Shourie’s sorrow.

I happened to meet Shourie twice. Once in 1991 when I had accompanied my friend who called on him at his residence in Shantiniketan (or was it Westend?) & we went out for a stroll & chat for about half an hour. He was no longer with Indian Express then & had not yet become the BJP MP of Rajyasabha, though he had already joined that party. Second time I met him was in Khartoum 2003 when he had accompanied APJ Abdul Kalam, who came on a state visit, as his minster in waiting. The venue was Indian Ambassador Ashokkumar’s residence. While the Indian Diaspora busied itself with the charming & motivating talk of the President & generally mobbing him, I took the opportunity to quiz Shourie who quietly stood by under a tree about the new telecom policy he was ushering in. Our talk centred around how the artificial barriers created by unimaginative bureaucracy that was bent on protecting its turf through myriad categories of licensing were made to look foolish & clumsy because of the convergence wrought by progress of technology. At that time debate on communication technology was hot in India with terms like fixed line, fixed wireless terminal, mobile telephony, internet, broadband, VOIP, VPN, CDMA, TDMA etc. flying fast & furious. He struck me on both occasion as well studied, contemplating & reasonable person. Right since the expose of Antulay in late seventies, he has an enviable record in journalism & equally formidable reputation as one of the foremost writers & commentators on politics & current affairs. He rudely shook many deeply held dogmas & long cherished beliefs that underpinned the politics of parties in India by ferreting out facts into public consciousness through his meticulous research. These facts were invariably ferreted out from the very foundations on which these beliefs & dogmas happily rested.

I have found that I am not able to concur with the interpretations of Shourie every time or even often, though I have always admired his painstaking research. However, recently while reading the transcript of his Walk the talk with Shekhar Gupta, I was dismayed to discover aspect of his personality I never suspected had existed. Post the state abetted riots & carnage in the wake of Godhra murders, Vajpayee had to travel to South East Asia on prearranged visits. Shourie narrates his interaction with Vajpayee aboard the prime ministerial flight thus,

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.

It is clear that Shourie is disturbed by Vajpayee’s mental condition, his anguish. So much so that he prompts him to call Advani back home in India and tell Advani to obtain Narendra Modi’s resignation as chief minister of Gujarat while they are continuing with their state visit – ostensibly to wash that ‘kalank’ that is so much bothering the sensitive Vajpayee. This is so despite Shourie’s strong feelings that Modi shouldn’t be made to go as is evident from the following excerpt,

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 Gandhi’s“.

Shourie shows great sensitivity to what he sees is the obvious pain felt by Vajpayee. But when it comes to the cause of Vajpayee’s anguish (or does Shourie imply Vajpayee was worried only about his own image in the eyes of foreigners?) – the carnage in Gujarat – he shows utter callousness as can be seen here.

He later adds, “And frankly, I must say, I was more affected by Atalji’s pain“, and then continues, “than by what had happened in Gujarat. Maybe this is my inhumanity or something. I can’t claim that I was that great liberal.”

That there were over 50 people who were burnt to death at Godhra, that this was followed by riots in the wake of which some 2000 people were murdered, that these riots were instigated & abetted by politically motivated organizations, that the bureaucracy displayed complete apathy in addressing the communal violence, and that the Gujarat government disregarded its constitutional responsibility to safeguard the life & property of its citizen, is of little concern to Shourie. In fact, he goes on to defend the indefensible by taking refuge in another indefensible & shameful episode in our national life.

“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.” ….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.”

If over 2000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi in the wake of assassination of Indira Gandhi, the then PM & Congress leader, & if that is alright; then killing over 2000 Muslims in Gujarat in retaliation of Godhra killing is also alright. One wrong justifies the next wrong. No, it in fact raises the other to the high philosophical pedestal of ‘this is how societies behave’. This is what happens when societies are enraged. This then becomes the doctrine. Shourie obviously implies by ‘when society is enraged’ that it is a spontaneous combustion – like what happens when inflammable material in oxygen friendly atmosphere courts a spark. I was in Delhi in 1984. I witnessed the lootings that occurred in Safdarjung Evclave where I stayed only on 1st November evening – mind you Gandhi was assassinated in the morning of 31st October. That news was kept under wraps, though she was dead on the spot or very shortly thereafter, until Rajiv Gandhi returned from Calcutta & was anointed prime minster by Gyani Zail Singh same evening. There was no incidence of violence at least in my locality that evening. It all started the evening of next day. Therefore it is clear it was not spontaneous. Sikhs were specifically targeted for arson & looting. People from poor neighbourhoods like Mohammadpur in our case were encouraged to pillage & destroy Sikh property selectively in complete comfort of an assurance that no action will be taken during & after. Rich & middle class localities were spared murders & were let go only with loot & arson. The poor localities in East & west Delhi bore the brunt of all the carnage unleashed on hapless Sikh community. Lutyen’s New Delhi was an oasis of calm in contrast. I have no doubt that 1984 carnage was instigated, supplied & lead by Congressmen and had the assurance of total inaction if not encouragement from Congress government. I have not witnessed what happened in Gujarat. But from all available accounts & evidence I have no doubt that BJP pariwar & BJP government enacted the very same roles in Gujarat carnage. Shourie has drawn the parallels, my point is that both narratives merge as one. Only difference is that which was made by technology – access to mobile telephony. This bit of technological marvel permitted the luxury to the political leadership in Gujarat of directing the riots remotely – a temptation they couldn’t resist. After all this gave them at least the benefit vicarious pleasure. It is another story that technology is a double edged weapon – it created a trail of who talked to whom & when while generally pointing the localities in which they were present. It even has produced transcripts of conversation in many cases. Finally, blaming it all on only ‘humans‘, these organized atrocities, as Shourie does, is a clever ploy to diffuse accountability of those in power beyond a pale of recognition – to confuse the issue irretrievably.

Shourie further declares that Modi, Arun Nehru or governments were helpless as there has been complete erosion of moral authority since the times of Sardar patel. Read on what he has to say.

But there is another point to leadership. That is moral authority. You can’t 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.” …..”Then you have to be Sardar Patel. That you are just waving your finger, ‘stop it’, and the policeman stops.

I would like to remind shourie that had the proverbial wagging finger belonged to even an humble JCO leading an armed army platoon, it would have stopped in its track the most formidable rioter that either Congress, BJP or anyone else could summon. He would have denied that vital ‘oxygento snuff out the enragement out of any society. Now that even learned people like Shourie have come to condone such heinous behaviour of our political leaders & their cadres, we have reasons to fear if the JCO’s finger too will stop wagging in near future.


PS : A small factual error has crept into Shourie’s discourse that is easily ascertainable unlike culpability of governments in riots : “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.” For the records, it was not Shiv Sena or BJP, but Sambhaji Brigade that was the perpetrator of this crime.


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3 Responses to “Shourie’s sorrow.”

  1. Sayali Patwardhan Says:

    Hi Baba:

    Arun Shourie’s thoughts conveyed through the words he has uttered in the
    interview are quite a revelation to me as well! In fact in one part of his
    speech, according to my understanding, he fails to communicate any sense at
    all (I hope I have understood this correctly!), over here: “……If the
    state abdicates its authority, the state will take its revenge….”

    What does he mean?



    P.S. This is the first time ever that I am writing in the group circle!

  2. satark Says:

    Sayali :-

    Absolutely right, it doesn’t make any sense at all. But it could be the fault of the transcriber.


  3. gaurav Says:

    actually,it is “if the state abdicates it’s authority,the society will take it’s revenge”

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