An Interview with Jigs Ashar Author of the Book ‘The Cabinet Conspiracy’

Author’s Background: Jigs Ashar is an award winning author and a best-selling novelist. His latest novel, a political thriller titled ‘The Cabinet Conspiracy’, released in December 2023. Jigs debuted with his novels ‘Insomnia’ and ‘A Brutal Hand’ in 2020. He is also the author of award winning short stories – ‘The Wait is Killing’, ‘Make(up) in India’ and ‘Duel’. Jigs loves writing fast-paced thrillers, blending real events and personalities in his stories.

Jigs, a former banker with ANZ Grindlays Bank and HSBC, now consults with the World Bank and Execuzen, a leadership consulting firm. Jigs is also an avid marathoner. He lives in Mumbai with his wife Vidya, and daughter Esha. You can follow him on: Twitter (@JigneshAshar1) and Instagram (@jigsashar).


The Literature Today: Firstly, Congratulations on your book, “The Cabinet Conspiracy!” Well, can you please share your experience about making your work come in the form of book!

Jigs Ashar: Thank you very much! My writing journey started in 2017, when my wife, Vidya, encouraged me to enroll for a professional creative writing course. The course instructor saw some promise in my submissions and told me to keep writing. Around the same time, I participated in the national TOI Write India competition. My story, ‘The Wait is Killing’, was adjudged a winner by none other than Jeffrey Archer. In the same season, my second story, ‘Make(up) in India’, also was a winner, adjudged by Shobha De.

Once my stories were published, I got an offer from Westland Publications and Ravi Subramanian to write my first novels, as a part of their collaboration to launch new authors in the thriller genre. This is how my debut books – ‘Insomnia’ and ‘A Brutal Hand’ – were published and released in 2020. Both books have been re-released in 2023 by Harper Collins.

My latest book, ‘The Cabinet Conspiracy’, is a political thriller that weaves in true events and characters in a fictional story about the assassination of the Indian prime minister. The idea for this book was born in 2018, when I read about China’s plans for global domination via its Belt & Road Initiative. And India’s refusal to participate in it gave me an interesting idea that how far could China go to get India to sign up for the BRI. It is a book inspired by one of my favourite authors, Frederick Forsyth.

The Literature Today: What inspired you to write this book? What was the impetus behind this work of yours?

Jigs Ashar: I have always wanted to write an international political thriller. I remember vividly it was in April 2018 when the idea for ‘The Cabinet Conspiracy’ came to me. I was in Indonesia on work, and one weekend, I was reading a special report in the New York Times about the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI). Until then, while I had heard about China’s BRI, I had no idea about the scale at which it was being planned and developed. It blew me away!

Interestingly, the report also spoke about how some poor countries were struggling to repay the infrastructure loan that China had extended to the nation for the BRI; and in return, China got access/ownership of critical assets like ports, etc. in these countries. Take the examples of the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, or Gwadar in Pakistan, Zambia in Africa, etc.

And then I read about India’s stand on the BRI – we had not only refused to participate in it, but we had vehemently opposed it at international forums. Apart from India being in principle against the BRI due to its debt-trap politics, India is also against it because the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor passes through PoK. So it’s against our national interest to sign up.

And India being a critical link in the Silk Route (as the BRI is also referred to), I wondered as to how far China could go to get India to sign up. And this is where the plot started developing in my mind. That’s where fiction took over from facts; and I wrote this story, where China, with help from an insider in the Indian prime minister’s cabinet, plans the PM’s assassination. 

The Literature Today: Your book title, ‘The Cabinet Conspiracy’ is definitely a catchy one! So, can you please explain the reasons for going with this book title!

Jigs Ashar: ‘The Cabinet Conspiracy’ is a political thriller about an assassination plot to kill the prime minister of India. Real events and characters are woven seamlessly into the story that blur the lines between facts and fiction. The story begins when India’s prime minister, Mahendra Doshi, makes a shocking announcement to his cabinet – that he will not contest the upcoming elections after completion of two successful terms. Instead, he nominates a surprise PM candidate, which upsets his cabinet, especially the Serpent.  Doshi has thwarted China’s ambition to use Indian territory for its Belt & Road Initiative – the only way for China to be a global superpower. In the Serpent, China finds a willing insider and a co-conspirator at the very heart of Indian politics – in the PM’s cabinet!

