‘It is simple: Modi is the BJP, the BJP is Modi’

Critically yours Rajdeep Sardesai feels India is in need of an Opposition that plays its role without fear or favour, Photo: Ram Kumar S
Critically yours Rajdeep Sardesai feels India is in need of an Opposition that plays its role without fear or favour. Photo: Ram Kumar S

Edited Excerpts from the interview :

You have been quite objective in your assessment of Modi — especially his failure to rein in the likes of Praveen Togadia during the bloody days of 2002. Do you think that the same intolerant streaks remain part of the Modi persona even now?
As I see it, leaders evolve over time. Modi realised that he had to make a decisive break from 2002 if he had to make a transition in 2014. To that extent, Modi has evolved from what he was in 2002. He knew that he could not realise his great dream without making a conscious shift. He is by far the Supreme Leader (of the saffron brigade) and the entire Sangh Parivar has willingly subsumed its identity for his projection. He is no Vajpayee who could run a coalition with dexterity; he believes in a completely centralised model and will rather have faceless but earnest bureaucrats take his orders and work through them. Now, he wants to project himself as more than just a Hindutva icon.

There is a fear that this may breed authoritarianism of the worst kind. Former BJP ideologue KN Govindacharya has openly criticised the onset of the personality cult and sycophancy in the party rank and file. How do you view the unfolding scenario?
It is simple: Modi is the BJP, the BJP is Modi. The way the whole phenomenon has asserted itself makes that unambiguously clear. But, mind you, the RSS for one is unlikely to be cowed down by all this; it will apply its own brand of checks and balances. The key issue will be whether ideas, institutions and other things will be harnessed to the personality cult.

After watching the Modi government for six months, do you still view 2014 as the election that changed India? Modi hasn’t abandoned several of the UPA programmes and many say that it is still the UPA in another guise at the helm.
What I actually meant is that the election (2014) has the potential to change India with an unabashedly right-of-centre regime coming into being, one that is comfortable with the corporates and talks of using new technology and exploring fresh avenues. At the moment, the jury is out on whether Modi will be able to deliver. But accepting anything uncritically will be suicidal.

Appropriating historical figures and saffronisation of education has begun in earnest. There has also been a not-so-thinly-veiled attack on alternative, liberal viewpoints. Your comments.
It has been an established fact that wherever saffron seeks ascendancy, it tries to determine and reorient the content of syllabi. It is a dangerous trend and worthies like Dinanath Batra exemplify the danger. Further, this whole Gandhi versus Nehru debate is ridiculous. Why cannot we accept both Nehru and Gandhi, as products of the national movement and not at variance with each other? This anxiety to build massive statues of leaders must also stop. The kind of money being used for that could have financed hundreds and thousands of primary schools.

How do you think of the way the media is dealing with the new regime?
We used the Diwali Milan to get selfies clicked with the prime minister. It was ridiculous. We should be aware that for the ruling formation, it is always a question of “us versus them”. It is something we must guard against at all costs. Our job is to keep asking questions.

The Congress is in a state of terminal decline and the Left faces a huge existential dilemma. What role do you see for the Opposition?
The Congress should have Sachin Pilot nursing Rajasthan and Jyotiraditya Scindia working in Madhya Pradesh. Even Rahul needs to go to Lucknow and rebuild from a scratch there. The Opposition must play its role, without fear or favour.

How do you see the ongoing fracas between the BJP and the Shiv Sena?
The Sena has been put in its place. It has been told that it cannot cross the Laxman Rekha.

Looking back on the cash-for-votes scam in 2008, you have expressed reservations against sting operations. If such a situation were to come up again, will you be keen on doing another sting?
I think the problem then was that we could not maintain sufficient distance between us and the BJP. They were able to direct the operation rather than our reporters doing it. I strongly believe that sting operations should be used sparingly, with the national interest foremost in mind. For example, it can be done on a judge if he is found to be corrupt and only after all other options have been tried out. I will never recommend a sting dictated by a political party… I may do it, but not with a political party guiding me. That is for sure.


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