A vociferous section of BJP’s support base, especially those pejoratively described as “Internet Hindus”, are clearly disappointed that Arun Shourie did not make it to the cabinet. In last few weeks, Shourie’s ubiquity in TV studios and his cleverly done soundbytes on the likely contours of Modi Sarkar, delivered in his characteristically animated style, created an impression that his entry to Modi’s key team was a foregone conclusion. But seasoned BJP watchers never viewed his elevation as inevitable.
Shourie, without an iota of doubt, is one of India’s top notch public intellectuals. An entire generation of BJP supporters, with any sort of pretense to deep thinking on socio-political issues, owes it to this intrepid man for shaping their worldview. Arguably, Shourie can be described as the intellectual progenitor of rightwing resurgence that took shape in 90’s, the apogee of which was the massive mandate BJP won on May 16th.
His dense prose may have been uncharitably described as pamphleteering by the conceited Nehruvian Intellectual establishment but Shourie’s books and hundreds of lengthy op-ed interventions continue to constitute the core manifesto of right-wing nationalist discourse. His extraordinarily poignant personal situation (struggle is eloquently captured in one of his books) justifiably adds to the larger than life image that he enjoys among his die-hard supporters.
But his political modus operandi has been slightly murky and truth be told does not add any luster to this much feted public intellectual.
After BJP’s humiliating defeat in the 2009 election, Shourie went public on his disenchantment with the party. He turned acrimonious and acerbic. While some of the reasons that Shourie attributed to electoral catastrophe that befell the party in 2009 sounded valid, it cannot not be denied that Shourie was very much a key part of BJP decision making group till the run up to 2009 elections.
BJP’s shrill opposition to Indo-US Nuclear agreement created an image deficit – party unfortunately came to be viewed as a disruptionist formation hell-bent on sabotaging India’s energy agenda even as the venal dispensation of Manmohan Singh managed to win the battle of PR perception. Shourie was among those who shaped the maximalist position that the BJP pursued in opposing the deal. The wisdom in relentlessly pursuing an issue with near zero political capital and complete inability to reflect BJP’s nuanced position pointed to total lack of connect with public sentiments.
Over the last 2-3 years, save for the occasional appearance in non-political platforms, where he is much in demand for impromptu speeches interspersed with sharp wit and cerebral content, Shourie had pretty much led a reclusive existence. For all their flaws, party’s much reviled establishmentarians and ground level cadres were waging a spirited fight against the criminality of UPA but Shourie was mostly missing in action.
And occasionally, when he did emerge out of woodwork, he slightly embarrassed the party, by what can be construed as the proverbial washing the dirty linen in public. While normal norms are generally meant for lesser mortals and it is important that freewheeling views of a freethinker like Shourie should be encouraged (serves as a moral compass), it might have been possible that influential party leaders and section of Sangh were not too amused.
A very smart man that he is, Shourie never completely burnt his bridges with the larger movement. He never castigated the Sangh and had the foresight to tentatively invest in the idea of Modi. It is generally known that Modi is a qualified admirer of Shourie and known to seek his counsel on matters related to statecraft. So why didn’t Shourie still make it to the ministry despite this? Several plausible theories have been floated.
One theory is that an influential section of BJP and Sangh was not too excited at the prospect of Shourie coming back to the thick of things as quickly as it could have happened. And was it possible that this opposition found resonance with Modi? As a longtime observer of Modi, one constant feature of his politics has been the emphasis he has placed on restoring the primacy of party worker and trust he places on capabilities of loyal party workers. Besides he has clearly shown a preference for deferring to collective wisdom of party leadership.
Another theory, though too many people are skeptical about it – Shourie backing out on his own volition as his personal situation did not permit him the luxury of a full time role. I am personally inclined to believe that this may have been case, though some of his supporters are convinced that this theory is the handiwork of spin-doctors, close to a powerful BJP leader who is known to have a nurtured a good media ecosystem.
Yet another theory that is gaining traction is that a key portfolio has been kept warm for Shourie and he will be inducted after a ‘cooling the heels’ period. Technicalities related to finding a Rajya Sabha seat (BJP has limited options here) might have also delayed his entry by a month or two.
As things stand now, his absence is unlikely to have any short term implications in terms of ability to deliver governance. Unlike in the past, BJP under Modi comes across as very well prepared and has already hit the ground running. But how this entire issue shapes up will be watched keenly by party supporters.
Shourie within the government would have been potent. Of course Shourie’s transformative ideas and deep understanding of system would have proven an invaluable asset to Team Modi. But more importantly Modi’s communication task would have been made easier given enormous credibility that Shourie carries with a section of the middle class and business community. It’s always good to remember that massive verdicts can turn sour quickly. And several key members of Modi cabinet are those who are in no position to win any popularity contest, either within party or outside.
This government will be all about Narendrabhai but Shourie’s reassuring presence could have helped provide the restless supporters of the party that extra bit of solace.
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