From calling Rajnath Singh Tarzan to comparing the BJP leadership to Humpty Dumpty,senior BJP leader Arun Shourie minces no words expressing his disillusionment with the party or urging the RSS to step in. In an interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24X7s Walk the Talk,he regrets the Jaswant Singh episode and dares the party to act against him
Shekhar Gupta: My guest is one of my most illustrious predecessors at The Indian Express,one of our leading public intellectuals of all times… at a very interesting time,juncture for yourself and your party. Arun Shourie,welcome to Walk the Talk.
Arun Shourie: It is a pleasure.
Shekhar Gupta: The Chinese say May you live in interesting times. Are these interesting times for you and the party?
Arun Shourie: Actually,I feel quite distant from the party. I must confess that like all other parties its now,a party of three,four persons for the projection of three,four persons. There is a line of Firaq (Gorakhpuri),Ab woh yaad bhi kam aate hain,ab dard bhi kam hota hai.
Shekhar Gupta: The line you like to use all the time,Raat gaee,baat gaee?
Arun Shourie: Haan,woh kal ke baad.
Shekhar Gupta: Why the disillusionment?
Arun Shourie: From Ataljis (Bihari Vajpayees) departure,his withdrawal and what you see now… In every sphere of life,there is a great pygmyisation,not just diminution,of leadership… That makes a great difference. And then artificial controversies Hindutva and so on. If you ask what Hindutva is,the Supreme Court has already said it is a way of life. Is Islam not a way of life? Is Christianity not a way of life? Is the addiction of a drug addict not a way of life? So,what is this? People who cant spell the word,probably in going from one dinner party to the other,keep saying,I am committed to Hindutva. So these artificial controversies are coming up and are contrived,only to give a signal somewhere See this man stands by our ideology,or it is to put somebody else in the wrong and on the defensive.
The Arabs have a phrase: I talk so that my neighbours can hear. Here,so that my uncles can hear. That is a Shekhar Gupta phrase.
Shekhar Gupta: Well,I said it in a different context. I said the history of the Express shows that it had more uncles than parents. So,has this been building up?
Arun Shourie: Yes,of course. The way decisions came to be taken from time to time… things became confined to fewer and fewer persons. When the leaders also feel comfortable talking to fewer and fewer persons,they lose hearing because they dont want to hear something contrary. And this has happened not just here,not just this party,but in every party,at every level. Therefore,everybody has a factional line in every unit at each level. And when he gets some information from somewhere and gives it to the central leadership,in every party,they have no way of cross-verifying that information.
Shekhar Gupta: So coteries are also shrinking. Coteries,caucuses…
Arun Shourie: Absolutely. In all parties.
Shekhar Gupta: Yours included?
Arun Shourie: Yes,yes.
Shekhar Gupta: So what changed with Vajpayees,sort of,quiet retreat from the scene?
Arun Shourie: Everything changed. You see,he is an inclusive person. Firstly,the most important feature I felt about him always was that he is a good man. He will not hurt another person. And,that came through to the country. Second,he wont get distracted by these foolish contrived controversies. And third,he was a very,very shrewd judge of men. And fourth,he has a code there are certain things,whatever the costs you show him,he will do them.
Shekhar Gupta: And certain things that he will not?
Arun Shourie: Not do,whatever the advantages you show him. But then (there are) people who listen to the last man who met them and change their view. This used to happen in the government too. For instance,in telecom,a proposal would be put forward and some friend will go and meet some X and Y and suddenly the view would be changed. Are,you have approved it and today you and the Cabinet say something else. So many instances happened and Vajpayee would then stabilise things. And he has a natural scepticism,a very important quality of a leader. That is,if you tell him something,he will say why is he saying this?,why is he saying it now?,what would happen if I do the opposite?.
