The BJP leader stridently opposed reservations, only for the Mandal Commission report to be implemented. He pinned his hopes on 2014, only to be sidelined again
In recent weeks, with the release of his new book, former Union Minister and journalist Arun Shourie has been giving interviews about the Narendra Modi-dispensation as well his experiences as the editor of The Indian Express in the 1980s and 1990s.
Shourie has also been talking about his association with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and serving as the Union Minister for Communication and Information Technology between 1999-2004 under the government led by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Of all his statements, what stands out is that Shourie now claims that he misjudged VP Singh and Modi and supported them as prime ministerial candidates – Singh in 1989 and Modi in 2014.
In the 1990s, Shourie was among the leading voices arguing against reservations in educational institutions and government jobs for members of the Other Backward Classes. His editorials in The Indian Express and articles instigated students and youngsters to oppose the implementation of quotas.
At that time, though the BJP supported the VP Singh government, its student wing and youth wing violently opposed the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations for reservations for members of the Other Backward Classes.
The Congress and Singh-headed Janata Dal were bitter enemies. Singh had become a hero by resigning from the Congress party because of the Bofors scandal involving defence purchases, laying the ground for him to be appointed prime minister in 1989.
Shourie befriended Singh and remained his ardent supporter till the Mandal Commission Report was implemented. Shourie turned against Singh till his government was pulled down by the BJP.
Shourie continued his tirade against reservations as an ardent supporter of the theory of merit, the dubious social science theory that Dwija intellectuals constructed in the 1990s. They even claimed that the caste system was a construct of British colonialism.
Shourie promoted many upper-caste intellectuals to write articles in The Indian Express about the merit theory, pushing the dodgy idea that caste had not existed in India until the British conducted a caste census.
He then turned his pen against the architect of the Indian Constitution BR Ambedkar. Shourie wrote an obnoxious book titled Worshipping False Gods: Ambedkar, and the Facts Which Have Been Erased. The pro-Mandal forces had no voice in the English media and no national English newspapers seemed ready to publish their counterpoints. Shourie, thus, became an intellectual hero of the anti-Mandal forces.
This was when a small Telugu fortnightly Nalupu, which means “ black”, published an article I wrote titled “Parannabukkulaku Prathibha Ekkadi” or Where is Merit Among Parasites? The article was published in a pamphlet that became popular in the fight for Mandal reservations.
In our view, Shourie was a living version of Kautilya, the scheming political theorist of the fourth century Before Common Era. We believed that members of the Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes should battle Shourie’s anti-Mandalism to the end.
As part of this campaign, Gaddar, the revolutionary bard, also wrote a song titled Arun Shouriega Neeku Aakalannademeruka, which translates to, O, Arun Shourie how do you know the pain of hunger.
Shourie, ‘a BJP intellectual’
After the Singh-led government fell in November 1990 and the Babri Masjid was demolished in December 1992, Shourie became a full-time BJP intellectual. Shourie took charge as the disinvestment minister under Vajpayee with the single-minded agenda of shifting jobs from the government sector to the private sector to fulfil his anti-reservation goal. He sold several government companies.
It is not immediately clear when Shourie discovered Modi, who is a member of the Other Backward Classes, as an ally of his ideology. Was it during his anti-reservation campaign or veteran BJP leader LK Advani’s Rath Yatra to step up pressure for a Ram temple to be built in Ayodhya at the site of the Babri Masjid, where Modi was an event manager?
Shourie has, since, time and again called Modi an event manager. What was the assessment Shourie made when he decided support Modi’s candidature for prime minister in 2013? Perhaps, the assumption was that if Modi were to become prime minister, Shourie and others like him, who held degrees from foreign universities and who had worked for the World Bank, would run the system.
Instead, Modi dropped Shourie, Advani, BJP politicians Murali Manohar Joshi and Yashwant Sinha like hot potatoes.
This was the first shock for Shourie. He probably assumed that a BJP-ruled government with a full majority would abolish reservations. But Modi’s vote base is where Shourie’s enemy base is. Though Modi continues Shourie’s disinvestment policy, the beneficiaries have changed. Most shockingly, Modi is worshipping Shourie’s “false god” Ambedkar.
The Shourie of the 1990s must have thought that Ambedkar’s emergence as a new deity would be a passing phenomenon. But his false god has more followers than his real god, Mohandas Gandhi.
Another of his gods, Vivekananda, only exists in the occasional quotes by Hindutva supporters or the Shashi Tharoor-type Congress-United Nations-trained intellectuals. But Ambedkar graces the homes of Dalits, Adivasis, Other Backward Castes, and is revered at intellectual forums, festive occasions, court judgements, university discourses and newspaper columns as the saviour of democracy.
No one buys Shourie’s argument that Ambedkar was not the real writer of the Constitution. Shourie, as he himself declared in the title of a recent book, is Preparing for Death, a thoroughly frustrated a Hindu prani – living being – while Ambedkar, who initiated the theory and practice of anti-meritocracy and positive democracy, occupies a place of national pride. All of Shourie’s anti-Ambedkar hopes have been dashed down to the ground.
To Dwija anti-Mandal intellectuals, Modi is a merit-less OBC. But despite his uncertain educational background, he has shown them their place. If Shourie had misjudged Singh for unleashing the forces of Mandal, he also misjudged Modi for sidelining intellectuals like him and ruling the country in his own way.
One only pities Shourie’s understanding of India and Ambedkar, the real god of Indian democracy. Without Ambedkar, VP Singh’s Mandal politics would not have come to pass. Without Mandal politics, Modi would not have been prime minister today. No wonder Shourie’s voice on the national stage has grown feeble.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist, social activist and author of Why I am Not a Hindu, Post-Hindu India and Buffalo Nationalism. He was very active in the pro-Mandal movement.