And for the Serpent’s and China’s plans to succeed, the prime minister must die! As international assassin M inches closer to her target, Inspector Anant Kulkarni has to stop her before it is too late. What Anant does not know is that the ruthless killer has planned a spine-chilling double strike! The book is a suspenseful account of the race against time to foil an assassination plot, and uncovering the identity of the real enemy lurking close by.

The Literature Today: Well, can you please explain that how is this book different from the other books of the same genre?

Jigs Ashar: I actually haven’t read a story about an assassination plot set in the Indian context. Of course, one of the most famous novels on this theme is ‘The Day of the Jackal’ by Forsyth, where the target is French president Charles de Gaulle. Jeffrey Archer’s ‘Shall we tell the President’ was also on a similar subject where the target was Edward Kennedy.

While ‘The Cabinet Conspiracy’ is about the plot to assassinate the Indian prime minister, that’s where the similarities end. My story weaves in a lot of real events and possibilities into the narrative. Not to give away too much, I have incorporated incidents such as the killing of Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London, the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a consulate in Istanbul, etc. A very interesting part woven into the story is of the ‘chocolate-bomb’, which, incidentally, was conceived, but aborted, by the Nazis to kill Winston Churchill. Of course, China’s BRI is real and is a crucial plot-point.    

I have alluded to two ‘deadly strikes’ in my teasers. One, of course is the “assassination of a high profile Indian leader”. And the second is something – to be honest, as a runner myself – I am also fearful of, which is a terror attack during a marathon. There have been books and movies about such attacks in football, baseball, cricket, etc. but imagine where tens of thousands of hapless runners are on an isolated stretch of road. Scary, isn’t it? Here, I have woven another real development into the story, wherein the Mumbai marathon is happening on the Mumbai Coastal Road on the day of its inauguration. There was a terror attack at the Boston marathon in 2013, and it still remains a very vulnerable public event. 

To bring all these elements together was very interesting. It had to be believable and be an organic part of the story. That’s what has made this book intriguing and unique, and the reviews and reactions in these early days are extremely encouraging.

The Literature Today: Apart from the suspense, crime & thriller genres, in which other genres would you like to make your contributions?

Jigs Ashar: Actually, one of my first short stories – ‘Make(up) in India’ was a humorous take on today’s world. But it was my thriller short story, ‘The Wait is Killing’, that got me my first break as a thriller novel writer. Besides, I have grown up reading and enjoying crime thrillers. So, when I took up writing novels, unsurprisingly, I started in this genre.

My next three books are all thrillers again, all commissioned by leading publishers. Two of these are true crime stories, while one is again a financial crime thriller blending some very controversial scams in its narrative.

Recently, when I was giving a speech at an Art summit, I was approached by a prominent personality in the Art world who has given me an idea to pen a thriller about the dark underbelly of the Art world – the frauds, forgeries, and even murder! So, that will most likely be my seventh book.

So, for now, it will be thrillers until end of 2026 at least. After that, who knows!

The Literature Today: After reading this book, I’m greatly impressed & I want you to explain us, in your version, that how this book will appeal the readers of the present day!

Jigs Ashar: ‘The Cabinet Conspiracy’ will appeal to readers of today in many ways. The book is very topical, in terms of its setting as well as its theme. The story takes place in India a few months before general elections, where the ruling party of the last decade is again expected to win, led by a hugely popular prime minister. The global power dynamics have also been captured correctly, with China taking centre-stage as an antagonist.