He will reflect on it and then when he takes a decision,you will not be able to shake it. But all that is missing now. There is no ballast. And so,when your authority goes on eroding,then you suddenly feel,I must show,me Tarzan,me Tarzan. So,get rid of Jaswant Singh,get rid of…
Shekhar Gupta: Vasundhara Raje Scindia…
Arun Shourie: Vasundhara. And,then not only that. You take a decision and dont own it What can I do? So and so pressed me. On every matter this is happening,maybe in the Congress too. At least there is one Supreme Court,people fear there is a Supreme Court. This is unfortunately the reality and unless they come out of it,a very valuable institution will be just going… Jaise woh patang kat jati hai na… So it is a kati hui patang. The string breaks off the kite. Then it just,sort of…
Shekhar Gupta: Goes into oblivion or people come and grab it…
Arun Shourie: Grab it or whichever jhonka,whatever breeze comes… The BJP is,in my view,a kati patang today and unless it is got hold of swiftly… I dont see many people within the party at the moment who have the moral authority left to be able to do it. If anybody can do it now,it is only the RSS people. When they come in,then there will be other consequences also.
Shekhar Gupta: And these may not be all good?
Arun Shourie: Well,could be,maybe. It is to be seen how the RSS itself evolves. But I have been pleading with them for a long time that you please stay out of policy. You are not in touch with policy affairs. You watch the conduct of individuals. After all,the BJP is the most visible face of the RSS parivar,so called,in public eye. If a BJP person is caught taking cash for questions,then the whole thing becomes suspect. Just imagine BJP people in Parliament to be showing rupees,and people say,Nahin yeh inka apna kaam hai. That is the credibility!
Shekhar Gupta: So,the real role of the RSS is to be the moral police of the BJP?
Arun Shourie: Yes,that is one point. The second point… but the situation now is much worse. They have called me and I have said this to them. Now the situation is much worse and unless they just do what Mao Zedong had said,Bombard the Headquarters,at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. Unless you say,Here are 10 persons from the states,10 honest persons,competent persons,persons dedicated to the country. Bring them and start reconstructing from the headquarters. Not one person from Delhi should be there… Then you can probably salvage the whole thing. Because there is not time to start rebuilding from the ground. That is a 25-year process.
Shekhar Gupta: Did you find some sympathy for this view when you talked to them?
Arun Shourie: Yes,but I dont know what will be done… They are very polite,they listen.
Shekhar Gupta: Are some of them also cautioning you to be patient,wait…
Arun Shourie: Yes,they do that,but half-heartedly.
Shekhar Gupta: Are they disillusioned as well?
Arun Shourie: I should not speak for them,but who will not be? I think people who are not even members of the BJP will today be disillusioned and greatly disappointed. After all,the party stood for various things and the memory of Vajpayees period is very fresh in peoples mind. They dont want that party to just disintegrate. Therefore,we can presume,without disclosing anything,that the RSS leadership will also be not disillusioned,but certainly concerned. And certainly Mohan Bhagwats interview recently does not express great satisfaction with the way things are in the BJP.
Shekhar Gupta: Vajpayee to Advani was it just a change of style,or change of substance in the very beginning?
Arun Shourie: I dont want to comment on the comparison,but there is no comparison.
Shekhar Gupta: I am not saying better or worse,but was there a change of style and substance?
Arun Shourie: Yes,of course… But I told you my prescription is only two-fold. First integrity and conduct of individuals; second,bring people from the states. There must be,there are honest people.
Shekhar Gupta: Because they are fighting elections?
Arun Shourie: Not only that. There are persons of substance in states. Bring them to the Centre,but not one at a time. The whole group and then clean it up and then say we are beginning again… No voluntary thing. Get out. We are bringing in other people.
Shekhar Gupta: There should be immediacy to it?
Arun Shourie: Absolutely. And not halaal but jhatka.
Shekhar Gupta: But that is not the way anything is done in India.
Arun Shourie: Well,then,my friend,the consequences are also no different in India than from what you see. But I personally feel that the time is coming when events will force the hand of the RSS to act in this surgical,jhatka way.
Shekhar Gupta: And the sooner they do it,the less the damage?
Arun Shourie: The damage is now done but at least the chance of survival,resurrection will once again be there.
Shekhar Gupta: And the more they delay it…
Arun Shourie: The chance becomes less and less.
Shekhar Gupta: Have you been saying this in a sort of inner counsel to the party?
Arun Shourie: Yes,of course,many times,and to these leaders,individual leaders… Everybody is very polite. Everybody agrees. Par kya karen,laachar hain… Are bhaiya,humne to itne laachar Rajput nahin dekhe jitney yahaan hain.
