Arun Shourie’s bitterness was evident throughout his interview with Karan Thapar. However, as a writer, thinker, intellectual, activist and public figure who courageously fought in the face of adversity, the nation owes Arun Shourie.
If he Whom mutual league,
United thoughts and counsels, equal hope
And hazard in the Glorious Enterprize,
Joynd with me once, now misery hath joynd
In equal ruin: into what Pit thou seest
From what highth fall’n!
The last surviving Intellectual Godzilla—that fought the good fight—of the so-called Indian Right Wing has fallen.
Or has he?
Did ambition or frustration or both guide Arun Shourie’s latest acid-dipped interview to Karan Thapar? Or is he only clamouring for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attention?
Without second guessing him, we can get three points out of the way at the outset.
First, Arun Shourie’s bitterness was evident throughout. That Shourie who had skewered this same Thapar on several occasions in the past with detailed dossiers was reduced to—and I say this with great responsibility—what appeared a scripted show which required him to only agree with Thapar.
Second, it was clear that he reserved most of his anger for only a certain section of the BJP. Nothing else explains his vociferous agreement with every phony canard that Thapar fished out of his rabbit-hat. If one looks at Shourie’s record, he was the one who for much of his life wrote longforms and books precisely rebutting these sorts of canards.
Third, as a consequence of the second, Arun Shourie has suddenly become the darling of the very folks whose bluff he called, whose shenanigans he exposed, whose insults he suffered—but didn’t cower—relentlessly, mercilessly almost throughout his life.
Whether one may or not believe it, Narendra Modi is in many ways destiny’s child. Nothing else can explain how he managed to tide over the worst of the unrelenting, vicious onslaughts sustained over a decade; and then there were so many things that could go horribly wrong at any stage throughout his high-voltage campaign. That he pulled off such a blockbuster victory can in the final tally of things be largely attributed to destiny or a higher power or whatever you want to call it. “Superstition” and “blind belief” will also do.
Yet, this victory or destiny favouring him didn’t come overnight. Indeed, a lot of things came together to make Narendra Modi the Prime Minister. Among others, Arun Shourie’s lifelong, painstaking contribution to the so-called “Right Wing” intellectual discourse stands right on top of that.
Hailing from what I call the Sita Ram Goel School, he awakened about two generations of Indians to a discourse rooted in integrity and a simple but unflinching commitment for truth and the nation, by leading by example. But for his predecessors and likeminded contemporaries, these would have been yet another in the long line of lost generations, misled and marred by Nehruvian Islamism that is at the root of most of this country’s problems.
Arun Shourie, together with Ram Swarup, Sita Ram Goel, K.S. Lal and others, constructed the inspirational foundations of the so-called “Right Wing” discourse in India in extremely adverse circumstances, often at great personal and professional risk. It is thus both ironical and tragic when today, he agrees with Karan Thapar about “rising intolerance” in the Modi regime—Arun Shourie had the first-hand taste of experiencing the tenderness of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency.
To truly appreciate how Shourie changed and influenced public discourse, one must recall the sheer sweep and depth of the body of his work, apart from his investigative journalism, newspaper columns and activism.
From politics, religion, history, communism, law and judiciary, bureaucracy and administration, democracy and parliament, internal and external security, there’s perhaps no subject he’s not delved into in-depth. His research was backed by unfalsifiable and mountainous facts—one reason for the bulk of most of his books—and was truly insightful and path-breaking. It is a testimony to solidity that the corpus of his work has been besmirched but has never been rebutted.
But for his Eminent Historians, how many would have known the scale and extent of the national betrayal in the ICHR? Or for that matter, the kind of political vandalism that went on during “Mr. Clean” Rajiv Gandhi’s regime (These Lethal, Inexorable Laws: Rajiv, His Men and His Regime)? At the height of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, when the entire secular press had ganged up to choke the discourse emanating from the pro-Janmabhoomi side, Arun Shourie gave space to Sita Ram Goel in the Indian Express without which most wouldn’t have heard of the masterly two-volume Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them. Shourie was fired from his job for this impudence.
Most of all, Arun Shourie showed how one could stand up to Communist—morphed into secular-liberal after the fall of the USSR—bullying, scare tactics, and slander-as-public-discourse. Indeed, this has remained unchanged even as I type this: count the number of instances of manufactured outrage and calumny ever since Modi became PM—the latest being the Award Returns national drama. As the respected Dr. Shankar Sharan sums it up, Communist “discourse” is Gaali Shastra (Treatise of Scatology).
Without exaggeration, if the online space—including social media—is today dominated by the so-called “Hindu Right,” its underpinnings can reasonably be found in Arun Shourie’s body of work among others of his kind.
Equally, his record of intellectual and personal integrity has remained intact. Considering the fact that he handled two heavyweight ministries in a single term and did exceptionally well in both with no allegations of corruption or wrongdoing. Given the record of Indian politicians for most of the period after Independence, this is no minor achievement.
