The book “Madam Prime Minister” by Seema Goswami is a feminist political thriller. When Asha Devi, after the assassination of her father, becomes India’s youngest ever Prime Minister at the age of twenty-nine years old, she must prove that she is more than just a dynast.
But within days of her swearing-in, things begin to go wrong. Terrorists take hundreds of people hostage at Delhi’s top mall. Her coalition partner turns on her. Her step-brothers resent her accession. And she is caught up in a ratings war between two of India’s top TV channels and their self-obsessed anchors.
As Asha struggles to retain her hold on power, defeat the terrorists, keep her family together, win over coalition partners and tackle the beast of 24×7 news TV, she never loses sight of one objective: She must track down the man who murdered her father.
Read an excerpt from the book below.
Karan Pratap Singh fought hard to maintain an impassive front as he sat in the front row watching his sister, Asha Devi, being sworn in. This was meant to be his job, a post for which he had been trained relentlessly as his father’s eldest son and heir. And yet, here he was, clapping along with the rest of the audience, trying to keep his real feelings from showing on his face, as his younger sister took on the title that was his birthright.
How on earth had it come to this?
But even as Karan asked himself this question, the answer was staring him in the face, if only he chose to turn it a few inches to the right. Sukanya Sarkar, the leader of the Poriborton Party, and the woman who had put paid to all his ambitions. It was her intransigence that had led to Asha occupying the seat he still considered his own. As he glanced across at Sukanya, smiling happily in her seat across the aisle, he felt that familiar wave of anger wash over him.
How smug the bitch looked as she nodded encouragingly at Asha! Not that Asha needed any encouragement. His half-sister, flush with success, was the very epitome of self-confidence as she bowed low in a Namaste to thank the Rashtrapati.
Just then, Asha turned and looked straight at him, a tentative smile breaking out on her face, almost as if she was seeking reassurance from a familiar face in the crowd. It took some effort but Karan managed an answering smile that briefly lit up his chiselled features that until then had looked as if they were carved out of granite. Maybe Radhika was right, he thought. Perhaps Asha, a virtual babe in the deep dark woods of Indian politics, would look to her elder brother for help and guidance. And he could run the government as before, albeit through remote control.
Almost reflexively, his eyes swivelled left to look at his wife, as she sat two seats away from him. She was wearing a serene expression, her mouth upturned in a slight smile. Her hair swished luxuriously around her shoulders, its golden strands reflected in her champagne-colour chiffon sari, as she turned around to catch his eye. Her smile grew wider and warmer as she looked at her husband, raising one eyebrow infinitesimally as if to ask if he was feeling all right.
Of everyone present today, only Radhika truly understood the effort it had taken him to be here, at the swearing-in of his sister. He barely had time to nod back at her before everyone in the audience was scrambling to their feet as Asha made her way down the dais.
Karan carefully arranged his face into a welcoming expression, preparing to congratulate Asha. But instead of heading to the side of the aisle where the Pratap Singh clan sat, Asha was striding purposefully towards Sukanya, who took a few steps forward to meet her halfway. The two women melted into an embrace, and the hall exploded with the flash of a thousand flashbulbs. Flushing angrily, Karan lowered the hand he had raised to greet Asha, hoping that nobody had seen it.
By the time Asha came across to greet her mother and her siblings, Karan’s mood had darkened further. All he wanted was to get this ordeal over with. So, without even a perfunctory word of congratulation to the new Prime Minister, he turned to walk down the aisle, flanked by Arjun. Radhika followed close behind them, holding Sadhana Devi by the hand.
But even though his back was turned to Asha, there was no way that Karan could escape the fact that she was the woman of the moment. Cries of ‘Asha ji, Asha ji’ rent the air, as the power elite of Delhi scrambled to pay court to the new leader of the country. Karan quickened his pace as the assembled crowd parted to let him through. Clearly, nobody had any desire to waste time greeting the man whose glorious future now lay firmly behind him. They were all too focused on making the acquaintance of the woman who would rule India for the next five years to pay any attention to him, yesterday’s man that he was.
Karan could feel Radhika and Sadhana Devi scrambling to keep up with his pace, falling behind with every step he took towards the exit. But at this point he couldn’t have slowed down even if he wanted to. His feet were carrying him inexorably towards the main exit, and all he wanted was to make it there so that he could get into his car and be driven home to lick his wounds in the privacy of Race Course Road. He had had enough of being a public spectacle, of having his shame witnessed by the rest of the world.
As he got to the stairs, he saw the cavalcade of white BMWs crawl up the driveway. Karan breathed a sigh of relief. His getaway vehicle was here.
The lead car came to a halt and the SPG contingent took its customary places around it, one agent beside each door. Karan began walking down the steps, even as the SPG agent stationed at the back door stood to attention.
He had gone half-way down when he felt an urgent hand at his elbow pulling him back. Karan looked back in exasperation only to see that it was Radhika, shaking her head embarrassedly at him. ‘What?’ he exploded, all his pent-up anger and frustration finally boiling over. ‘What’s the matter?’ Radhika shook her head again and pointed mutely behind her, where Asha was making her way to the entrance.
That’s when it hit him. The motorcade that had dropped him to the swearing-in was no longer his motorcade. It was now Asha’s, and it was waiting to drive her to South Block so that she could make her first appearance at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
Burning red with humiliation, Karan stepped back to make way for his sister. And without even a glance in his direction, Asha slid into the back seat of her car and was driven away.
As he stood, waiting for his car to come and pick him up, Karan realized that everybody around him had noticed that little drama. And he was sure that by the evening, it would be the stuff of legendary Delhi gossip. Ten years from now, they would still be talking about the time Karan Pratap Singh tried to get into his sister’s prime ministerial cavalcade and had to be stopped by his wife.
He had thought when he sat down to watch Asha take the oath of office that the day couldn’t possibly get any worse. But it just had.