I am no Narendra Modi fan-girl, but even I can find it in me to sympathise with his predicament. Who was it, he must have wondered, with Karan Thapar on Monday evening? He looked like Arun Shourie, talked like Arun Shourie, waved his hands like Arun Shourie, but sounded just like Irfan Habib. Yes, Irfan Habib, that “rabid, anti-BJP” lefty, yet eminent, historian who had said, the day before, at a seminar protesting rising intolerance in the country, that there was “not much difference between the Islamic State (IS) and the RSS as far as intellect goes”.
But there was Shourie, a minister in the first NDA government, author of books glorifying Hinduism, lambasting Islam, denigrating Dalit leader BR Ambedkar, ridiculing ‘pseudo-seculars’, vilifying these very same “lefty” historians as “frauds” and many more, one of the few intellectuals the right-wing could claim as its own, patting the seething writers and other members of civil society on the back as the nation’s “conscience-keepers” while accusing the prime minister of actively engendering a climate of hate by communalising the Bihar campaign and keeping quiet over incidents like the Dadri lynching for electoral gains.
Of course, his language was far more colourful than dry academics’. On being told the BJP believes the prime minister doesn’t have to react to everything, he retorted, “The prime minister is not a section officer of the homoeopathy department; he is not head of a department. He is the prime minister. He has to show the country the moral path. He has to set moral standards.” While the left liberals are not quite rushing to claim him as one of their own, they couldn’t have put it any better.
Of course, this was not the first time the honourable Mr Shourie had taken potshots at NDA mark-II. His comment, late last month, that the Modi government was nothing more than “Congress plus a cow” will forever remain one of the most quotable quotes in our political annals.
Predictably enough, the BJP has dismissed his diatribe as the ravings of someone who is not even a member of the party as he had not renewed his membership and were caused by “the pain of not being in government” or in any key position. The rumours had been there from day one: Shourie had fancied himself as the finance minister — after all, he was the first national leader to openly back Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial ambitions — but Modi chose the other Arun, with whom he is really, really close; his soulmate in fact. Shourie was, one hears, offered a sprawling governor’s mansion but, an energetic 74-year-old, he was not ready to be put out to pasture so soon.
Whatever, this Arun jihad against the Modi regime cannot be ideological. He has no reservations about the Hindutva plank — the “spontaneous” demolition of the Babri masjid had “corrected a historical wrong” he had opined in December 1992 — and is an enthusiastic proponent of the RSS’ call for a rethink on the reservation issue. And had touted Modi’s bid at prime ministership at a Brics forum with these words: “What India wants is not divisive but decisive leadership and Modi has certainly demonstrated that.”
Modi will not miss a step at his advocate’s volte face. He didn’t when LK Advani blurted out, in June, that he didn’t “have the confidence that Emergency cannot happen again”, because “at the present point of time, the forces that can crush democracy, notwithstanding the constitutional and legal safeguards, are stronger; a commitment to democracy and to all other aspects related to democracy is lacking”.
He was equally phlegmatic when another party elder, Murli Manohar Joshi, ridiculed Modi’s plans of developing Varanasi on the lines of Japan’s old capital Kyoto and scoffed at the prime minister’s dream project of running bullet trains in this country.
True, these are tired old men, miffed at being forced out of the limelight, hankering for the loaves and fishes of power. He can ignore them. Anyway, NaMo prefers to plow a lonely furrow. He has his self-belief, an unshakeable conviction in his own ideas, his “God-given mission”, and his handpicked loyalists to aid him. He has his brute majority, he will brook no interference.
He has no interest in the parliamentary process, in the give and take of making deals to get legislations passed, in handing out patronage today for a future quid pro quo, in building caucuses, in keeping track of the vanities and vulnerabilities of members that he can play on when needed, in spending evenings massaging parliamentarians’ egos — in short, in politics itself. But then, his great appeal was his authoritarian style, that he could be his own man. He was elected on the promise that he would be himself, he is keeping his promise.
Yet, with the growing crescendo of criticism both within and without, some vocal, many watching from the sidelines in silence, maybe a change in tactics is called for. Otherwise, many of his dreams, his pet projects, his vision of India zipping ahead like a bullet train will go the way of the Land Bill, discarded mid-way.
He could, if he likes, follow the maxim laid down by Don Corleone, the Godfather, for his son: “Keep your friends close, your enemies closer.” Frenemies too. Or, he could pay attention to a fellow Gujarati — Mahatma Gandhi — who said: “I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.”