uses this opportunity to drive a wedge between Pakistan and China, making sure that their source of additional funding is nipped. He makes Anwar report the missiles to the powers that be, but secretly makes Anwar transport a few of them to a rebel group in China. If the Chinese government is hit by missiles made in Pakistan, shit would hit the fan – precisely what these mandarins of South Block hope to achieve.
Unfortunately, things rarely go as planned. The Chinese rebellion is suppressed even before it has taken off, and these missiles land in the hands of Pakistani terrorists, who plan to play India in their own game. Will Anwar and his team be able to quash this plot, or will things go in the terrorists’ favour, which is actually what the Baaz group wants. If there is a terrorist attack, at least the defense budgets will be restored to their original level, knocking some sense into the government. After all, what’s a little collateral damage?
Before I begin with the review, I think it’s important to go through the author’s background:
P.R. Ganapathyis a management executive who has held important leadership positions at Indian and global corporations in India and the United States. The son of a retired Air Force officer, he is a keen student of military history and geopolitics. He has a pilot’s licence and has owned his own aircraft. He is also an amateur photographer and is learning to play the piano. He plays squash and golf in his spare time. Ganapathy grew up on Air Force bases around India, before studying at Delhi University and Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. He lives with his wife and son in Chennai and can be reached at www.prganapathy.com . This is his first book.
I quoted it because I think this highlights some key points.
a. Being the son of a retired Air Force officer, it’s ensured the book is authentic. He knows the ins and outs of defense politics.
b. He is a keen student of military history and geopolitics, which gives him authority to show us how different interest groups work for and against the path to peace.
c. His education background and eclectic interests show he sees things thorough, and gave me an idea that his research would be excellently carried out. I was correct. He has written confidently about various places in India and China, going on to describe them at length, with an unpretentious prose that is attention-grabbing. The working of the corridors of power is also very acutely written.
However, the action fell a little flat in places, mostly because most of the progress in the book is not in a field of war by our Kargil hero, but in closed conference rooms. Anwar gets lost as the story progresses out of his hands, and his characterization stays weak and sketchy. Karandikar does bring some action to the forefront, but never got my adrenaline really pumping. The ending, while some may find thought-provoking, mostly left me lost and aghast. Is the author trying to say that peace between India and Pakistan can never happen, or if it does, will only result in a catastrophe? Or that if a detente ever does become reality, we can never let our guard down?
A good novel, but the plot needed to be a little less sporadic, and the ending a little less rushed.