Shekhar Gupta: I know that is true. You have a strong Thakur leader in control of your party.
Arun Shourie: He has a very good voice. All India Radio voice…
Shekhar Gupta: RSS people are not stupid…
Arun Shourie: Not at all. They know what is going on. Everybody keeps saying Fascist,Fascist. I think they are too democratic. That was my complaint to Advaniji also. You are too democratic. Arre bhaiya,exercise leadership,authority. Forget Advaniji,but in the case of the RSS,I feel they are too patient and too considerate.
Shekhar Gupta: Are they shy of being seen to be intervening?
Arun Shourie: I think that has also put them on the defensive. Everybody is saying they are running rings and so on,but there are other considerations. You cannot begin such operations until you decide that I will now devote three years to reconstructing the party. They feel committed to their other work also. So it is a hesitation,Should I take the plunge or not?.
Shekhar Gupta: But if they move in tomorrow,nobody will be able to resist them in the BJP.
Arun Shourie: Nobody. Actually,much of this thing that you are seeing today,Jaswant Singhs book,Jinnah winnah,actually is because of the nervousness of the current leadership,trying to give signals to the RSS See I am standing up for national ideology.
Shekhar Gupta: They dont even know whether he praised Jinnah or not,more than what some of the others may have done.
Arun Shourie: Well,actually I can tell you. I have written articles for you,and you will see in one of those that the standard textbook of the RSS called The Tragedy of Partition,by one of the longest and firmest pillars of the RSS,H V Seshadri a scholarly book has a much stronger thesis against the Congress,including Sardar Patel,than Jaswant Singh could ever be able to write.
Shekhar Gupta: How would Vajpayee have handled the situation?
Arun Shourie: Vajpayee would just have said it is a book. Actually there is a very good incident,I will tell you. You know there was a book on Shivaji by an American (James Laine). Nobody had read it. And some,I think the Shiv Sena or BJP,people went,broke things and destroyed manuscripts at the Bhandarkar Institute (in Pune),a great institute for Indian studies. What happened was that Atalji was going to Bombay for unveiling Shivajis statute at the airport and I was the minister to accompany him. He had asked me to come with him. He said there,with Balasaheb Thackeray sitting there,all the Shiv Sena people sitting there,he said the answer to a book is a book,not to destroy and agitate. So the answer to a book is a book. You write a different book.
Shekhar Gupta: You dont have to write a book of the same length… If Rajnath had to counter Jaswants book,it would be challenging. But he (Vajpayee) would have defused it?
Arun Shourie: I will give you many instances. For example,you remember (the time) Jayalalithaas government was in office and some policeman entered M Karunanidhis home and hit him… I remember in the Cabinet everyone was for the dismissal of Jayalalithaa… I am one of the very few persons,actually I dont remember another person,who opposed it. Then somebody said,Bhai,hamare ally hain. The DMK is part of this government and they are saying how can this happen and we must be seen acting on their behalf. Atalji said,Hamare ally hain,hamara kartavya hai unhen samjhana. Unki baat par chal kar talwaar chala dena,yeh to nahin.
So his approach would be,You dont like it,please write another book. And actually he would have also told them,No,no,first read Seshadris book.
Shekhar Gupta: Were you surprised by the impatience,by the speed at which the BJP moved (to expel Jaswant)?
Arun Shourie: No,not at all. I think there are several factors which combined. The speed was not even minutes. They just gathered… these 25 fellows get together for the chintan thing (baithak) and a person for whom I have very high regard because of his development work,Narendra Modi,he says,Mere liye to badi aafat padi hai. Das September ko mere saat Assembly elections aa rahe hain aur is kitab ke baad main kaise Gujarat wapas jaoon ga. To action hona chahiye. And Ananth Kumar,What do you mean by action? Nothing short of expulsion. So this is all sort of orchestrated. And then the others were told dekhiye jo parliamentary board ke member nahin hain woh zara bahar chaley jayen. (Then) they are told You can come back. The Parliamentary board has decided that Jaswant Singh should be expelled. So this is one factor,the apprehension after Junagarh elections…
Shekhar Gupta: Where Modi did badly.
