It’s not often that you come across a book by a journalist that’s not just delightfully written but also insightful, and even, eye-opening.
However, the book I want to draw your attention to this morning goes one step further. Rajdeep Sardesai’s ‘2014: The Election that changed India’ is outspokenly candid and forthright in its assessments and deliciously indiscreet in some of its revelations.
Two of the best chapters are on Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. It’s here Rajdeep’s verdict is astonishingly unequivocal and blunt. He doesn’t mince his words.
He says it boldly and unflinchingly. On 2002 and the question of Narendra Modi’s competence, Rajdeep writes: “Was chief minister Modi really trying to stop the riots? … My verdict is that the Modi government was utterly incompetent because it was aware that the Godhra violence could set off a cycle of vengeance and yet did not do enough to stop it … what is probably true is that in February 2002, the real boss of Gujarat was not Modi but the VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia … the best way to describe Modi’s approach to the initial riot days is to say that it smacked of wilful political self-preservation which cost hundreds of political lives.”
Beyond incompetence, was Mr Modi also complicit? That, after all, is the greater charge that’s been raised by the Congress and in the courts. Rajdeep’s clean chit is not pure white. He has clearly expressed doubts.
This question “is slightly more difficult to answer”, he writes. “Lower Courts have cleared Modi of any direct involvement and though there are troubling questions over the nature of the investigations, I shall not quarrel with the judicial system.” So, doubts remain. On Rahul Gandhi, Rajdeep is equally outspoken.
“Rahul Gandhi was a prisoner of the very system that spawned him” and “Rahul has miserably failed to build a political team of substance”. Of the political movements and dharnas Rahul was involved in, Rajdeep writes: “His agitational mode lacked credibility and consistency. He almost seemed to flit in and out of movement.”
However, the damning conclusion is this: “Rahul clearly seemed to lead two lives. In the day he would engage with thinkers and activists, but at night he seemed to draw comfort from being in the company of family friends from the glamorous Page Three set. Perhaps the India-Bharat divide was most in evidence in his own personality, a split he was perpetually trying to reconcile both with himself and with his view of India.”
Ouch! Now to the delicious revelations. To prove Mr Modi has intimidated his ministers to the point of paralysis, Rajdeep recounts what happened when he met one of them for an interview for the book: “As I was approaching the minister’s residence, I got a call from one of his aides. ‘Please come from the back entrance?’
When I met the minister, he insisted that we not speak in his main hall but in the garden behind the residence. ‘You never know which room is bugged nowadays!’ the minister warned.” QED! However, the one I love is about Kamal Nath on the night in 1996 when Narasimha Rao, his PM and party chief, lost the elections.
Nath rang Rajdeep wanting to be interviewed. This is what happened: “a slightly inebriated Nath arrived at the venue. We did a live interview where he, as promised, lambasted the Rao government … ‘History has taught Rao a well-deserved lesson. Thank God the country is rid of him!’” Hic!
The views expressed by the author are personal