In an interview with Swati Chaturvedi, author, journalist and former Union Minister Arun Shourie opened up about the current Bharatiya Janata Party government
Have you ever thought of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and imagined him as a chicken that’s flapping around in a frenzy? Listen to the man who has.
Author, journalist and former minister Arun Shourie was one of Modi’s early supporters, but has since been one of the PM’s harshest critics. His critics whisper that the two fell out because Shourie wasn’t given the portfolio he wanted, while Shourie says he objects to this new avatar of the Bharatiya Janata Party that has emerged under Modi. Here are some selected excerpts from the interview with Swati Chaturvedi.
Mr Modi is the only PM among world leaders who follows abusive handles. You and your son, who has cerebral palsy, were attacked and abused by these handles followed by him when you criticised him. They even said you deserved your son’s illness as your karma for criticising Modi…
Yes, by following them, Modi is giving the message … “Bhaiyya main dekh raha hoon tum kitni galiyaan daal rahe ho.” [I’ve got my eye on you.] Next, I hear he had a reception for them. You are receiving the same fellows in the Prime Minister’s official residence. Then the encouraged fellows put up their photos with Modi. Next, I heard one of them had been made the chief of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT cell, so obviously it’s now a governmental operation, a party operation.
And it’s one of the many operations being used to silence voices in the whole country. So abuse is one… In Rajasthan, the Rajasthan Patrika has been denied advertisements by the state government because they wrote something about the central government.
You fought the Emergency. I was not even born then. Give us a sense if this is anything at all like that era?
It’s a decentralised Emergency. What we are going towards is a pyramidal decentralised, mafia state, where local goons will belabour anyone they think is doing something wrong. The central people will look the other way. The central people will provide a rationale for the gundaas [goons]. Like “gau rakshaks”, like “love jihad”, this becomes the rationale for me to beat up anybody. It’s not love for the cow, but just an instrument for domination.
The one big difference is that at that time, Mrs Gandhi still used the law. Now it is not the law. These people are acting outside the law. This is true fascism because you say ‘what is the law? I am the law.’ Worse things are being done inside the government to choke the existing law, for instance, Right to Information (RTI) choked, the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is being denigrated unless it’s in your favour.
Ashis Nandy once wrote a piece after interviewing Modi where he said he felt he had met a textbook fascist. You know Modi well, you even campaigned for him to become the PM. Would you agree?
Yes, I would take it further and say that Modi falls in the category of something called the dark triad [which includes personality traits of Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy] that’s the characterisation I would give him. But he also seems to be falling into what many of these persons do. You see a bully is very easily frightened. Just see what happened as a result of the Delhi elections and the Bihar elections. Modi gave up all talk of “vikas vikas” and immediately he embraced all the populist schemes. It showed how frightened he became just after an electoral defeat. And second, the only purpose is to win elections and for that any means are ok…this intimidation and abuse are one of the instruments. Anybody who opposes Modi is immediately embroiled in cases like Pradeep Sharma, the IPS official in Gujarat, and Teesta Setalvad.
You know Modi well, you helped his campaign?
Yes, I got to know him well, especially after he came to our house in Lavasa and after that, I helped with the campaign. We were all working together because we are all so fed up with the inaction in Dr Manmohan Singh’s second term. But that is a great lesson to me. I have been taught a lesson for the second time in my life. Supporting Modi was the second biggest mistake of my life.
I remain the same person, but when I was supporting Modi they adored me but when I spoke of his actions and what they were creating, suddenly I became ‘frustrated’. So the best thing to assume is that yes I am frustrated but, what about the facts? Is the abuse being hurled or not? Are the institutions being undermined or not? Are values being undermined? Is intimidation becoming a norm or not? And can we say at all that Modi is unaware of all this?
Do you really think Modi is unaware of it?
No no, how can anybody believe it? He has a super intelligence service working for him. And he does not know what is appearing in the newspapers? Does he not know what ministers are saying? Like that Sharma fellow [Mahesh Sharma] or what his party men are saying? These are important party figures. How is it that he knows everything and yet knows nothing? Secondly, if he is so powerful and yet cannot control these little pyadas? And third, there is a clear pattern: A statement is made, an incident is created. A campaign is launched. He remains silent. Everybody says ‘baba please speak’. When the campaign has been milked or that abuse has been milked for what it can yield, then at last three months later he makes some ambiguous statement. Like ‘motherhood is good. We should all respect our mothers.’
The BJP says that you wanted to be the finance minister and because that was thwarted, you attack Modi…
Let us assume that to be true. But what about the facts? Have you or have you not made an ass of yourself over Pakistan? Have you or have you not made an ass of the country in regard to China whether it’s on Nuclear Suppliers’ Group or anything else? What about those facts? What about the problem of the banks ever greening loans? Was this not flagged to you in early 2003 with detailed steps which will need to be taken, and were they taken? They have not been taken till now. I never thought it would turn out like this. Modi would certainly listen to presentations lasting six-seven hours on what needed to be done. But that was obviously just an act.
Let’s take the case of RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan. Why was he driven out?
