Aatish Taseer reads Narendra Modi wrong

Aatish Taseer reads Narendra Modi wrong

Aatish Taseer, son of veteran journalist Taveleen Singh and Pakistani politician Salman Taseer (who was assassinated in January 2011), was interviewed in the Open Magazine by its editor, Prasannarajan.  I would like to offer my comments to Aatish Taseer’s answer to the last question in the interview:

Q. Of India, do you wish the way thing were, politically, different?

A- I’ve always thought of politics as an expression of other things. And, as such, I can see in the politics of India many things that worry me about her more generally. It is, for instance, no surprise to me that the Gandhi family enjoyed the power they did.

That, to me, was the political manifestation of a historical condition; I felt it was inseparable from India’s distrust of herself, from her easy servility before the white man. It is for this reason that the Modi election was so important. It was a rare instance of India trusting to herself, throwing up one of her own, one who did not have the blessings of the West at all.

And I was pretty dazzled to hear him speak at the U.N. I liked his style and confidence. He seemed so much more urbane and serious than many who had been educated in the West. But I can’t say this is true of the people who surround the prime minister. Modi needs in fact to build an intellectual base of his party from scratch; his people don’t sound good; they sound limited. If he is to succeed, he must provide an intellectual alternative to the power of the English-speaking classes; and, as an extension, the Congress Party. Otherwise, there’ll be a lot of Bharat Mata ki Jai and little else.


Let me take the second-last sentence in the answer: “If (Narendra Modi) is to succeed, he must provide an intellectual alternative to the power of the English-speaking classes; and, as an extension, the Congress Party.”My comments follow:

  1. There is an existing and dominant paradigm which has been created by an English-speaking class. Clearly such a paradigm, by definition, is one which has little roots in the civilisation and cultural norms and heritage of India. That this class has been allowed to have ruled India for so long is a very poor reflection on those occupying the intellectual space.
  2. Aatish Taseer is saying that the English-speaking class is an extension of the Congress Party. Does this not speak very badly of the English-speaking class because they willingly co-opted themselves to an electoral party?  Can it not be said that in the process, their whole thinking, allegedly intellectual, would be determined about how it would affect the Congress Party?
  3. For providing an effective intellectual alternative, what is first needed is to list out the content of the present paradigm.  I think this is primarily the task of people like Aatish Taseer to do so.  Those in the Hindutva camp will make their contribution – but they will do so from their own worldview.  I presume Aatish Taseer has a more rounded worldview—whether or not he accepts the Hindutva worldview.
  4. Such a task cannot be left to a person who is within the sphere of electoral politics.  By the very nature of electoral politics, such a person will conduct himself/herself on the basis of winning an election. It is the task of those in the intellectual space to work out the contents of the revised paradigm and present it to the people, including to politicians, for discussion.And based on the feedback, the contents can evolve and take a concrete shape.  It should be understood that intellectuals are supposed to have been trained to undertake the task, and they have the time to do it, instead of a politician who has to undertake many programmes at the grass root level, for the party and the people in his constituency, and sometimes run the government.
  1. In putting the responsibility on Narendra Modi, I wonder if Aatish Taseer thinks that his role starts only after a paradigm has been suggested.  In which case, I think this is not exactly fulfilling the dharma of an intellectual.  Such people should realise that their pecuniary existence comes from the society, and that they should be loyal to that society, and that they owe a duty to the society which sustains them.

But the very last sentence of Aatish Taseer’s interview does not give me confidence that he understands his own role in the society.  The electoral change that has happened is due to the actions taken by the entire Indian society.  The English-speaking class, being an extension of the Congress party, made a serious and concerted effort to ensure that that change does not take place – for the sake of their own survival in terms of continuing to occupy the intellectual space, and continuing to make a living to support their present, extravagant lifestyles.

Aatish Taseer also reveals a lot when he says: “[Narendra Modi] seemed so much more urbane and serious than many who had been educated in the West.” Mr. Aatish must know that Narendra Modi has been around for a very long time and to those who have observed him, this is nothing new.  On the contrary, it is reflection of Aatish Taseer’s own failure that he has come to realise this only now.

And then Mr. Aatish continues: “But I can’t say this is true of the people who surround the prime minister.”  This is also an indication of his lack of knowledge of what is happening in India, and the rise of the new ideology which will be a guiding force for the new paradigm to replace the current paradigm that is on its last legs, and that has led the country to the brink.

Narendra Modi has written about his mentors and also about whom he has received inspiration from.  Many of Modi’s mentors are no more, but they have all been from the Sangh background, as he himself is.  Some of those whom he has received inspiration from, like Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo, are those who have also inspired the Sangh.

And so it is not surprising that with little or no understanding of all these factors—indeed, I can list several more but the ones I have listed are sufficient to give a broad idea—Aatish Taseer ends up trivializing the whole thing with this flippant statement: “Otherwise, there’ll be a lot of Bharat Mata ki Jai and little else.”