Review: The Ultimate Goal by Vikram Sood - Hindustan Times

Review: The Ultimate Goal by Vikram Sood

Hindustan Times | By
Oct 30, 2020 04:04 PM IST

Former R&AW chief Vikram Sood outlines how narratives are crucial to any country’s goal of avoiding being dominated by another

304pp, Rs 699; Harper Collins
304pp, Rs 699; Harper Collins

“The battle of narratives has never been so grim as it is today, because real power comes not from the barrel of a gun but from those who control the narrative,” asserts former Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) chief Vikram Sood. With these words he delves deep into outlining how narratives are crucial to any country’s “ultimate goal” of not just domination but equally of not being dominated by another nation.

In his book, The Ultimate Goal, Sood shows how nations construct narratives. In a fascinating and comprehensive analysis of how countries enhance their strength and position, the author candidly admits that narratives are not always based on truth but explains why they need to at least be plausible for them to create the desired perception.

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Sood headed India’s external intelligence agency and knows how agencies like America’s CIA and the Russian KGB contributed to controlling narratives.

The book, in fact, starts with an interesting case study of the assassination of American President John F Kennedy in 1963 and touches on how the powerful connived to build a narrative that JFK had been shot from behind by a lone assassin while there was evidence, including from a bystander, that the former President had, in fact, taken bullets from the front and from three directions.

Five years later, JFK’s brother, Robert was killed. “Like his brother, Robert too favoured peace in Vietnam. Someone had written and executed a different narrative for the brothers. It was clear that there were powerful interests in the country who did not want John F Kennedy to continue as president and did not want Robert Kennedy to be president either,” writes Sood. “Narratives are not the truth; rather, they nudge you to understand the truth in a particular way. They are never neutral or innocent; they are always strategic…It is much like advertising – create a brand, a dream and a need for the product. That is the ultimate goal of any power-seeking global dominance,” he adds.

A timely book neatly divided into chapters that effortlessly tell the stories of America, Russia and China, it also takes into account how China is dealing with criticism over how the deadly Corona virus – now ravaging the world – emanated from its soil. The former spymaster explains how it is trying to damage control a narrative that interferes with its geopolitical and economic goals and points out that the Corona crisis has deepened the fault lines between China and the US under Donald Trump; especially now that the US is in the midst of an election.

The book will interest intelligence agencies worldwide but is sure to have a bigger reading audience too as the narrative-building factory has a wide array of players that includes the military, the media, the film industry, the Church and the powerful corporate world that is closely linked to governments in all countries.

Read it to learn how a narrative can become truth through persuasion “somewhat like a Coca-Cola advertisement, or through manipulation of the mind, as was done by the US administration in the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003.” Sood writes, “Narratives are for self-justification; they are designed by the narrator not only to tell his version his way but also to tell your version his way.” He should know. He’s been in the business of spy craft for decades and is now part of the Observer Research Foundation, a public policy think tank.

Where the book disappoints and leaves you yearning for more is when it finally gets to the India chapter. In the introduction, Sood teases the reader about how India’s narrative was created by the West, from the time it ruled the world. He also says, the chapter “deals with how India now tries to answer the question: who are we, and what is an India for all, without favours?”

Author Vikram Sood (Courtesy the publisher)
Author Vikram Sood (Courtesy the publisher)

The answers, however, are not detailed through a case study of how any contemporary Indian government has sought to build a “narrative” with the help of the media – print television or internet, its intelligence agencies or its tech and corporate worlds.

According to the author, “A premeditated dislike for India’s governing BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has added to a global narrative encouraged by negative perceptions that appear in the Indian press. The term ‘fascist’ is bandied about, yet no critic of the government, however virulent, has been stifled.”

Many would find this contentious and point to recent events including the Bhima Koregaon investigation, the Delhi riots charge sheet, and the stifling of voices against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act.

This is an engaging book that shows the reader how governments, the world over, and their intelligence agencies nudge narratives in their attempt to achieve the “ultimate goal” of domination.

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    Harinder Baweja anchors special projects for Hindustan Times. She has been a journalist for three decades and has focussed on covering conflict zones, including Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

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