You could step aside from the BJP membership, don the mantle of a full-time journalist again and then go ballistic against the government, Sudhir Bisht tells Arun Shourie in this open letter.
Respected Arun Shourie,
Let me start by a frank admission. You have been my hero since your Indian Express days. There have been only two journalists, I have hero worshipped. You are there at the very top, the other being the Late Prabha Dutt. Hence it is extremely painful for me to write an open letter to you where I have to oppose what you say.
But let’s start with what I think you are.
I truly believe that if you weren’t at the helm of the Indian Express, the fact that a woman could be bought and sold for less than Rs 3,000 wouldn’t have been known to a stunned nation as your team mate, Ashwin Sarin, broke the story in 1981 in the Indian Express.
The Tihar jail torture expose, by Sarin again, wouldn’t have come to light had you, his boss and editor, not backed him to the hilt.
Then young journalist, Arun Sinha, wouldn’t have been emboldened to fearlessly expose the Bhagalpur blindings, had he not have received your fullest support.
If it were not for you, Shourie, the Kuo oil deal scam of 1980 wouldn’t have been reported.
And it was you, Shourie, who did the first sting on then Karnataka Chief Minister Gundu Rao by reporting his friendly, off-the-record chatter verbatim.
You have such an iconic status sir that in the early eighties one of the best parliamentarians India ever had, the irrepressible Piloo Mody, said, "Can you imagine the improved state of the nation if we had 10 Arun Shouries working instead of one?"
Piloo Mody showered these praises upon you when you as the investigator-cum-editor of the Indian Express published a detailed report on what came to be known as the notorious Antulay cement scam. Your expose caused A R Antulay’s ouster as the CM of Maharashtra.
Now let’s move to the present times, with your permission.
You have set the proverbial political stage on fire by making scathing attack on the one year performance of the National Democratic Alliance government. In a television interview to the wily Karan Thapar, you, the first activist-journalist of our times, as Madhu Trehan calls you, have come down heavily upon the Modi sarkar.
You have made many unsubstantiated comments about the BJP government but a few of them deserve scrutiny.
1. You allege that government is busy managing headlines.
2. You call the government’s economic policy directionless
3. You have accused the government of hyping figures from spectrum auction and coal auction. You say that whereas the government would get money from the coal and spectrum auction over several years, it is projecting as if these monies would make way into the coffers in one year time.
4. You rue the fact that the troika of Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitley and Amit Shah run the party.
5. You say that Jaitley as the finance minister is giving mixed signals to the foreign investors. These, you opine, are confusing the investors.
6. You complain that the impression that the minorities are feeling insecure could be real.
I, your fan and follower, would like to join issue with you point by point
1. The government is busy managing headlines is a loose statement. In an era when news is 24x7 business and when social media has left us in very little peace of mind, headlines are a part-and-parcel of our daily lives.
The ruling dispensation will always be in the headlines. A slip here and a fall there would be lapped up the headline-hungry mainstream and social media. And if it is inevitable that the government of the day would be the headline, unless of course a disruptive political entity takes over, it is best for the government to manage its image.
The success of any enterprise, and the government is an enterprise, that has the citizens as its principal stakeholders, is dependent upon its achievements and the portrayal of its achievements. What is so wrong about managing headlines? One has to do so ethically and without any jiggery pokery though
I know you may find the argument a bit bombastic but so is your accusation! You even said that the government ‘manufactures’ headlines. Please elaborate. Give examples. And if the government is manufacturing headlines, why is the mainstream media eating out of its hand?
2. Calling the economic policy directionless is a statement that betrays your own sense of lack of direction. This government is the first government that is seeking to reduce the dependence of 70 per cent of Indians from making a living out of a sector that contributes less than 20 per cent to the GDP.
I am of course referring to the agriculture sector here. If the government wasn’t sure of the direction it is taking it wouldn’t have stuck its neck out in pursuing with the job of converting the land ordinance into an act of Parliament. Unless there are land reforms, tax reforms and labour reforms how would the economy banish its state of inertia and leapfrog into double digit growth.
I take the opportunity to ask you one basic question. If the government isn’t sincere about its economic agenda, why would it risk pushing the not so easy-to-push land ordinance through the Parliament? This government is crystal clear about its economic policy and all the factors that contribute to its formulation. That’s why your calling the economic policy as directionless is unfair
3. You are upset that the government is hyping the earnings from coal and spectrum auctions. You even said that these auctions were a result of Supreme Court ruling(s) and not because of the government’s initiatives. I have a different point of view. The decision to go far auctions may have been driven by the courts but would you not give any credit to the government for its speedy, transparent and productive implementation?
You say that government is projecting the future revenues as current revenues. This is far from truth. Can you show any official document or statement by any authorised person of the government that all the proceeds from coal and spectrum auctions will be credited to the exchequer in one single year? So from where did you get an impression that the government wants to apportion the revenue it would get over several years in one single year?
4. The fact that troika of Modi, Jaitley and Shah are taking all the decisions of the party is resented by you. I find this very strange. Modi has been elected the leader of the Lok Sabha by the BJP MPs. Arun Jaitley is the finance minister of the country and one of the finest minds that combines legal acumen, knowledge of economics and political astuteness. Amit Shah has been elected the party president unanimously. If these three men would not be the ones not taking all the decisions then who would? The leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and the chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance? Funny, isn’t it?
5. You say that the FM is giving mixed signals to foreign investors in respect of retrospective tax. This is not true. The FM has said that he will not levy any tax from retrospective effect. There are however some cases which are pending in various courts in India and in international tribunals. These cases will continue to go through the judicial process. What’s wrong with this line of business? How can the FM withdraw such cases? Would he not be accused of favouring the corporate sector, if the government were to withdraw such cases?
6. You have said that if the members of minority communities like Julio Riberio feel threatened in the country then the situation is worrying. Let me say that the current prime minister has one of the best records when it comes to taking action against the hardliner elements in the country. You just have to look at the way he banished someone like Praveen Togadia from Gujarat. It is a fact that a handful of irresponsible members of BJP continue to make insensitive utterances but these are far and few. The PM can’t be reacting to all the nonsense all the time and lend credibility to these radical elements, who would be neutralised automatically if they don’t get a good press. And let me admit that the press too is doing its job by not giving them unwanted publicity.
The secular fabric of the country is too strong to be ripped apart by utterances of some fringe elements.
Sir, you have raised some other issues like the marginalisation of your old colleague, Sushma Swaraj. I believe that Sushma Swaraj is a fiercely independent leader who doesn’t need to fire a gun using your shoulder. She is a fearless firebrand who will not like you, an aging patriarch, to take cudgels on her behalf.
I hope nevertheless that the BJP leaders will pay heed to your interview.
Some people have suggested that you may be ranting because you lost out in the power play. I don’t think that these people know you well enough. You are a man who doesn’t seek power for the sake of power. For you the purpose of power is to serve the country.
In the same vein I hope that you too realise that BJP, nominated you to Rajya Sabha twice. You had no political base and yet you occupied important positions in the previous NDA regime. As a token of mutual respect you could step aside from the party membership, don the mantle of a full-time journalist again and then go ballistic.
With warm regards,
Your lifelong fan and admirer
Sudhir Bisht is a published author and a freelance columnist.