The current outrage against Shourie by (what I assume by now are) his former supporters is rooted in how he has apparently set fire to this long and gallant record. To put it more bluntly, his fall from grace. Yet, at a level, the outrage has some merit although it has exploded disproportionately—labelling him a Congress mole, anti-national, “worst turncoat,” traitor, and so on.
If we travel back in time, one of the reasons why P V Narasimha Rao, the PM who unshackled India’s economy could do that was because he successfully ensured that Sonia Gandhi came nowhere close to wrecking the said unshackling.
If we travel further down to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s prime-ministership, India had become vastly different. There was optimism and hope: recall Arun Shourie’s own three partIndian Express article-cum-warning. The titles of two parts were especially clairvoyant: Before the Whining Drowns it, Listen to the New India and This is India’s Moment, but only a Moment, Can We Grasp it?
Unfortunately, we went for the Congress-secular-media manufactured whining and didn’t grasp the moment, and the nation was submerged in a ten-year long nightmare.
Infosys had not even been born 25 years ago. Wipro was a company selling vegetable oil. Indeed, other than the “Tata” in Tata Consultancy Services, there is scarcely a name in the IT industry that was known then.
And these 26-year-olds are changing India’s perception also of itself: that India can; that, therefore, we should face the world with confidence.
On the one hand, we have unbounded opportunities and incomparable advantages to seize them. On the other, there is the fate that will surely befall us if we falter. Unemployment will reach such proportions that social unrest will become unmanageable. Similarly, if the rates of growth of India and China continue to differ by the margins of the past 15 years, within the next 15 years the Chinese economy will be six times that of India. And the consequences will be worse than we can imagine.
We have become what an American author calls “Negaholics” addicted to the negative as an alcoholic is to drink. Ever so many of us are unaware of even the elementary examples that have been listed above.
I have had occasion to travel abroad several times in the past two-three years. Each time I have been struck by the contrast between the way India is looked upon abroad, and the way we look upon it here.
There is an equally telling symptom here at homethere is much greater confidence in the Indian industrial class than there is in the rhetoric of politicians who ostensibly are shouting on behalf of and to save that industry!
But the main solutions lie, as usual, not in the economic realm. They lie in political arrangements, in discourse. We must reduce the frequency of elections: schedule elections, as the vice-president and the deputy prime minister have proposed, to state assemblies and to the Lok Sabha simultaneously; fixed terms for legislatures…
Even before such changes are put into effect, and even after they have been instituted, we have to make everyone see that change cannot be blocked.
Not the details of economic policy; that is not where the impediments lie. The way we look at things, our discourse, the drag of interests that are vested in the way things are; these are what we need to change. [Emphasis added]
Without sounding presumptuous, it’ll be worth our time to reflect deeply on this, and know for ourselves how far down the abyss India plummeted in the next decade. A Chief Worthy of the selfsame Infosys is today issuing statements echoing the phony drumbeat of said “rising intolerance” while another had opted to become a Minister in the regime that oversaw the Decade of Decay.
Like in Vajpayee’s time, today’s India too is characterized by hope and optimism, and the same whining that is now backed by more numerous and louder voices.
However, there’s a key difference: Vajpayee could manage to push reforms because Sonia Gandhi hadn’t yet tasted power directly. And as recent history shows, the 2004-2014 decade witnessed how almost all key institutions and offices of the Government were massively subverted once she tasted power and wielded it absolutely. Murmurs about an essentially Congress-loyal bureaucracy running-riot-by-stalling have only increased in recent times.
And so, one of the greatest challenges that Modi faces is to thoroughly clean up this dangerous mess that the Congress has left behind. Given the strong roots of the 60 plus years of the Nehruvian ecosystem in almost all spheres, and given how even a petty robbery is seen as an opportunity to pull down Modi, this won’t prove easy.
It was certainly unfortunate to exclude Arun Shourie from the Government. Yet, it is equally true that he could’ve expressed his disappointment in a far more measured fashion than taking potshots at Modi and the BJP—potshots of the same colour that he had fought against throughout his life. Thanks to this, he is now seen as having joined the ranks of Karan Thapar who had brazenly called for the “sudden removal of Modi.” Needless, Thapar is obviously gleeful.
Whatever the political or other outcome of this episode, it is a great illustration of the need to have Hamsaksheera Viveka: where the swan sips only the milk content in milk and leaves the water content behind.
As a writer, thinker, intellectual, activist and public figure who courageously fought in the face of adversity, retained his integrity, and shaped the thoughts of nearly two generations, the nation owes Arun Shourie. And he, like any human being is endowed with ambition, disappointment and the rest. And so, it’s best to maintain dignified silence on the issue instead of prolonging it.
In the end, perchance had Shourie heeded this Shakespearean titbit, Karan Thapar wouldn’t have had the opportunity to conduct the interview:
I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself,
And falls on th’other.
For me, Arun Shourie will always remain one among the Four Rishis of contemporary Bharata who have deeply, positively shaped my studies, thoughts, and outlook.