Pitched as the ultimate insider’s political thriller Seema Goswami’s Race Course Road revolves around the aftermath of the assassination of a sitting Prime Minister and the battle for succession that ensues within his family. An Extract: 

Manisha Patel had finessed the act of bagging the prime reporting spot at any location to a fine art. This time, she had been helped by the fact that she had been first off the block, so to speak.

So, as political leaders from across the spectrum began trooping into AIIMS to check on the Prime Minister’s health (or, more likely, to make sure the bastard really was dead), they had no option but to walk by the area where Manisha and her cameraman had set up shop. And while other reporters may have restricted themselves to shouting loud questions, Manisha took a rather more direct approach. She would march towards the visiting dignatory, brandishing her microphone like an offensive weapon, shouting out their names until they were shamed into looking in her direction. Then the questions would start: ‘What have you heard about the PM’s condition?’ ‘Is he out of surgery yet?’ ‘Is there any news as to what really happened to him at Ramlila Maidan?’

Those who stopped and answered her queries—no matter how monosyllabically—would be allowed to move on. Those who had the temerity to ignore her would soon realize that this woman was not to be shaken off. Manisha would start walking in step with them, even holding them back with her free arm, until they acknowledged her presence.

Those who had the temerity to ignore her would soon realize that this woman was not to be shaken off. Manisha would start walking in step with them, even holding them back with her free arm, until they acknowledged her presence.

But despite all her badgering and her frantic phone calls to her sources in AIIMS, Manisha was coming up against a wall of silence. Nobody was willing to say any more than that the Prime Minister was in surgery. And that his condition was ‘stable but critical’. Which, of course, was tantamount to saying nothing at all.

It was time for another piece to camera. And she really had nothing new to offer her viewers. What could she possibly say that she hadn’t said about twenty times already?

The cameraman counted down and then she was on air. She heard the studio anchor’s voice in her ear. ‘Manisha, we are hearing reports that this was not a health issue at all. We are being told by our sources that an attempt was made on the Prime Minister’s life. Can you tell us anything more about that?’

Manisha kept nodding as she listened, her face calm and solemn. Nobody watching her could have told that she was livid. She knew exactly where these ‘reports’ were coming from and who these ‘sources’ were. They were emanating from the studio of NTN, and they were being broadcast to the world by Gaurav Agnihotri.

Typical Gaurav, she thought. He may not know anything but he sure knows the best way to keep his TRPs up. Target Pakistan. Fall back on jingoism. Wave the flag. Spout the usual patriotic bullshit. And sit back and wait for the public to lap it up.

He may not know anything but he sure knows the best way to keep his TRPs up. Target Pakistan. Fall back on jingoism. Wave the flag. Spout the usual patriotic bullshit. And sit back and wait for the public to lap it up.

She now had a decision to make. Did she go along with his nonsense? Or did she debunk the theory that he had woven out of nothing?

Manisha took a deep breath and began: ‘Well, we have been hearing these reports as well. But in absence of any corroborating evidence, it is hard to say if there is any truth to them. That said, if an assassination attempt has been made, then the most obvious suspect is Pakistan. But as I said, we do not have any proof of that, there’s just a lot of speculation on the ground.’

The studio anchor cut in: ‘But is there any basis to this speculation? What are your sources telling you?’

My sources are telling me bugger-all, Manisha swore to herself. But for the benefit of the camera, she kept an expression of concern on her face as she said, ‘Nobody is willing to come on the record as of now, because, as you know, the Prime Minister’s health is of primary importance. But it is certainly beginning to look as if this was no ordinary heart attack. And in the absence of any tangible information from the government or the doctors, speculation is running wild.’

‘What is your personal assessment of the situation?’

‘Speaking for myself, and on the basis of the information I have managed to gather, I think Pakistan is a viable suspect. A healthy man like Birendra Pratap doesn’t just collapse for no reason. He has to have been targeted by someone. And suspect number one has to be Pakistan.’

A healthy man like Birendra Pratap doesn’t just collapse for no reason. He has to have been targeted by someone. And suspect number one has to be Pakistan.’

Somewhere, she thought grimly, Gaurav would be chortling with delight. He had managed to decide the news agenda yet again. And yet again, she had had no option but to fall in line and play catch up.

How the fuck did he do that every single time?

Seema Goswami is a journalist, columnist and author. Race Course Road is her first novel.

Excerpts from Race Course Road, copyrights 2018 (c) Seema Goswami, published by Aleph Book Company. 

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