One of the main challenges the institutions of Indian democracy are facing is the decline of the liberal professions. Journalists, lawyers, professors were supposed to be the front line of the army fighting for the rights of the governed. Today, they are seen more as collaborators of the governors. Why that is so is the subject matter of a separate debate.
However, one reason is certainly worth exploring. The powerful and influential sections of these professions seem to be divorced from a serious pursuit of scholarship without which these professions can only produce technicians who, at their best, will be useful tools for their employers but will have nothing to contribute to our collective life.
Senior journalist Saba Naqvi’s latest book, Shades of Saffron: From Vajpayee to Modi traces the journey of the BJP governments and politics from the Vajpayee era to Modi. The initial chapters of the book are set in the late 90s and deal with personalities and events which have been important milestones in the emergence of the BJP as the pre-eminent pan Indian political party.
Saba writes with sufficient sympathy for many BJP leaders with whom she is ideologically not in sync like Vajpayee, Advani, Govindacharya, except Modi. She is an engaging storyteller. Written in a conversational, journalistic style with the inevitable dose of power gossip, the book reads like a story and is fairly informative. But it remains a fact based journalistic work and does not attempt any deep or long term political,
historical analysis of the tectonic movements of Indian politics in the last couple of
There are separate chapters devoted to important events, controversies which take us from Pokhran to Kargil while telling us about the family in Vajpayee’s house and coterie in his office. In a book on the BJP we have to have a chapter on love-hate relationship between Vajpayee and Advani. Dutifully, the author gives us two chapters. Saba also devotes sufficient space to Kargil, the parliament attack, Operation Parakram, Musharraf’s Agra visit and Vajpayee’s Lahore bus journey. Perhaps no author can write about the BJP without writing about Pakistan. Fiery Sanyasin Uma Bharti and suave lawyer Arun Jaitley get one chapter each while we travel to Modi’s era.
Modi’s regime is going to have a huge impact on Indian history. Modi’s electoral performances have been unmatched in recent times. His economic measures such as demonetization have been bewildering. Surprisingly, not sufficient attention is given to the nature and impact of this government on us in the book. The book is not a work of history and lacks serious political analysis. It tells us that Vajpayee and Modi are different shades of saffron. A serious reader would be interested in knowing why. Why did the RSS which was supposed to have the remote control, become subservient to the Nehruvian regime of Vajpayee and then even more to the dominant regime of Modi? How does a fairly federal democratic party BJP become a one man show in just one election? How did BJP dominate 2014 parliamentary elections after doing precisely nothing as the main opposition party between the years 2004 to 2014 while scoring one self-goal after another? What did the integral humanism of Deendayal Upadhayay mean for Indian politics and how much of it was manifested in the BJP governments of Vajpayee or Modi?
These questions are not seriously analysed. It does not ask why the Nehru pariwar has shrunk and the Sangh Pariwar has ballooned in last two decades even though both have had ten years of power at the centre. It is perhaps the nature of Indian political journalism which produces such limitations. Journalists like Saba get used to Khabar journalism where there is lot of importance given to gossip, palace intrigue etc., which make good sensational copies for a weekly or daily but are trivia for someone who has a deeper interest in politics and is looking at long term movements of political forces.
The enjoyment our political journalists get in writing about gossip is evident in how Govindacharya is dealt with in the book. He is arguably one of the most serious thinkers the Right Wing has produced in the last 30-40 years. He propagated social engineering in the late 90s and promoted OBC/ Dalit leaders like Sushil Modi, Uma Bharti, Bangaru Laxman and others. The idea was to realign BJP, hitherto a largely upper caste based party, with the deprived sections of the society to bring greater depth to its support base. The upper caste BJP leaders did everything possible to sabotage this ambitious project then. Later, the Modi-Shah duo picked up this theme and intelligently packaged Modi as the OBC prime ministerial candidate coming from a poor tea-vendor background with great success in the 2014 elections. Yet Govindacharya finds mention in the book largely for the Mask (mukhauta) controversy and how Vajpayee used to denigrate him by calling him Rajnishacharya/ Dronacharya. His deeper political projects such as Swadeshi (a kind of Gandhian socialism) and social engineering are merely mentioned in passing, though later, social engineering does come up in the book, to a limited extent, during Modi’s campaign.
Thus we get a book but not scholarship. That brings me to the question I started this review with. How do we get scholarship back to our liberal professions? I guess many of us should make such attempts. Saba at least has tried to.
Santosh Kumar is an advocate practising in Delhi.
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Analysing Prime Minister Modi’s foreign and military policies in the context of India’s evolving socio-political and economic milieu, global power politics featuring other strongmen-alpha male leaders (Trump, Putin, Xi, Erdogan, Shinzo Abe), and of Modi’s persona and style of governance, Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition by Bharat Karnad offers a critical perspective that helps explain why India has not progressed much towards becoming a power of consequence.
Penguin India, 2018, pp. 512, R599.00