As part of the research for my book, I Am a Troll, I interviewed the former Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Shourie – a man who has also been viciously trolled on social media by ‘bhakts’ when on the Karan Thapar show he first went public with his criticism of the Narendra Modi government. The interview with Shourie, who was a minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government from 1999-2004, was conducted in the summer of 2016 and the edited transcript is being published in The Wire for the first time.
Swati Chaturvedi: Narendra Modi is the only one among world leaders who follows abusive handles. You and your son, who has cerebral palsy, were attacked and abused by these handles followed by him when you criticised him in an interview to Karan Thapar. They even said that you deserved your son’s illness as your karma for criticising Modi.
Arun Shourie: Yes, by following them Modi is giving the message: I am following it. You are following, then you are encouraging it, saying ‘Bhaiyya main dekh raha hoon tum kitni galiyan dal rahe ho’ (Boys, I’m watching, to see how many abuses you come up with). Next I hear he had a reception for them. You are receiving the same fellows in the PM’s official residence. Then the encouraged fellows put up their photos with Modi. Next I heard one of them had been made the chief of the BJP’s IT cell. So obviously it is now a governmental operation, a party operation. And, this is one of the many instruments being used to silence voices in the whole country. So abuse is one, denial of access – just see now in Rajasthan, the Rajasthan Patrika has been denied advertisements by the state government because they wrote something about the central government.
SC: You fought the Emergency. I was not even born then. Is this anything at all like that era?
Shourie: It’s a decentralised emergency. What we are going towards is a pyramidal decentralised mafia state, where local goons will belabour anyone whom they think is doing something wrong. The central people will look the other way. The central people will provide a rationale for the goondas at the local level. Like “gau rakshaks’’, like “love jihad” – this becomes the rationale for me to beat up anybody. It’s not love for the cow but just an instrument for domination.
The one big difference is at that time Mrs [Indira] Gandhi still used the law. Now it is not the law. These people are acting outside the law. This is true fascism because you say what is the law? I am the law. All this action is being done outside the government, worse, things are being done inside the government to choke the existing laws – for instance the Right to Information (RTI) is being choked, the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is being denigrated unless it’s in your favour. The judiciary is being denigrated, therefore you keep the vacancies going the same way, probably about a hundred vacancies. The judiciary keeps saying, and these people keep denying on one ground or another. And, to hell with the people who suffer because of want of courts.
SC: Ashis Nandy once wrote a piece after interviewing Modi where he said he felt he had met a textbook fascist. You know Modi well, you even campaigned for him to become the PM, would you agree with him?
Shourie: Yes I have said so but there is more, I would take it further and say that Modi falls in the category in psychology of something called the dark triad – that’s the characterisation I would give him but, he also seems to be falling in to what many of these persons do – which is [to get] easily frightened. You see a bully is very easily frightened. Just see what happened as a result of the Delhi elections and the Bihar elections. Modi gave up all talk of “vikas, vikas” immediately. Populist schemes, all the populist schemes, he embraced. It showed how frightened he became just after an electoral defeat. And the second the only purpose is to win elections – and for that any means are OK, any means, and, this intimidation and abuse are one of the instruments. Anybody who opposes Modi is immediately embroiled in cases – like Pradeep Sharma, the [IAS] official in Gujarat, and Teesta Setalvad. A third instrument towards the same end is all Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to be put in the dock and then to be intimidated and troubled. It is always the case with the dark triad. That is how they justify what they are doing. “Sab mujh koh yeh kar rahe hain, isilye meh kar raha hoon” (Everyone did this to me, that is why I am doing this). That is justification