‘2024: India in Freefall’ review: Sanjay Jha stood on the burning deck

The book stands apart from clutch of publications that crowds market in poll season


The  prologue of 2024: India in Freefall begins with a quote from maverick American writer Edward Abbey: “The patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government”. That’s exactly what Sanjay Jha tries to do across 292 pages of his angsty, aggrieved, vitriolic, satirical, and always eminently readable book about the state of affairs in 2024. It’s a book that stands apart from the clutch of publications that crowds the market in election season. It’s different because its author is more erudite and a bit of a maverick himself. Ideologically opposed to the BJP, Jha is also disliked by the Congress–making him an excellent de facto third umpire. 

You can hold this book like you hold the bag in a tambola game into which you can dip in and pull out a scam. The first one he pulls out is the management of the COVID-19 crisis at the start of this decade. This official response to the pandemic is like modern art - susceptible to many interpretations. According to the BJP supporters, it was a Modi masterstroke. But Jha quotes WHO to say that the casualties in India at 47 lakh were among the world’s highest. Whom do you believe? 

Let me tell you what I do. I believe both in turns. It’s the same thing with crony capitalism. Jha uses it as a euphemism for Mr Gautam Adani who features across many pages (he is a busy businessman). There are airports and ports which Adani has targeted, and fall into his lap just days after being raided by the tax and enforcement authorities. Sheer coincidence no doubt, and there were many more such wonderful concurrences of events! But Indians with long memories will know that the BJP, for all its other misdeeds, did not invent crony capitalism. It has been part of India’s economic history since the good old days of Haridas Mundhra - no known relative of the Mundra port in Gujarat which Adani owns. All along, scams have carried the Congress stamp until the BJP stepped in for its share of the spoils. 

Jha is also unsparing of his own team, the Congress, and accuses it of sleeping on the job (the chapter is titled ‘Rip Van Winkle…’) instead of getting up and going for the jugular. But the sins of the Congress, in Jha’s telling, are venal—being woolly headed, slow and missing opportunities. When there was a ‘six’ for the asking, the Congress timorously permitted a dot ball. 

Painstaking research has obviously gone into the book. Facts and figures have been assiduously collated across the years and turned into powder kegs. Jha’s prose is fervid and he is so fluent that he can say the same thing using different words before you begin to realize it. Writing at the pace that he does, there is the forgivable lapse into what can be best described as Shashi Tharoor territory, as for instance in the course of damning Modi’s speeches with soft praise, he says: “Modi has mastered the art of skilful persuasion…Forget the frequent prestidigitation (‘conjuring tricks’ for the unversed) of his speeches…”. 

At a time when so many Congress supporters across the country are jumping ship, this former party spokesperson is maintaining his lone vigil on the burning deck. Despite his valiant act and despite the facts he has culled and the arguments he marshals, one wonders if it will lead to the results he seeks. But that’s neither here nor there. As writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel said: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice but there must never be a time when we fail to protest”. Sanjay Jha has protested, vociferously and brilliantly.  

Title: 2024 India in Free Fall

Author: Sanjay Jha

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers India

Pages: 292

Price: Rs 599

Join our WhatsApp Channel to get the latest news, exclusives and videos on WhatsApp