A day after Finance Minister Arun Jaitley termed Prime Minister Narendra Modi the worst victim of ideological intolerance, former union minister Arun Shourie on Monday said that PM Modi must speak out on intolerance.
"Designating Modi as a victim of intolerance is the most dangerous thing to do because it will give him grounds to be vengeful," cautioned Shourie.
In an exclusive interview to India Today Television's Karan Thapar, Shourie Shourie quoted his friend and said that the prime minister's behaviour has lowered him to the level of RJD chief Lalu Prasad and made Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar a statesman. (Jab elections shuru huye, toh hamare 2 provincial politicians the, Lalu Yadav aur Nitish Kumar aur waha yugpurush the, world famous leader Narendra Modi. Ab jo election campaign hua hai usse Narendra Modi sahab apne aap ko Lalu ke star par le aye hain. Aur Nitish Kumar ji statesman lagte hain.)
Fringe groups getting encouraged
Shourie said that the prime minister's silence was deliberate and it encouraged the fringe groups. A ruler is known by the character of the persons surrounding him.
"If you go back to the election speeches by Modi. He talked of pink revolution. Beef business can be linked to it. They were encouraged by people around Modi who used provocative language and did not break his silence on the Dadri lynching," he said.
Wrong to call writers, scientists rabid
The former minister from Vajpayee-led government supported the writers' protest of returning their awards against intolerance in the society.
"It is the Gandhian thing to do. In August 1921, Congress appealed to the people those who have titles should return them. He condemned senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley's comment that these elements were rabid as inexcusable because it applies to noted scientist C N R Rao, RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, eminent micro-biologist PM Bhargava and ex-Navy chief Adm Ramdas," he said.
On rising intolerance
Rejecting BJP leaders' repeated statements that the Prime Minister cannot be expected to speak on each and every issue, Shourie said, "Prime Minister is not a section officer of the homoeopathy department. He is not head of a department. He is the Prime Minister. He has to show the country the moral path. He has to set moral standards."
The former NDA minister said that Modi tweets inconsequentially, but is silent after the Dadri lynching incident.
Modi turning India into Pakistan
Tum se pehle woh jo ek shakhs yahan takht-nasheen tha uss ko bhi apne khuda hone pe itna hi yaqeen tha Arun Shourie quotes Habib Jalib (Even before you there was a ruler who also believed that he was God.)
Narendra Modi has failed to fulfil his moral responsibility and in breach of oath of office, he is turning India into Pakistan because winning Bihar matters more than India's future. Recent campaigns by Modi have diminished his image. The language that Modi uses during his rallies in Bihar does not suit a befitting prime minister.
Full transcript of India Today's exclusive interview
Karan Thapar: Today speaking for the first time is one of India's great public thinkers. A former editor, a former author and a former minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government - Arun Shourie. In the wake of the meat and beef bans, the Dadri lynching, the murder of rationalists and Dalit children, the treatment of Sudheendra Kulkarni, Ghulam Ali, many people believe that a mood of intolerance is spreading in the country. Do you agree with the interpretation or do you think it's an exaggeration?
Arun Shourie: It's certainly the fact. These things are occurring one after the other pervasively across the country. As these people rightly apprehend, there's no response from the government. So, it is right to be worried.
Q: How do you explain this tide of intolerance? What do you think is causing it?
A: First, there is encouragement. The basic reason is weakening of the Indian state in general. Not the state government, but the Indian state. Any posse of bullies anywhere can get at anybody at any time and do anything to him, and no perpetrator is ever brought to book. Therefore, they feel more and more encouraged. This happening in such an atmosphere - every little social service organisation and political parties start gathering strong armed men to their own cadre, so that they can deploy them whenever they like. Not just in elections.
Q: Many people believe that because Narendra Modi in May 2014 won 282 seats giving the BJP a majority for the first time in history, extremists and fringe elements associated with the party are becoming emboldened. They are now asserting themselves with impunity. Is that one of the explanations?
A: That's a very important inference that Mr Modi should look at. Because a ruler is get known by his own character, shows up with the characters of the people he surrounds himself with, and by the characters of the persons who feel encouraged because he is sitting on top. There's no doubt that many of these people draw inspiration from what was said during the election campaign. This beef business - in the election speeches of Modi himself, there's all the talk about Pink Revolution. So, they feel encouraged. Then an atmosphere is created. Not just by fringe elements, but MPs, his own ministers, so called 'bhaktas' on social media. He invited those very bhaktas to his house and held a reception for them. Two of my journalist friends told me that when they saw a man who used the vilest of abuse on social media - now, why will they not feel encouraged?
Q: You are saying the pre-election speeches led to Dadri lynching?
A: No, that's stretching too far. In the beef business, I was saying that as an example that it could be linked to what they heard in the speeches.
Q: And they were encouraged by it and also by the fact that the people around Mr Modi say provocative things and he says nothing to stop them?
A: Absolutely, and it almost comes out as if it is by design. An incident occurs or is created, then it kept alive by statements every second day. Three, four weeks. People say why is Mr Modi not speaking. In the end he says something delphic - Motherhood is good.