Secondly, the book blends in a lot of real events into the story, such as:

  • India and PM Narendra Modi have opposed the BRI publicly. In my book, Indian PM Mahendra Doshi has refused to participate in the BRI, thwarting China’s quest for global domination. China, with the Serpent, plots an assassination and a terror strike to get India to sign the BRI.
  • And while I hope it does not, but it could create a flutter amongst the running community as their vulnerability to a terror strike is another important plot in the story. Recently, a marathon was held on the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link. That’s exactly what I have written about in the book much before the event – an inaugural marathon on the Mumbai coastal road, where there is a terror attack.
  • Global leaders have been the target of assassination plots – Rajiv Gandhi, Olof Palme, Benazir Bhutto, etc. In my book, the Indian PM is the target of an assassination plot.
  • Alexander Litvinenko was assassinated in a busy restaurant in London by KGB agent Andrey Lugovoy.  In ‘The Cabinet Conspiracy’, I have recreated the killing, with the fictional character of M (the assassin) as an accomplice of Andrey Lugovoy.
  • A chocolate bomb was actually designed by the Nazis during WW-II to assassinate Winston Churchill, but the mission was aborted. One of the killings in the book is using a “Chocolate Bomb”. When a bar of chocolate is broken, an IED is triggered, leading to a blast.
  • Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. In the climax of the book, one of the main characters is killed inside the Chinese embassy in a similar fashion.

There is also a narrative that can be a potential recommendation to the police force, which is creating a network of informants using food delivery boys. Just imagine the millions of places they visit every day, and the nuggets of information they can gather; some of it could save lives. 

Overall, I think the book will make the readers sit up and take notice that what has been depicted in the book can actually happen – it’s very much plausible. And it’s scary.

The Literature Today: Next, I want you to tell us about some of those writers, who had inspired you!

Jigs Ashar: Amongst my favourite authors, I would list down Frederick Forsyth, Jeffrey Archer, Agatha Christie, Keigo Higashino, and Robert Ludlum. 

I must have read all their books multiple times; and somewhere along the way, they have inspired me to ‘go out and tell a story’. They all have their distinct styles of story-telling, but they pack a punch without fail. The pace of their novels, the characters, the political elements built in – especially international politics in Forsyth’s novels (in ‘The Devil’s Alternative’ for example) are simply fantastic, and fuel the imagination of both readers and new writers alike.

So, some of the elements I admire in their novels, and have tried to learn from, are – a good story, a well-paced narrative, interesting and real characters, and the way every scene is described – it transports the reader right at the centre of the story.  

And I actually haven’t read a story about an assassination plot set in the Indian context. Of course, one of the most famous novels on this theme is ‘The Day of the Jackal’ by Forsyth, where the target is French president Charles de Gaulle. Archer’s ‘Shall we tell the President’ was also on a similar subject where the target is Edward Kennedy. While ‘The Cabinet Conspiracy’ is about the plot to assassinate the Indian prime minister, but that’s where the similarities end. 

The Literature Today: Is there any message that you would like to convey to your readers? Or any piece of advice, which you would like to give to the readers out there!

Jigs Ashar: Well, unfortunately readership is on a slow decline over the last few years, especially amongst the younger generation – and that’s sad. I think it’s due to the instant gratification provided by social media and OTTs, because of which attention spans are coming down. And reading a book requires patience.

But I do see a sliver of hope where content is taking centre-stage and there is demand for new writing and exciting content. So, demand for good writers and good stories is on the rise, which is very heartening. I hope this trend extends amongst readers as well, and good writing is appreciated by all. Reading can make you travel the world sitting in your arm-chair. So at the earliest opportunity – pick up a book!

The Literature Today: Are there any other books being worked by you? Please let us know about your future projects.

Jigs Ashar: Three books of mine are already commissioned by leading publishers. These books are at various stages of development.

  • My next release, which is ready, will be a true crime murder mystery set in Madras of 1940s. Titled ‘The Headless Victim’, the case was India’s first case where Forensics was used to solve a murder investigation.
  • Next up will be another fact-meets-fiction novel, titled ‘The Boardroom Mafia’. Thestory covers the biggest corporate scam in India, exposing the nexus between banking, financial crime and terrorism.
  • After that, is another true crime novel, ‘The Assassination of Akku Yadav’, which tells the story of one of India’s most cold-blooded and dreaded gangsters, and two women’s fight to end his reign of terror.

My seventh book will explore the dark side of the Art world – the forgeries, frauds, blood money, money laundering and also murder!

The Literature Today: Thank you so much for answering all my questions. All the very best to you for future and your book too!

Jigs Ashar: My pleasure entirely! It has been a delight speaking with you. Thank you for hosting me.

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