If the Congress high command had read Shekhar Gupta's National Interest column regularly, the party would not have suffered the disaster it has. But either because of smugness or arrogance, complacence or callousness, the party leadership, at all levels, thought that it does not require any analysis or advice. After all, Shekhar Gupta is a media person, and the media is always hostile to Congress. Moreover, the party has innate wisdom and does not require unsolicited guidance.
Shekhar has never claimed to be a clairvoyant. But this book elevates him to that semi-spiritual level. I have been one of the most regular readers of his column for all these years. In fact, his writing has often helped me sharpen my understanding of whatever is going on. His sequential narrative, his incisive logic and his grasp of complex events has made him one of the foremost journalists of our time.
Shekhar wrote on December 22, 2007, even before the election results for the assembly in Gujarat, "If Modi wins on Sunday, the stage will be set for an ultimate Modi versus Sonia battle, even if Advani continues to be the BJP's shadow prime minister, Modi will then be the key campaigner. His kind of politics, his style of mobilization, his cryptographic saffronism and even his short-sleeved kurtas will then define the BJP campaigns in subsequent general elections. In the long run, too, he will emerge as Rahul Gandhi's main challenger... even his worst critics won't deny that if he wins (the assembly election), he will pretty much define the agenda for national politics in the future... Modi's rise will completely change the form, style, substance and essence of BJP's politics."
Did the Congress high command, or at least Rahul and flamboyant leaders like Kapil Sibal or Jairam Ramesh or Digvijaya Singh read this column seven years ago? If they did, how did they react? Did they even introspect or just choose to reject the futuristic projection made by Shekhar Gupta? Did they think that the media is simplifying complex national issues or did they think the column National Interest is actually not in national interest? Nobody can say that Shekhar was promoting Modi or was indifferent to the carnage in Gujarat.
Immediately after the riots broke out following Godhra, Shekhar wrote, "The best thing about the bachelorhood (reference to Narendra Modi's marital status) is that you are not likely to have grandchildren who embarrass you with questions like, 'Pitashri, what did you do when Gujarat was burning in 2002?' It is unlikely that Modi, or others who so crudely suggest that Muslims deserved some retribution, would see the self-defeating short-sightedness of this logic."
Shekhar Gupta's column has often taken Modi head on and, in fact, attributed the defeat of the BJP in 2004 to the absence of 'rajdharma' when the systematic killing of Muslims began in Gujarat. Interestingly, the Congress and the so-called secular and Left parties thought the NDA was defeated because of its pro-liberal economic policies. In their campaign, they had not highlighted the terrible communal divide that 2002 brought about.
And yet Shekhar had seen the wind blowing in favour of Modi after 2007 and had alerted and warned the Congress. But after the surprise victory with the stunning 206 seats in the Lok Sabha, the Congress concluded that all such warnings could be rubbished. Hadn't people reposed faith in the Grand Old Party of India and its family? That led to smugness and political arrogance. But Shekhar never gave up.
Within seven months of coming to power, UPA-II was again warned by Shekhar, "We do not have a pressing reason or provocation to assess the performance of UPA-II exactly at this point of time." He wrote that there is a clear impression that the government is stalling. "Why? It could be complacence: an easily won second term, an economy pretty much reviving by itself, a year of respite from terror. It could be laziness and fatigue... but there is also another problem that bedevils this government. It is its very surprising inability, even lack of inclination, to talk to people, either to explain its actions, or to create public opinion to back its policy." After the catastrophic defeat two months ago, the Congress leadership, particularly Rahul Gandhi, began to say that the party failed to communicate with people. But if he or his hi-fi advisors with American qualifications had read Shekhar Gupta's column and tried to modestly learn from it, they would have corrected the course and saved the party from humiliation.
Not many journalists possess the crystal ball. Shekhar has it and even when he is not writing his column, he keeps looking into it. Like many people these days constantly keep watching and fiddling with their Androids. But there is a qualitative difference. Shekhar's mind is not cluttered like many of these gadget users. Many addicted to Twitter cannot conceptualize anything beyond 140 letters. Just as many BTechs and MBAs cannot comprehend the larger and multidimensional picture of dynamic Indian politics. The spread of social media has brought the so called information revolution to information chaos, with hyper intolerance rather than enlightened debate. The high-tech IITians and the hi-fi IIM types, with their NRI counterparts in the US, have created a new philistine global constituency with pretensions of being intellectuals. They are heavily opinionated, generally ill-informed and have no sense of history.
By no stretch of imagination can Shekhar be described as a Left sympathizer. He may not be a Tea Party right wing neo-liberal, but clearly he belongs to the right. Yet he is not enamoured with the middle class and NRI-driven "hate politics" tendency. He does not look down upon rustic politicians in India. In fact, he has immense appreciation of politicians like Sitaram Kesri, Zail Singh, Mayawati and even Balasaheb Thackeray. Shekhar himself is a son of the soil and has done his journalism also by remaining loyal to that soil. Despite his close association with the corporate class and his advocacy of capitalism, he has not been trapped in the superficial and rather mediocre higher middle class culture which flaunts its newly acquired wealth in the most obscene manner. It is this class which has contempt for the poor, underprivileged and neglected. Shekhar has contempt for those who have converted poverty into the ideology of 'povertarianism' and who advocate distribution of poverty in the name of equality and social justice.
Shekhar has a fabulous memory, worldwide acquaintances with the high and mighty, a passion for cricket and total recall of the matches, an interest in Bollywood, knowledge of the complexities of global politics with its fascinating economic dimensions, and personal experience of reporting from conflict zones, even at the risk of life. The zest for life with all its splendour and desire to tell it all, through writing or through Walk the Talk, make Shekhar Gupta what and who he is.
He has identified the average Indian's angst and his aspirations. Across all classes and castes, across all urban or rural areas, indeed, the whole of India's prime mover is the aspiration for a better material life. Not just 'roti, kapda, makan', but also 'bijli, sadak, pani' and better education, health and even entertainment. It is India's 'dil maange more'. That aspirational character of India is the running theme of Anticipating India.
The crystal ball that Shekhar has should be the envy of all journalists, and actually of all politicians too. They can at least seek to know and learn from what he sees in that futuristic and mysterious ball.