I personally feel certainly because of corporate interests. Because of the discipline that Rajan was imposing upon the banks. Rajan was forcing them one way or the other, that these fellows need to pay; their names were coming out in public. Therefore he also became a terrible man. He also became not Indian. Again the same pattern.
The BJP attacks Kejriwal, calls him names, what do you make of this? And, what do you make of a section of the media which calls itself “nationalist’’, and some even show doctored videos as was done in the JNU case?
I can tell you one thing. AAP had just begun its campaign and even at that time Modi was mortified. We were in Ahmedabad. I remember there was a whole presentation on what Kejriwal is doing. How AAP is managing its campaign. And somebody was saying that one achievement of AAP is that they have beaten him on social media. So, also in a way, Twitter in not individuals speaking, but organised forces. These are now armies. And that shows the debasement of discourse in India. And, it vitiates the atmosphere of the country. And, the country better wake up.
When you see the government and its policies, for instance, Rajanth Singh was sent off to Pakistan for a SAARC summit when even Bangladesh did not send its minister, what do you think is really going on?
I call it foreign policy by revelations. See NSG. There, Modi thought two things. One, that we are becoming members, so take the credit. Second, if somebody is wavering, I am so charming that I will charm him — hence the trips to Switzerland and Mexico under the glare of the arc lights. It’s ‘like a chicken just running around, running around and the wall just stands and suddenly the chicken just hits it head against it, and that’s what happened.’
Even these trips he makes, he wants to see himself shaking hands with ‘Barack’, dealing with [David] Cameron, and Angela Merkel, who does not even look at him. One of the instruments is headline management, so something bad happens in Kashmir, something bad happens in Gujarat such as the Dalit doing this Gandhian leaderless protest withdrawing cooperation, what does the government do? You plant another story or stories. Everybody runs these because you have a tutored media. Next morning, you are not concerned about Kashmir or Gujarat, you are congratulating yourself on your success in diverting the media’s attention.
It compounds the problem. It means that you will not pay attention to the fire that you have set. You don’t think there is a disaster there, you are busy celebrating a success. Your obsession is the media not the situation. I have pointed out to Modi personally, that you have come to Delhi with a simple majority. Rajiv Gandhi had won with a brutal majority and was still overtaken by events. You think you are controlling Parliament, you are controlling the media so you are in command, but the situation can get out of hand.
You were a minister in Atalji’s cabinet. What do you think he would make of Modi’s BJP?
I personally witnessed Atalji weeping because of the Gujarat riots. What happened was that the Gujarat riots took place, then Atalji went to the refugee camps and came back and we had immediately got to go to Singapore and Cambodia. Brijesh [Mishra] told me, “Zara Atalji ke pas jao. Bahut upset hai”. So, I went to Atalji and he was sitting with his head in his hands.
I asked if I could sit, he gestured yes, then I told him. ‘Aap itne upset hain’. He turned to me and said in agony, ‘Upset hai mujhe, wahan kyon le jaya ja raha hai?’ He started weeping and said, ‘Mein kis munh se seedhinyan uthrrunga? Aisa kalank laga diya hai.’ And so I said to him that “Jee, aap land kar kei Advani ji se boliye, he should ask Modi to resign. Itni kaun si badi baat hai.” He was silent. He just shrugged it off.
He did not ring up. Then Brjiesh Mishra rang up saying that ‘Goa mein meeting hai and you have to go in the PM’s plane’. I said, but I have already bought my ticket, he said, no, be there. ‘Us mein Advani ji bhi hongey aur Jaswant ko kaha hai woh bhi hoga’. So I said, if Advaniji is there, nobody should be there. ‘Un log ko baat karni hai. Occasion hai who log settle kar lenge.’ Brijesh said to me, ‘Tum jantey hi nahi, dono baat hi nahi karengey.’ So we went. Atalji was sitting by the window, Advaniji opposite him. Both of them looking out of the window. After a while, Atalji picked up a newspaper and held it against his face like a shield blocking out Advani. So did Advani, after a while. So I took the paper physically out of Atalji’s hands and said “Atalji akhbar to kabhi bhi padha ja sakta, aap donon ko baat karni hai Modi ke barey mein, please kijeye.” Then the discussion started. The first decision did not take long — that Venkaiah Naidu would replace Jana Krishamurthy as BJP president. The second was that Advaniji would inform the [BJP] national executive that Modi has resigned.
The executive meeting started. Atal, Advani and Jana were sitting on the dais. I was right in the back with Yashwant Sinha. In between, Modi got up, raised his hand and said, ‘Main nahi chahata ke party ko mere kaaran koi haani hoh, toh maine nirnaya kiya hai ki main is pad se istifaa deh doon’. After a silence of two three seconds, 10-15 people started shouting ‘bilkul nahin, kyon denge, kya hua, kuch galti nahin hui’. The decision that had been taken was Advaniji would inform the executive, not that Modi would do this. I could see from his face that Atalji was completely astonished. It was obviously a coup that had been staged against him. He then tried to defuse [things] by saying ‘kal baat karengey’, let’s go for the public meeting. Again, the din started ‘Kyun baat karenge, kabhi nahin baat karenge.’
Atalji would have been horrified, he would never have allowed the situation that is there in the country today.