My article on DailyO on false narratives and Arun Shourie.
You can read a version of the article below:
The ongoing "intolerance" debate reminds me of my Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) days when leftist organisations (SFI in those days) would come up with a charter of demands and go on hunger strikes. After about five days, the strike would be called off with the mediation of "Left-oriented" JNU professors and a message would be sent out to the student community that the administration had considered many demands which will be fulfilled in the near future. In this backdrop, they would fight elections and win.
The Left organisations created a narrative which was in favour of most students and comprised issues like more hostels, scholarships, placement cell, fear of the right-wing and so on. With this they would become "champions of the downtrodden" and saviours of the minorities.
Two important points here are: The SFI-AISF won elections till 2005 but started losing when their parent organisations, the CPM and CPI, joined the co-ordination committee of the UPA government. Second, the issues they championed never got resolved and exist even today. However, they successfully constructed a narrative and the students bought it.
Something similar is happening in India today. Many narratives have been coined in the last few weeks against the backdrop of the Bihar elections. These narratives are of "Hindu Pakistan", "forces of intolerance", and the "situation is worse than Emergency". The people campaigning on these lines are decidedly anti-Modi and have propounded these theories when the formation of a Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre started looking imminent. Many of them had then claimed that they will leave the country if Modi became the prime minister. Like true followers of Karl Marx, these "secular-liberal" intellectual elites started with a conclusion and all their arguments now are directed at proving it.
This same campaign had been run right before the Delhi elections. A narrative of insecurity was created for the middle class and minorities. There were reports of theft at some Delhi churches which became front page news in all the national English dailies and got editorial mention in international newspapers. The "secular-intellectual" elite and NGO activists came out on the streets to save the "secular" credentials of the country. Prime Minister Modi personally called upon the Delhi police commissioner and HRD minister Smriti Irani even visited a missionary school in south Delhi. All this happened in the backdrop of the Delhi elections. Since the poll results, no newspaper has reported a single case of theft or attack on Delhi churches.
The point is simple. First, the narratives like "forces of intolerance" are planted with the intention of creating an environment of fear. Second, the anti-Modi forces are desperate to break the personality cult of Modi who after a year in office has established himself as incorruptible. The aim of these narratives is to trap the prime minister; if he responds he will by implication accept his fault, and if he does not, he acquiesces with the so-called forces of intolerance. Third, the anti-Modi alliance had been a beneficiary of the last regime and the members share a certain level confidence.
They are very uncomfortable under the present government, its lexicon and style of functioning. Fourth, many of them waited for 16 months to make inroads into the present regime and decided to stand in opposition when that did not materialise.
Fifth, many of them are spent forces and are simply paying the price of loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi family. It is not just a coincidence that the whole debate of #AwardWapasi began with Nayantara Sahgal who is not just a beneficiary but a member of the Nehru family.
While constructing and deconstructing narratives according to convenience is not a new tactic, it is disheartening is to see a fine mind like Arun Shourie getting trapped by it and, knowingly or unknowing, becoming a pawn.
On India Today TV, Shourie claimed that Modi is turning India into a Pakistan, that Modi had failed as the moral leader of the country, that the Dadri lynching was the worst thing to have happened in independent India, and that there is an Emergency-like situation in the country.
What is sad is not that Shourie chose to criticise, but that an individual known for original thinking had to borrow from a ghost narrative in his criticism of the government. The phrases used by him have been the talisman of the "secular-liberal" intellectual elite for the last three to four weeks. With the "secular" narrative losing its old sheen, the buzzword is now "rationalist" and with "Sanghis" failing to evoke either sniggers or disgust the jumla is "forces of intolerance".
It is a rather creative game of words that keeps the unsuspecting constantly in a state of doubt and nodding. It can also be seen that there is no direct or indirect involvement of RSS organisations in the events mentioned by the "secular-liberal elite" as symbol of intolerance.
While the use of such narratives is expected, I am surprised how Shourie could get himself to call Dadri "the worst incident of hatred in independent India". He spent his life writing against a certain brand of politics but has sadly decided to toe the the "secular" line now. With an increasing list of people like Shourie - NR Narayana Murthi, Kiran Maumdar-Shaw, Raghuram Rajan – who have been taken in by the new narrative, it is time for the government to think of engaging those who started as well-wishers and ended up on the other side.