Avay Shukla, one of India’s best-known and most widely read bloggers, whose pieces seem to go viral each time he puts them up on his site called ‘View from (Greater) Kailash’, has bluntly said “the similarities between Hitler’s Third Reich and Modi’s India are growing every day”. The comparison may have started in terms of the percentage of the popular vote that brought Hitler’s Nazis to power in 1932 in Germany and Narendra Modi’s BJP to power in India in 2014 but it now extends to many other aspects such as the intolerance of dissent, treatment of the opposition, deliberate policies designed to divide and polarize society, the attitude to the media and the cult of personality carefully created around the leader. Avay Shukla adds this is something every Indian must be concerned about, particularly because polls repeatedly suggest Narendra Modi remains as popular as he was when he first became prime minister seven years ago.
In a 40-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire to mark the launch of his book India: The Wasted Years, which is a collection of his blogs, Avay Shukla said he began in 2013 as a supporter of Modi. However, when he realised that after winning power, Modi had gone back on everything he promised and, instead, imposed an agenda that no one had voted for, the retired IAS officer felt he had been conned and fooled into voting for Modi and the BJP.
In the interview to The Wire, Shukla talks about what he calls “Modi’s destruction of India”. He says it can be divided into three broad phases – demonetisation, 2019 and COVID-19. He says “a malevolent common thread” runs through the three phases. This is how he describes the thread:
“Subjugation of constitutional and regulatory institutions, gross misuse of enforcement and police agencies, undermining of the judiciary, politicisation of the armed forces, an overbearing arrogance and insensitivity to public opinion, ruthless crushing of dissent and false propaganda and image building on a Goebbelsian scale.”
In the interview, Shukla says Modi could not have achieved his almost total dominance but for the willing participation of civil servants, military officers, the judiciary, intelligence and enforcement agencies and the media. He adds: “I blame my own service and colleagues.” He says they are “silent and intimidated”. They don’t want to stand up.
Asked by The Wire how he compares present-day India under Narendra Modi to the India of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency and how he, therefore, answers an oft-posed question, “Who was worse? Indira or Modi?”, this is what Shukla said: “The damage being done now is far more fundamental and longer lasting. It’s almost irreparable.”
However, Shukla made a further important point. He said: “Indira Gandhi had the courage to declare the Emergency. She did so openly. Modi’s is an undeclared ‘emergency’ and, therefore, more insidious”. Finally, he said: “Indira Gandhi’s Emergency affected the administrative system. Modi’s, on the other hand, has affected the social fabric of society. This time the poison is seeping beyond administration into society itself.”
In The Wire interview, Shukla was also sharply critical of corporate India and its failure and refusal to stand up and be counted at critical moments. He said: “A corporate entity has the same legal rights as an individual, surely it should have the same moral and social duties as an individual – to condemn immoral ideology, to abjure hate and communalism, to not incite one community against the other, to distinguish between truth and falsehood.”
Shukla spoke about two icons of whom he is very critical. The first is Ratan Tata. This is what he has written of him in his book: “notwithstanding his tall claims to philanthropy, Ratan Tata always knows which side of his bread to butter and this is usually the winning side”. In The Wire interview, he explained what has brought him to this conclusion. Shukla said: “Tata doesn’t speak out on issues that should be condemned. He may fund an NGO or a school and give a couple of crores but that is small change. He needs to do more.” Shukla was referring to the need to speak out on issues where Tata’s weight and personality would make a decisive difference.
The other icon Shukla is critical of is Amitabh Bachchan. In his book, he writes: “Amitabh Bachchan has too many bones in his mouth to be able to bark.” In the interview, he explained why he has this opinion of Bachchan. He said: “Amitabh Bachchan cannot just ride the gravy train and make money out of it”. “He keeps quiet on issues where he should speak up”. Shukla praises Bachchan’s promotion of ecological, sanitation and health issues but was critical that on other matters the actor has nothing to say.
Finally, Shukla said the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens “will make this country a much better democracy”. He said: “For the first time in our 71 years history the concept of secularism has come out of … rarefied and elite portals … it now mingles joyously with ordinary citizens in the streets, parks and universities of India.”
The above is a paraphrased precis of Avay Shukla’s interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire. Though recounted from memory, it’s not inaccurate. There is, of course, a lot more in the interview than has been covered in this precis. Please see the full interview for a better understanding and appreciation of Avay Shukla’s views.