As part of the research for my book, I Am a Troll, I interviewed the former Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Shourie – a man who has also been viciously trolled on social media by ‘bhakts’ when on the Karan Thapar show he first went public with his criticism of the Narendra Modi government. The interview with Shourie, who was a minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government from 1999-2004, was conducted in the summer of 2016 and the edited transcript is being published in The Wire for the first time.
Swati Chaturvedi: Narendra Modi is the only one 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 in an interview to Karan Thapar. They even said that you deserved your son’s illness as your karma for criticising Modi.
Arun Shourie: Yes, by following them Modi is giving the message: I am following it. You are following, then you are encouraging it, saying ‘Bhaiyya main dekh raha hoon tum kitni galiyan dal rahe ho’ (Boys, I’m watching, to see how many abuses you come up with). Next I hear he had a reception for them. You are receiving the same fellows in the PM’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 BJP’s IT cell. So obviously it is now a governmental operation, a party operation. And, this is one of the many instruments being used to silence voices in the whole country. So abuse is one, denial of access – just see now in Rajasthan, the Rajasthan Patrika has been denied advertisements by the state government because they wrote something about the central government.
SC: You fought the Emergency. I was not even born then. Is this anything at all like that era?
Shourie: It’s a decentralised emergency. What we are going towards is a pyramidal decentralised mafia state, where local goons will belabour anyone whom they think is doing something wrong. The central people will look the other way. The central people will provide a rationale for the goondas at the local level. 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 at that time Mrs [Indira] 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. All this action is being done outside the government, worse, things are being done inside the government to choke the existing laws – for instance the Right to Information (RTI) is being choked, the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is being denigrated unless it’s in your favour. The judiciary is being denigrated, therefore you keep the vacancies going the same way, probably about a hundred vacancies. The judiciary keeps saying, and these people keep denying on one ground or another. And, to hell with the people who suffer because of want of courts.
SC: 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 with him?
Shourie: Yes I have said so but there is more, I would take it further and say that Modi falls in the category in psychology of something called the dark triad – that’s the characterisation I would give him but, he also seems to be falling in to what many of these persons do – which is [to get] easily frightened. 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” immediately. Populist schemes, all the populist schemes, he embraced. It showed how frightened he became just after an electoral defeat. And the second the only purpose is to win elections – and for that any means are OK, any means, and, this intimidation and abuse are one of the instruments. Anybody who opposes Modi is immediately embroiled in cases – like Pradeep Sharma, the [IAS] official in Gujarat, and Teesta Setalvad. A third instrument towards the same end is all Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to be put in the dock and then to be intimidated and troubled. It is always the case with the dark triad. That is how they justify what they are doing. “Sab mujh koh yeh kar rahe hain, isilye meh kar raha hoon” (Everyone did this to me, that is why I am doing this). That is justification.
SC: You know Modi well, helped his campaign.
Shourie: Yes, I got to know [him] well, especially after he came to our house in Lavasa and after that then 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. Of getting so fed up with an existing government that you support anybody. This happened in Rajiv Gandhi’s time when we supported V.P. Singh. And supporting Modi happened now. I supported V.P. Singh despite the warnings of Chandrashekar, who told Cho Ramaswamy that ‘you tell your friend that he is supporting Singh but he’s a very dangerous man, he believes in nothing’. But at that time, we had so many cases against us in the Express so I told Cho there is a proverb that when your house is on fire you cannot wait for Ganges water. Cho said to me, are you sure it’s not petrol. That’s what turned out to be the case.
Second time, the same thing has happened. But there is the other side of the story also. 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?”
SC: Do you really think Modi is unaware of it?
Shourie: No, no, how can anybody believe it because firstly it does not go with the claim that ‘arre, Modi knows everything. 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, minister for culture], 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 [fellows]? 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, begs him to speak. No. 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.
SC: Motherhood and apple pie!
Shourie: (Laughing) Yes, well that fellow will say he’s speaking about the “gau mata’’. You know something like that. And you know, which fool will think that there is not a pattern to all this which is happening. It’s happening again and again. It can’t be that when the last vote of the UP election was cast, then suddenly love jihad was over? The Muslim boys left the Hindu girls? Its obvious that his only objective is to win elections and he will do anything to win elections.
SC: Which is very frightening.