Q: So there's a real connect between the intolerance we see today, and the speeches we heard during the campaign, the silence of the prime minister, and the people surrounding the prime minister, and all that say - and all that is connected to what's leading up to it?
A: Not only that. If you see Mahesh Sharma is the minister for culture. What he says, even about Kalam. Then you give that very man Dr Kalam's house. The house in which Dr Kalam stayed. Don't you think others will not feel encouraged that that is the way to be rewarded? It's like spitting in the face of the people. There's a phrase - me ne frego - I don't give a damn. That was Mussolini's motto for his black shirts. I am not saying Modi's attitude is similar, but it's an inference that it is an attitude that will lead to the same consequences as. Please don't think I am comparing Modi to Mussolini, not at all. This Mahesh Sharma thing is really symbolic.
Q: Do you think that now more than 400 writers, actors, filmmakers have returned their awards or statements of protests against intolerance - was the right thing to?
A: Of course. It is the Gandhian thing to do. I will put your 400 figure into perspective. In 1921, in the Non-Cooperation Movement, the Congress led by Gandhiji appealed to the people - Those who hold titles should return them. I looked up the figures. In August 1921, 5,186 persons who had titles. Do you think how many returned them? 24. Here there's no Gandhi, and yet, as you say 400 people have felt compelled to state their protest and warning in public.
Q: The BJP on the other hand, has at least on four different levels not just criticised these protestors, but condemned them. To begin with, Arun Jaitley said that these protests are manipulated, more importantly, he said these are rabid anti-BJP elements. How do you respond to that critique?
A: Rabid? Rabid means not just expressing yourself in an extreme language. These people have spoken softly. It means you suffer from rabies. Prof CNR Rao, one of the most distinguished scientists of India, Bharat Ratna awardee, he's rabid? Narayan Murthy is rabid? Dr Balram, who's the head of Indian Institute of Science for 8 years, who speaks so softly that you have to strain to hear him. He's rabid? Dr Bhargava is rabid? These chaps who make these statements don't know the scientists. They've not read a book in 20 years.
Q: In fact, the list purportedly includes Admiral Ramdas, Raghuram Rajan?
A: Yes, he has spoken at the Delhi IIT convocation. He's rabid?
Q: A second critique by BJP - they didn't protest against the Emergency, 1984 Sikh killings, scams under Dr Manmohan Singh - they are hypocrites and have not right to protest today?
A: My friend you certainly can't say that about me, on all those three-four points? But second, the point is, that was factually wrong. It turned out that in Nayantara Sahgal's case. I knew her during the Emergency, when JP set up the citizens for democracy and the people's union for civil liberties, she was the most important pillars there. But you except that. Do you know that Gandhiji never spoke up against the holocaust of the Jews. In fact he ended up into an embarrassing correspondence with Martin Buber and other Jewish philosophers...saying that they were not entering the gas chambers with smiles on their face, and they are not having goodwill towards Hitler in their hearts. I'll reproduce all this correspondence. But, the point to be noted, is that all his protests are not to be taken note of? What is this argument?
Q: In other words, people have the right protest on issues that matter, that personally arouse them, they have to not protest on everything to make one protest valid?
A: Of Course. I would have naturally liked everybody to protest against Emergency. It's the issue that we should think of, and what they are saying at that time. Don't paste motives and go into his grandfather's history at that time.
Q: Third reason BJP gives is that these people enjoyed leverage when Congress was in power. But now they are frustrated and disgruntled?
A: This is such nonsense. In fact, these chaps are troubled by the intellectuals for the opposite reason. A true writer, a scientist true to his calling, he wants nothing from them. They cannot bribe him, most of them they cannot frighten, that is why these intellectuals are not in the control of these fellows. That is what really troubles them. They never find these motives till these intellectuals have spoken against them. Then suddenly... [they delve on his past]. Why didn't you discover his character before he spoke?
Those fellows [protestors] have not lost leverage. They are the conscience of the country. Such fine sensibilities that walking down the road, they notice things that you and I don't notice. That is the reason in our culture were revere the writers, we are grateful to scientists. The scientists on that list are responsible for our space program, our mathematics. And you say they are rabid?
Q: Fourth BJP reason, for instance, the state government is responsible for Dadri?
A: Of course, it is also responsible... Then by the same logic, argument in a discourse conducted - In Delhi, the Delhi Police is under the central government? Rape after rape takes place. Should we then hold the central government responsible alone?... Citizens are losing out on this mutual blame game.
Q: On Prime Minister Modi's response.
A: The prime minister is not a section officer in the department for homeopathy. He's not the head of a department of government. He is the prime minister. He has to show the country the moral path. He has to set the moral standard. As for this business of he can't speak on any and every matter, these are any and every matters? But the fact of the matter is that he does speak on any and every matter. I request you and your viewers to look at his tweets. They are about David Cameron's birthday, Modi kurta, stampede in Mecca, loss of lives from an explosion in Ankara, on those very days. On September 28 Dadri happened, on September 29th he sends out a tweet saying 'Best wishes to Mahesh Sharmaji for his birthday'. On 30th, similar something, to the governor of Nagaland...
The above interview appeared in India Today