Arun Shourie: Yes… That is why Sardar Patel was made the issue. He is not the issue. As Express has published every single paragraph in which Patel is mentioned… there is not one derogatory reference at all. You read Seshadris book and you will find much more on Congress leaders,including Patel,and Patels own unrealistic assessments at that time. I am an adorer of Patel… but the second thing was that you make Patel the issue. See,I have protected the prestige of Gujarat,the good name of our leader. Third thing was,Dont make Jinnah the issue. Why? Then people will say what about the person who praised Jinnah earlier.
Shekhar Gupta: Mr Advani in Pakistan…
Arun Shourie: Haan. My friend Arun Jaitley says this was for tactical reasons. Are,what was it? To confuse the Pakistanis so that you can vanquish them? What is tactical about it? … And he said that what Jinnah said about secularism is an ideal for India,Pakistan and Bangladesh. How does that square with Hindutva? So Hindutva is also secularism by birth and name. So you have to start explanation for that thing. So,that was the reason. Make Patel the issue,and dont make Jinnah the issue. Another was the publicly expressed conclusion of the head of the RSS that You people are not exercising authority. Put your house in order and do it swiftly. Had se badh gaya hai. So,all these things combine,and Jaswant Singh becomes the occasion.
Shekhar Gupta: So the message to the RSS was,Since you asked for blood,I am giving you blood.
Arun Shourie: No,not since you asked,but independently I am giving you blood. So I have authority. Tarzan,me Tarzan… therefore,Jane should be happy with me.
Shekhar Gupta: Modi,is he the future?
Arun Shourie: I feel as I said during the election period also… His work in development has really been very,very good. You go to Gujarat,see the difference… So,he certainly can be,but at the moment he is a bit apprehensive and many people in the BJP in Delhi would be happy to see him get ensnared in the Supreme Court,SIT etc.
Shekhar Gupta: What is he apprehensive about?
Arun Shourie: I think (he fears),Are the people with him as much as they were?,Whether the SIT will ensnare him?.
Shekhar Gupta: But somebody did get away in Gujarat with what happened in 2002.
Arun Shourie: You see,what happens is that,as in Delhi,the administration looks the other way… Because we must remember it is not just the senior leaders,because we keep blaming Arun Nehru or P V Narasimha Rao as home minister or somebody (for the 1984 riots),police and all are a part of society. And when society is enraged,then the policeman is also the same fellow.
Shekhar Gupta: Unless you have the level of statesmanship where you can go and control it…
Arun Shourie: Then you have to be Sardar Patel. That you are just waving your finger,stop it,and the policeman stops.
Shekhar Gupta: But that he (Modi) did not prove to be?
Arun Shourie: Well,that is to be inquired into.
Shekhar Gupta: Jaswant Singh mentioned that you were also on the flight where Vajpayee was deliberating on this.
Arun Shourie: Actually,I have a much extended knowledge of that… Atalji,you remember,went to those refugee camps (of Gujarat riot victims). There were very emotional scenes. Immediately after that there was an earlier scheduled visit to Singapore and Cambodia,and I was the minister accompanying him. It is in the aircraft itself,I think either Ranjan (Bhattacharya) or Brajesh Mishra,we were sitting in the front portion. Atalji was in his cabin. One of them told me,Ja kar baat karo,woh bahut udaas,akele baithe hain. So I went and Atalji was sitting there and I sat next to him and he just kept his head down,and after a while I said,Sir,aapko itna dukh kis baat ka hai?. He said I have never forgotten it he said,Mujhe kyun yahan bheja ja raha hai? Main kis munh se utroonga? Is kalank ko mere munh par laga diya. Then I pleaded with him…
It is indescribable,his condition,because he is a very sensitive man. He has a poet-type sensitivity. So I said,Sir,there is no problem,we are landing very soon and when we go to the hotel,you ring up Advani and say this should happen before you come back. He kept quiet. The conversation continued and we went into many things. That evening passed,then the next day,the whole day,we met this minister,that minister. One or two days we were there and then we went to Cambodia,we went to Angkor Wat. Every afternoon,the question would be,should I ring up Advani this evening?. But as Jaswant Singh rightly says,it is not Ataljis nature to press beyond a point. So anyhow,he did not ring up. Then when we came back here…
Shekhar Gupta: And that call would have been to do what?