Shourie: Yes, as happened in the Muzaffarnagar killings. Or as is happening now in Kashmir, so many people blinded, 61 dead and these people are so foolish that they will kill somebody – a truck driver over beef in the Jammu area, not realising that Kashmir is a tinder box, it will go up in flames. You know today, anything happening in Kerala, Bihar or UP registers in Kashmir. When a pattern emerges, then we are creating a situation when the Muslims are are being reminded of the 1940s – ‘Yahan hamarey liye koi jagah nah hai’ (There is no place for us here).
SC: Members of the BJP’s IT cell and the ones followed by Modi spread a lot of communal lies designed to inflame passions – for example, after [the] Dadri [lynching of Akhlaq], one BJP IT cell member tweeted photoshopped pictures of a policeman being run over by cattle smugglers. After this was pointed out, the BJP, via Arvind Gupta, said officially they had nothing to do with it. One hour later, even ministers were trending that they stand with the person after the UP govt filed an FIR against the person. What do you make of this double-speak?
Shourie: It’s to do precisely that – instigate off-line riots with the clear purpose of dividing people. And, the other person they have cast aside or are abusing is somebody who is anti-national. So it makes it exactly right for them to beat up the fellow.
SC: This anti national thing you’ve raised is very important. I don’t think till date we’ve described fellow citizens as being anti national to the point where the word has been leached of all meaning.
Shourie: [Indira] Gandhi would talk of the foreign hand – this is not the foreign hand but I am the foreigner. I am not just the instrument of the foreigner, I am the one who should be out.
You create a situation of ‘them versus us’ – everything is ‘them versus us’. … [Actually] they are the anti nationals, they are the ones against our culture. Modi and Shah have ensured the Indirakaran (‘Indirafication’) of the BJP. Because if you look at Modi versus the cabinet, there is nobody, Modi and the party, there is no party – only Modi and Shah. Look at the choice of chief ministers – [Vijay] Rupani [of Gujarat], [Devendra] Fadnavis [of Maharashtra], [Manohar Lal] Khattar [in Haryana] – persons who do not have any base at all.
Then they are completely beholden to and completely available to the Centre and one or two leaders. Also, now what was the parliamentary party resolution that Amit Shah is authorised to select the CM? Now what about the MLAs?
SC: When you see all this happening, is it anymore the BJP you were part of? Because now they say very proudly that you are not a member.
Shourie: Perfectly right, I could not be a member of this BJP. I think that shows Modi’s great foresight. He knew I could not be a part of this.
SC: The BJP says that you wanted to be the finance minister and because that was thwarted, you attack Modi.
Shourie: 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 its on NSG 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 2013 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.
SC: Let’s take the case of RBI governor Raghuram Rajan. Why was he driven out by attacking him on social media, by Subramanium Swamy [describing him] as “mentally not fully Indian”?
Shourie: I personally feel, certainly because of corporate interests. Because of 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.
SC: The PM did break his silence but it was a very weak defence?
Shourie: Arre, woh to Ghalib ka sher hai, arre mere qatl ke baad (It’s like the Ghalib poem)– having beheaded me, she forsook cruelty, that I will not do this in the future. You are promptly repentant but my head has been cut off. You see, after the RBI governor has been thrown out, this gives very important signals. First, it’s a favour to those corporate houses. Second, it gives a very important [signal] that if you don’t do our bidding and are not seen to be doing our bidding, you are out. Third, it’s a signal that professionals are not welcome in this set up and then, the most important, that no institution will be autonomous.
The so called Gujarat model is exactly this. One man, nobody else. One man going to any extreme. The man not even realising that drama is not achievement. As Advaniji said at that time, Modi is a good events manager. And that is what is recoiling. Modi is now seen as only an events manager. Not [even] a good events manager.
SC: Do you think the RSS in it zeal to be in power has compromised with both Modi and Shah?
Shourie: No, but why do you believe they are separate? Modi and Shah are every day espousing RSS values, these are their values. This is the RSS in power. It is foolish to put it on a pedestal. Look at the chaps who have been put in institutions. That’s the long term consequence. Look at the ICHR [Indian Council for Historical Research] . All this talk over the country is only to justify this takeover. The takeover is also not of some great historic mission but to ensure government cars, to sit in government offices. This is the level of ambition of the deprived! The oppressed who has been cast out, his aspiration is to be like the oppressor. These people were out of the institutions, prevented from coming in by, lets say, the Marxists, so their ambition is to be like the Marxists.
SC: Recently we had the unprecedented spectacle of Delhi’s elected CM Arvind Kejriwal putting out a video saying that he feared that Modi would go to extent of murdering him or his MLAs. He faced a lot of derision from the BJP and was attacked on social media. Later, his supporters produced screen shots of handles actually followed by Modi saying they wanted to murder him. Your reaction?
