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... in their hands



The face of Indian politics.

ARUN JAITLEY is the television face of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and you can see why. I met him for the first time just over two years ago at a Doordarshan studio. He was then the Minister for Information and Broadcasting and he had come over to do a televised discussion with me on the 25th anniversary of the Emergency.

"Today we celebrate the silver jubilee of the Emergency," I began in my introduction to the programme. A pause, then, "Of course `celebrate' is the wrong word, because the Emergency was a shameful period in our history." The discussion went off very well. Jaitley spoke lucidly and impressively. His sophisticated world view and his sharp analytical ability were also much in evidence.

At the end of the discussion, when the DD top brass came to congratulate us (change that to congratulate him), the senior most of them said to me, "But we will have to re-record the introduction. You used the word `celebrate' for the Emergency." "No, not at all," Jaitley intervened before I could reply. "Surely that is the anchor's licence." Further conversation confirmed that here was a man with a very liberal view of things. "Thank God," I caught myself thinking, "that the BJP encourages men like Arun Jaitley." Since then I have heard him — as all of us have — again and again on television. In some of those appearances he has, with his lawyer's guile, tried to defend the indefensible, which has included Gujarat. In fact he has been his party's best apologist for Narendra Modi and the Gujarat carnage. And in the recent election campaign in that State, Jaitley was one of Modi's staunchest supporters.

Are there two Arun Jaitleys? One being the lawyer who effortlessly articulates a liberal world view, the other being the party functionary who mouths a credo which is the exact opposite? And how can someone with such impressive educational qualifications and an obviously well-trained mind rationalise the illiterate, mindless outpourings of the Modis of the world? Jaitley isn't one of a kind though. There in his corner is another Arun, the beleaguered Minister for Disinvestment, Arun Shourie. Look at Shourie's background; if anything, it's even more impressive than Jaitley's (World Bank, editorship of national newspapers, academics, etc). Yet Shourie's scholarship has gone into a series of books which have been, in turn, anti-Islam, anti-Christian and anti-Ambedkar (and, therefore, anti-Dalit). By being anti-everything else, Shourie has thus become a spokesman for Hindutva. Indirectly, perhaps, but indisputably one.

Unlike Jaitley, Shourie has neither campaigned for Modi nor come out in support of him. But he hasn't said a word even remotely distancing himself from Modi's Gujarat carnage, and when a man of very many words finds none in this context, we can assume that there is at least tacit approval.

How can men of scholarship and learning possibly support something so heinous? Someone has suggested that men like Jaitley and Shourie know in their heart of hearts that however hard they try, they will never be mass leaders. This sense of lacking something in themselves makes them secretly admire demagogues like Narendra Modi.

That's possible. But whatever the reason, it's a disquieting trend: as a country, we are now faced with a choice of leaders which includes inflexible hard-liners like L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, demagogues like Narendra Modi, Uma Bharati and Pravin Tagodia, illiterate rabble rousers like Laloo Prasad Yadav and sophisticates like Jaitley and Shourie. (Add to their ranks people like K.K. Malkani. In his recent book India First, he praises a bygone "Sanskritisation" in which every caste "respected the upper castes", finds nothing wrong with Manu's worst excesses, says the Muslim minority "makes the Hindu feel insecure" and concludes "Truth to tell, all Indians are Hindu — by culture and nationality.") Add Mayawati to this dismal list, and you get politicians of the right and the left who have taken already poor States like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to bankruptcy and taken a once prosperous State like Gujarat in the same downward direction.

To find consolation we can say to ourselves that there are politicians of the same kind all over the world. The most notable example is Haider in Austria and Le Pen in France. But as recent elections showed, Haider was a temporary aberration while Le Pen's unexpectedly good showing in the first round of France's presidential elections had the electrifying effect of uniting all the other parties against him, so that he was roundly defeated in the final round. Not just that: Le Pen's showing brought together university students and professionals out on the streets in highly vocal and visible protest. When was the last time we saw anything like that in India? Even a right-wing party like the Conservatives in Britian, sacked its shadow minister for rural affairs Ann Winterton for making an anti-"Paki" racist joke.

Members of our educated elite become either apologists for the Modis and the Yadavs or become passively disgruntled observers. They neither demand corrective measures against political or policy excesses nor make their protest known outside their drawing rooms. The net result is that the reins of the nation are in the hands of charioteers who are hurtling us down into a deep, deep valley. A valley from which there is no return.

Anil Dharker is a noted journalist, media critic and writer.

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