That Shekhar Gupta’s 900-odd columns spread through 19 years captured India’s political territory and trends most presciently week after week in The Indian Express was reinforced on Monday evening when stalwarts from across walks of life came together to greet the release of his new book ‘Anticipating India-the Best of National Interest’.
Chairman and managing director (CMD) of The Indian Express group Viveck Goenka best described why Gupta’s book inspires awe and admiration from one and all.
“Because in its more than 100 columns, it asks questions without fear or favour, it provokes and it predicts, it explains and it interprets the most significant changes in our contemporary politics and economics,” Goenka said.
The CMD noted how Gupta’s inimitable voice resonated through the book — “sharp and clear, one of incredible curiosity, constant questioning and a delightful self-deprecatory tone that pundits these days seem to have abandoned”.
“The book also captures the intellectual journey of The Indian Express as it anticipates India every day. As the editorial leader of the newspaper, Shekhar’s columns illuminate us on how and why the paper stood up and stood out in the herd. So whether it was questioning the Anna Hazare movement or detecting the beginning of the end of the Prime Minister, the tectonic shifts in our politics because of 650 millions under the age of 35 or understanding the anger of Arvind Kejriwal, Anticipating India will provoke you and challenge your assumptions of who we are as a a nation and as a people,” Goenka said.
Finance Minister P Chidamabaram who together with Gupta steered a panel discussion on the current political scenario and the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, remarked how Gupta’s many columns had mapped the changes in the Indian society which even the political class seemed to have missed.
“The message of the book is…how India has moved away from a petitioning society to an aspiring society…people are looking for goods, services, better quality of life, better quality of education, health… we should no longer see people as petitioners…no one is any longer resigned to his fate. Even the poor think their fate can be better and demand a better life…even 20-30 years back people were resigned to their fate,” Chidamabaram said. He said how Gupta’s columns had managed to notice and point to key inflection points that were coming into play in the ongoing LS polls.
“The political class completely failed to understand the change that was taking place. The government did not communicate what it was doing nor did they realise the growing anger…2010-11 were critical years…opportunities were missed, crucial mistakes were made…you seemed to have anticipated this in your columns…if these book could have been published then and circulated to the political class, it would have helped considerably”, Chidambaram said.
Underlining the political neutrality of the author of the book and the newspaper, the event, held to a packed house, was unique for it was not pres-ided over by any chief guest.
“These are such polarised times that it is very problematic to choose a chief guest because to be seen with someone these days — even for a journalist — becomes a story…so we figured while the code of conduct is on, to get a chief guest from one side might cause a problem not just for the other side but in some cases on the same side as well…so we decided this was a gathering of friends and everybody is a friend and everybody is a host,” Gupta said.
Besides Chidambaram, those who attended the event included External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, BJP’s Ravi Shankar Prasad, activist Kiran Bedi, CPM’s D Raja, Lt Governor of Delhi Najeeb Jung, former Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, Pakistan’s High Commissioner Abdul Basit, eminent jurists Soli Sorabjee and Fali Nariman, CBI Director Ranjit Sinha, India Today chairperson and editor-in-chief of the India Today group Aroon Purie, vice-chairman and editorial director Hindustan Times Group Shobhana Bhartia and Media Advisor to the PM Pankaj Pachauri among others.