UPA: "The Congress Party has enough time to get its act together"
Who knows state-craft better than Dr Harish Khare? For many years he authored a column titled ‘State Craft’ in The Hindu, in which he scathingly analysed the conduct of the government and its key actors. His column earned him admirers and detractors. After long years in journalism, he became the media adviser of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. A few years later he resigned from this post—perhaps the only one in the last 10 years of Singh’s indifferent term. He followed the frenzy of the 2014 Parliamentary elections, not as a journalist, but as a diarist who assimilated different viewpoints and contextualised them. The outcome is his interesting first book, How Modi Won It. Sadiq Naqvi spoke to him a few days after his book hit the stands. Excerpts from the interview:
Was the idea of writing a book already in your mind, or did you just decide to do it once the results were out?
The idea began to form in my mind during the course of the campaign. From the beginning I could feel that large parts of the media were either not reflecting or were not able to capture or perhaps were not willing to capture the very covert communal campaign that had been mounted. So I decided that I would be jotting what I read or heard from colleagues in the media, political people, bureaucrats and so on daily. At one level, in an election of this magnitude, no single person or no single agency can have a complete appreciation of what is going on. So it is important that one should keep one’s mind open and absorb as much as one can of the conflicting voices emerging from the ground. Then I thought about this great Indian weakness, through which we tend to see all the virtues in the winner and all the flaws in the loser. I thought it would be a good document to produce, putting together my diary pieces, contextualising them in the interplay between the ideas and individuals preceding the campaign.
Why do you think the media was completely ambivalent about the communal nature of the campaign?
We must give credit to Narendra Modi and his colleagues. They ran a very sophisticated communal campaign. They understood very well that large chunks of the media and the intelligentsia have soured up with the Congress party. And the trick for Modi and Amit Shah was how to keep amusing this disenchanted media and intelligentsia, while pursuing the communal mobilisation at the booth level.
‘Vikas’ became a very tantalising mantra. The middle classes, especially the upper middle class in India, are never forced to examine the pains of the larger social equation in India. Very few upper class Indians have non-Hindu friends, their interaction with the non-Hindu section of society is very limited. And in North India, especially in places like Delhi, we tend to think that the rest of the country is like us. But this is not the case.
Moreover, as I mention in the book, the RSS did a very sensible thing. The whole campaign was about ‘let us do 100 percent voting’. This sounds wonderfully politically correct. But the hidden message was simple: the minorities vote in disproportionately large numbers and that allows the parties which are not respectful of Hindu interests to gain an upper hand against parties which are pro-majority.
This is the first time that the RSS was openly campaigning. Its involvement in the campaign was open, organised and advertised. For the last four-five decades the RSS has been maintaining this mumbo-jumbo that they are a cultural organisation and that they have no political agenda. But this time they made a direct political intervention in the electoral process. This is where the failure of the media lies.
In your book you discuss the role that Hindu terror investigations played in making the RSS desperate. Do you not think that the Congress government choked at some point in pursuing those investigations?
Well, we don’t know whether the investigators ran into what they call dead-ends, or whether they were not looking very closely. Nobody can be sure. But, again, given the fact that all the agencies are overwhelmingly run by Hindu professionals, there would have been a natural reticence on the part of some. I think the Congress was also not absolutely clear how far it wanted to pursue those Hindu terror probes.
How do you look at Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister? How is he different from Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat?
To be honest, I have so far seen no difference. It is not easy for any political leader, doesn’t matter what your persuasion is, to change overnight. Modi’s political persona has been defined by others for him and by him for himself in the context of the 2002 Gujarat riots. And that is his political persona. What are the elements of that persona? An intensely narcissistic self-obsession, a very definite anti-minority stance, a cynical exploitation of Gujarati sub-nationalism, and a rejection of what I call the Vajpayee-ian consensus approach
to public affairs.
Now, he was the chief minister for almost 12 years, and all chief ministers very easily settle into a one-man show. When they come to a federal position like the Prime Minister of the country, the requirements of getting the business, seeking agreements, accommodation, bargaining, these are all elements of state-craft. The Chief Minister is pure politics. The Prime Minister of India is state-craft. That is where I am yet to see anything sanguine about Modi’s capacity.
How do you look at the issues of conversion and love jihad, which have become very routine and the Prime Minister’s absolute silence?
Why should anybody be surprised? If I come to power on the basis of support from this or that section, I cannot suddenly pretend that I never took that support once the campaign is over and I win. Nor can those people forget that they extended support and worked for you. That is what I mention in the book. Like Ashok Singhal saying that a Hindu uprising is overdue—recently he said that Hindu Raj had been restored after 900 years or so. And Mohan Bhagwat and Singhal feeling that now that they have the elbow room, they will do what they have been (doing) all these years. Suddenly, they are not going to turn into reasonable, constitutional consensus-seekers.
Do you see the Congress getting back on its feet?
I am often asked this question. I find this question very unfair. My counter question is, who could in 2010 or even in 2011 tell me that the BJP would make a comeback? We had an election just six months ago and the next election is quite a while away and the Congress party has enough time to get its act together.