Arun Shourie: That Modi should resign. Immediately after we came back we had to go to the meeting of the national executive in Goa and I was told you must be on the flight. I said,No,that is not right. Only Advaniji and he (Vajpayee) should be there. They should thrash it out and finish it. Whatever they decide,whether Modi stays or go. And frankly,I must say,I was more affected by Ataljis pain than by what had happened in Gujarat. Maybe this is my inhumanity or something. I cant claim that I was that great liberal. The second thing happened was that this person,who was saying that you have to go there,said You dont know,they will not talk. The two of them will just sit,two hours will go and they will not talk… So,Jaswant is going there. The two of you would be there and this subject must be brought up and concluded. So we sat down but nobody would talk. After a while Atalji picked up a newspaper and opened it. Then Advaniji picked up a newspaper and opened it. So they are sitting like this (face-to-face) and each is holding a newspaper,shutting out the other. So I took the newspaper from Atalji. I said Sir,please you have to decide this issue. The conversation first went to Jana Krishnamurthy,who was the BJP president at that time,a very nice person… it was decided that Venkaiah (Naidu) would be the president.
Then second,Modi ka kya karna hai?. I think my recollection is more,what you would call,extended than Jaswant Singhs. So,this was discussed and it was decided,it was definitely decided that when we get down,Advaniji will ring up Modi and say that in the meeting in the evening,offer to resign. Then the meeting starts,speeches start. Atalji,Advaniji and all are sitting on the stage and Modi got up and said,Mujhe kuch kehna hai,and he offered to resign. He said,Main nahin chahta ki party should have any difficulties because of me. And as if on cue,people from different parts of the hall started saying absolutely no… koi galti nahin hai…. I was sitting at the back… and I saw Ataljis bewilderment because he thought this was a done deal. This was like an orchestrated coup against him.
So I got up and I said,Narendra Modi ne abhi jo yeh kaha hai,its in pursuance of the decision which these senior leaders have taken in the flight… I was present. There was consternation,but immediately again the chorus started and eventually somebody said,Atalji said or the president of the party said,Abhi to public meeting ka time ho gaya hai,kal decide karenge. Logon ne kaha nahin nahin,nahin hoga. So there is absolutely no doubt,and I can give you much more details of this,that Atalji was completely thwarted.
Shekhar Gupta: Thwarted? Everybody got together?
Arun Shourie: I am not sure that everybody got together simultaneously,but I must say that I was not all the time for this,that Modi has to go because of the killings,because in my view such things happen as a reaction,as happened in Delhi as a reaction to (Indira) Gandhis brutal killing. You cant then prevent those things. Nobody can prevent those things.
Shekhar Gupta: Or you need to be an extraordinary leader like Patel to prevent it.
Arun Shourie: Yes. But that is a very rare person.
Shekhar Gupta: But that is what leadership is all about,to do the right thing at the right time.
Arun Shourie: But there is another point to leadership. That is moral authority. You cant run around behind every policeman and say,No,no you are not checking the riot. So you must have moral authority… Unless you have that,you cannot control police persons or anybody in such situations.
Shekhar Gupta: I do know that this always rankled with Vajpayee,that he was thwarted.
Arun Shourie: Yes,no doubt about that.
Shekhar Gupta: And I think he finally accepted with resignation that maybe this was too central to the partys core,he was not able to defy it.
Arun Shourie: Well,either it is the partys core or it may be his understanding of society. In my view,it is not so much about party as this is about humans… After all,in Delhi it was not the party,it was Congressmen. That is how societies react. If the state abdicates its authority,the state will take its revenge.
Shekhar Gupta: Kandahar… there are two points of view of what happened.
Arun Shourie: There are two expressed points of view,there is only one truth. I think one reality was okay,the plane was hijacked from Kathmandu. You get the information immediately and our systems as they are,the Crisis Management Group is not able to meet. It was an incredibly good fortune that the plane landed in Amritsar.
