A Selection Of Long Reads From 2015

31 December, 2015

To round up our year in long-form journalism, here is a selection of some of our most talked-about long reads from 2015.

Private Practice

How Naresh Trehan Became One Of India’s Most Influential Doctor-Businessmen

Vidya Krishnan, February

Naresh Trehan is a renowned cardiac surgeon, and the founder and chairman of Medanta-Medicity, one of the biggest hospitals in the National Capital Region. India’s private health care industry is booming, and Trehan stands out as one of its greatest champions and beneficiaries. But outside private hospitals, the country’s health-care system is in disarray, with public hospitals lacking in doctors, funds and trust. Trehan sees the further growth of the private sector as the best solution, and has used his high media profile and ties to elite politicians to push for lucrative concessions. But can an already poorly regulated industry be trusted to adequately serve the public good while also pursuing its private interests? Vidya Krishnan profiled Trehan, and considered where Indian health care could go next.

In Absentia

Where Are India’s Conservative Intellectuals?

Ramachandra Guha, March

Even with a conservative party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, enjoying national power, serious conservative intellectuals are glaringly absent from Indian political debate—though there is no shortage of shrill conservative commentators. Liberal and leftist thinkers have overwhelmingly dominated the country’s intellectual life since the days of the freedom struggle, and, if anything, they face fewer peers from the ideological right today than ever before. This is in sharp contrast to other democracies—the UK, Germany, the US—where prominent conservative parties are bolstered by respected scholars with sympathetic views. Tellingly, unlike in those countries, conservativism in India, prejudiced by Hindu nationalism, refuses any notion of a national “we” that embraces all religious beliefs. In this essay, Ramachandra Guha delved into the history of Indian political thought to uncover the causes of this lacuna, pointed out a few thinkers who have tried to fill it, and suggested steps forward for concerned conservatives.

High-risk Behaviour

Government Apathy Leaves India’s AIDS Programme In Crisis

Mandakini Gahlot, April

India’s programme for the prevention and control of AIDS, once an example to the world, is now in crisis. Until the last few years, the country’s rate of HIV infection was trending steadily downwards, and official agencies with significant autonomy were taking timely decisions, promoting safe sex, and efficiently distributing funds, condoms and drugs. Today, vital funding is held up by red tape, stocks of antiretrovirals are critically low across India and the health ministry is hampering swift action. The programme’s swift breakdown is a lesson in government mismanagement, and spans both the current and previous administrations. Mandakini Gahlot looked inside the crisis, asking what has gone wrong and how India can get back on track.

Talk of the Town

How Arun Jaitley Wins Friends And Influences People

Praveen Donthi, May

Arun Jaitley, the minister of finance, corporate affairs, and information and broadcasting, is often considered the third most powerful man in Delhi, behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. Jaitley began in politics as a student leader, and as a lawyer represented a variety of prominent corporations and political figures while gravitating ever closer to the BJP. Throughout, and beyond exercising his formal powers today, Jaitley has scrupulously tended a court of influential contacts, including journalists. He is now, de facto, the Modi administration’s primary outlet to the media. But beyond his privileged coterie, critics allege that Jaitley has turned a blind eye to corruption in the course of his career, and many, even within his own party, complain that he has consistently and cynically manipulated the media. Some insiders wonder whether Jaitley’s utility to the current ruling circle might already be on the wane. Building on months of reporting, Praveen Donthi examined how Arun Jaitley wins friends, makes enemies, and influences people.

Doing the Needful

Essar’s Industry Of Influence

Krishn Kaushik, August

The Essar group, owned by the powerful Ruia family, has interests in shipping, steel, oil and retail, among other things. It is one of India’s largest corporate houses, with revenues touching $35 billion dollars this year. Yet it is also beleaguered by one of the biggest burdens of debt in corporate India, and alleged involvement in almost every major corruption scandal to break in the last five years. With information from a vast trove of internal company communication, called the “Essar Leaks,” Krishn Kaushik investigated Essar’s far-reaching attempts at currying favour with the government, bureaucracy and media, and the ways in which the group pursued concessions from the country's administrative and financial institutions. Through over 60 interviews, and reports from contested lands in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Kaushik uncovered the group’s unchecked ambitions, and its vast industry of influence.

Everybody’s Brother

Akhilesh Yadav In The Family Business

Neha Dixit, September

When Akhilesh Yadav became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in 2012, he was coasting on the promise of his youthful energy, an education and an interest in technology, and talk of development. Three years on, he faces a state of chaos, fierce internal competition within his Samajwadi Party, and the fraying of caste and communal ties engineered by his powerful father, Mulayam Singh Yadav. In this piece from September, Neha Dixit reported on Akhilesh’s unsteady hold over Uttar Pradesh.

On The LineAn Island In Lakshwadeep Tries To Save A Remarkable Spawning Site

Rucha Karkarey and Shreya Yadav, September

Some years ago, Hamsa Koya, a resident of the island of Bitra, set out to sea with his brother to fish. At a popular fishing spot not far from the island, they lowered an anchor, fastened hooks to their fishing lines and flung them out into the water. As he waited with his line in the water, Koya noticed a swarm of dark brown shapes rising from the depths. He thought he recognised the peculiar movements of these fish, with their tails sashaying against the current. He pulled his first catch out. It was a scaly brown fish, with spots of electric blue, glistening in the twilight—a kokka-chammam, or squaretail grouper, of about the length of his arm. He threw his line in again, and effortlessly hooked another. And another. It normally took him at least an hour to catch even a single kokka-chammam. That day, within ten minutes, he had caught a whole pile.

In this piece from September, Rucha Karkarey and Shreya Yadav retold the story of an island in Lakshadweep that is trying to save a remarkable spawning site.

MS Understood

The Myths and Misconceptions Around India’s Most Acclaimed Musician

TM Krishna, October

MS Subbulakshmi was one of India’s best-loved and most revered singers. Yet, within the intense and insular world of Carnatic music, critical admiration of her work was and remains scarce. In this piece, TM Krishna delved into her history and her music to understand why she was worshipped so much, and appreciated so little.

Inside Job

The Woman Who Was Sacrificed To Nab Raj Rajaratnam

Nilita Vachani, November

In 2011, the founder of the New York-based hedge fund management firm the Galleon Group, Raj Rajaratnam, was convicted in one of the most sensational cases of corporate crime in history. To ensnare him, investigators used the testimony of his own informants—in particular, that of a McKinsey executive named Anil Kumar. But Kumar’s own hands were far from clean. And few realised just what prosecutors were willing to brush under the carpet to secure their main prize. Nilita Vachani looked into the details of the scam, and visited the woman who became the collateral damage in Kumar's deal with the prosecutors.

The TempestHave Radhika and Prannoy Roy Undermined NDTV?

Krishn Kaushik, December

Once India’s preeminent broadcaster, Prannoy and Radhika Roy’s NDTV faces multiple threats today. It has lost viewership and advertising revenue to competitors, and hasn’t made a profit in ten years. But most alarmingly, the Roys carried out a chain of financial transactions over the last few years that now raises questions about their control over the network. In this story, Krishn Kaushik looked into the troubled finances of the network and its owners, asking, who controls NDTV?