Shourie: No, the important thing is not that Kejriwal has been led to conclude that. The important thing is that people are asking for his murder. And those are persons – followed is the wrong word – these persons are being encouraged by Modi, by telling them, ah, I am following you, very good, very good. That’s the implication of following them. You don’t go and bite your neighbour, you have a dog to do that. So thats being done.
SC: 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?
Shourie: 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.
[On] Twitter, [it’s] 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. … It’s part of a well thought out strategy. And, the country better wake up. It’s not a crazy person in the street. I remember a comment on Mussolini’s black shirts – they were nothing without the state but with the state they were everything. With the state backing them, they are everything. This applies to a large section of the media today. I pay very little attention to the media these days. I get my news from friends I respect and rely upon. This is what India is unfortunately and that’s why it was so easy to rule India for a thousand years. There is a line that righteous is good but if somebody else dies for it, even better.
SC: When you see the government and it policies, for instance Rajnath Singh was sent off to Pakistan for a SAARC summit when even Bangladesh did not send its minister. He was humiliated, and returned saying ‘I did not go to have lunch there.’ What’s really going on?
Shourie: (Laughs) Nothing, but this is foreign policy. I call it foreign policy by revelations. One night you go to bed, have a revelation, so you wake up and you are tough on Pakistan. Another night, another vision and the policy reverses. One day ‘muh tod jawab deh denge’ (we will give a fitting response). Rajnath Singh’s statement that I did not go to have lunch was a comment on Modi who had indeed gone to have Christmas lunch with Sharif! So Singh was telling his friends. See I have given a slap.
See, the 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. Its like a chicken just running around, running around and the wall just stands and suddenly the chicken just hits it head against it and thats what happened. Even these trips he makes, he wants to see himself shaking hands with “Barack” [Obama], dealing with [former British prime minister David] Cameron, and [German chancellor] 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 Dalits 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.
SC: You were a minister in Atalji’s cabinet ,what do you think he would make of Modi’s BJP and the bhakt phenomena on social media? You are extremely close to him. What was Atalji’s view on Modi, especially after the Gujarat riots?
Shourie: 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 immediately had to go to Singapore and Cambodia. Brajesh [Mishra] told me that ‘Zara Atalji ke pas jao, bahut upset hain’ (go to Atalji, he is very upset), so I went to Atalji and he was sitting with his head in his hands. (Shourie put his head in his hands and slumped over to demonstrate’). I asked if I could sit, he gestured yes, then I told him. ‘Aap itney upset hain’ (You are so upset).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 muh sei’ seedhinyan uthrrunga? Aisa kalank laga diya hai.’ (I am upset. Why am I being taken there? With what face will I walk down the steps [of the aircraft]? Such a stain has been put on us). And so I said to him that “Jee, aap land kar kei Advani ji sei boliye, he should ask Modi to resign. Itni kaun see badi baat hai.” (When you land, you can tell Advani, he should ask Modi to resign. What is the big deal?). He was silent. He just shrugged it off.
He did not ring up. Then [Vajpaye’s principal secretary] Brajesh 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 koh kaha hai woh bhi hoga’ (Advaniji will be there and Jaswant [Singh] too has been asked and will be there). So I said, if Advaniji is there, nobody should be there. ‘Un log koh baat karni hai. Occasion hai who log settle kar lenge.’ (They need to talk, they have the occasion and can settle things). Brajesh said to me, ‘Tum jantey hi nahi, dono baat hi nahi karengey.’ (You don’t know, the two of them won’t even talk). 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 koh baat karni hai Modi kei barey mein, please kijeye.” (Atalji, you can always read the newspaper later, the two of you need to talk, about Modi). 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 koh mere kaaran koi haani hoh, toh mainay nirnaya kiya hai ki main is pad sei istifaa deh doon’. (I don’t want the party to get hurt because of me so I have decided to resign from my position). After a silence of two three seconds, 10-15 people started shouting ‘bilkul nahin, kyon denge, kya hua, kuch ghalti nahin hui’. (No, never, why should you resign, what happened, nothing wrong happened) 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’ (we will talk about this tomorrow), let’s go for the public meeting. Again, the din started ‘Kyon baat karengene, kabhi nahin baat karengey.’ (Why should we talk about it, we will never talk about it)
But, Atalji would have been horrified, he would never have allowed the situation that is there in the country today.
Listen to the audio recording of this interview:
Swati Chaturvedi is a freelance journalist and author of I Am a Troll (Juggernaut, 2016)