Shekhar Gupta: And still nobody shot its tyres?
Arun Shourie: K P S Gill has educated me that a constable will finish the tyres and you dont even require firing. You put a tractor in front and at the back and deal with the terrorists. He says the Punjab Police could have handled it. I cant understand why that order was not given. Then it flies off. After that,the media is as responsible because I was all the time in this group of four-five persons who would meet all the time. The media is only focusing on the relatives who are just (grieving) … Anyhow,that was a big factor on Ataljis mind. TV had just begun,everybody was on that. Second is you have to have that capability. If you want to be like Israel you have to build up that capacity over 20-30 years,and that iron in your soul. We have not got that,whether it is to deal with the Lashkar-e-Toiba,whether to deal with the Taliban hijacking… Then in the end the question was whether you should negotiate with them,barter with them or not and unrealistic people like me can always take a view that no,we should never deal with them. Probably Advani was of the view also at the time that we should not deal with them,but in the end he went along like everybody else. I was a nobody there.
You can imagine it,it is a dramatic situation for three days. Everybody is in touch with everybody. Even an outsider to the group like me is in touch with everybody. Certainly everybody was in touch with Advani also. I mean,it is impossible to conceive… he is the Home Minister,he is the second-most powerful man in the government… so,every step that was taken was within his knowledge. And I would think,I dont know about these minutes or so or how detailed they are,but many of these decisions would be recorded in the Cabinet.
Shekhar Gupta: So you would rather go by Jaswant Singhs explanation of what happened,his recollection that Advani was present in the Cabinet Committee on Security when the decision to send him to Kandahar was taken.
Arun Shourie: There were actually two decisions. The first was the exchange and to release the prisoners. On that also Jaswant Singh has pointed to a good circumstantial factor that such important terrorists in an Indian jail cannot be released without the concurrence of the (Union) home minister. And then Farooq Abdullah has testified that he (Abdullah) himself argued with Advani,dont do it. So that means Advani knew the prisoner exchange is going to take place… Whether Jaswant Singh (would go) or not on that… I cant imagine that such a big decision would be taken without that small group not knowing. And there is a very interesting point that Yashwant Sinha told me… You see the CCS is meeting,Jaswant Singh gets up and says,Sorry,I have to catch a flight and go with them. Advaniji was present. Yashwant Sinha says I personally remember that,but maybe Advaniji has forgotten. These things are such,they move so rapidly…
Shekhar Gupta: Yashwant Sinha was the one who raised the first questions along with Jaswant Singh after the Parliament election. He was immediately made to pay for it.
Arun Shourie: I felt (it) was wrong at that time… because I felt he must keep every forum at hand. He said,No,I dont want them to have this sword over me that they can remove me from anything,so I am giving up all posts.
Shekhar Gupta: But you still feel sort of bold enough to raise the questions that you are raising now.
Arun Shourie: Yes,of course. What is happening now is that raising these questions has become indiscipline. Rather than those who have brought the party to this pass… they are the fellows hurting the partys interests. Who has been planting stories for five years against each one of these characters,including Advani and especially Rajnath Singh? Who? In the press by six journalists. That is discipline? But you want to call this indiscipline,okay,call it. But we feel it is an important institution,the party is an important institution and… See,I keep raising the issue with you,you are my boss… You dont do anything. In the end I write you a letter. Till today,you dont know the letter that I wrote. No paper has published the letter I wrote. That is true.
Therefore,I acted in a disciplined way… I wrote that I am not sending this copy to anybody. But you say this is indiscipline,indiscipline. So you want to be Humpty Dumpty and make words mean what you say,and act. Then I must presume that you already have it in your mind to act against me or anybody,so okay,act.
Shekhar Gupta: So from Tarzan to Humpty Dumpty to Alice in Wonderland…
Arun Shourie: To,like your phrase,Alice in Blunderland.
Shekhar Gupta: I hope your voice is heard because nobody wants a one-horse race in politics.
Arun Shourie: But I feel that if there are two voices,the other voice must be responsible. It must be thoughtful. It cannot be anti-intellect,it cannot be sound-byte journalism. It must study those issues.
Transcript prepared by Mehraj D Lone
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