Arun Shourie and his inverted commas

Arun Shourie, who loves himself as “Commissioner of lost causes” has also named his latest book so. His has been a long life as a writer of “Research Papers.” All his writings have a distinct feel. He extensively quotes others, using their words under inverted commas, and then he joins those quotes with his own comments.

His style of writing, I presume, would require extensive readings and note taking and then organizing those notes into coherent thoughts. Whenever he has an agenda, he mines knowledge to speak his case. What the reader gets to read is – and one can imagine – innumerable sages, and saints, and seers, and experts, all speaking “for Arun Shourie” and forwarding and supporting his views.

Allies can be people as well as their thoughts. Either get someone to speak for you or quote their thoughts to back up what you want to say.

Besides, he can make other writers (and judgments) speak against themselves by breaking their writings in chunks (under inverted commas) and then filling it up with his own arguments and counter arguments.

This is clever. But, is it right? If someone is defeated out of his wits, is he really defeated out of his good ideas? Are clever talks really fruitful?

The problem with Arun Shourie’s style of writing is that it is not aimed to convince, but to arm. It helps the already converted and fortifies them with ideas and words, so they feel stronger with cogent arguments. Anyone antagonistic to Islam, or government(anti-congress before 2014) will devourer Shourie and feel elated to win arguments in their dreams, enlightened by Shourie.

In Bofors corruption case of 1987, the readers were not required to be convinced. The readers of India “knew all along” that Congress is corrupt. What they wanted were arguments and doubts played against each other. The more circumlocutory the articles in the papers, the more authentic it seemed and the more polarizing the effect. Readers lapped it up. The government fell. Shourie earned a name for himself and a party who rewarded him with office.

As a Disinvestment Minister in NDA Vajpayee Govt. in 2002, Arun Shourie sold Mumbai Airport Centaur Hotel to Batra Hospitality for Rs.83 crores, and in 4 months, Batra Hospitality resold the property to Sahara Hospitality Pvt. Ltd for Rs.115 crores. This is just one of his many highly suspicious actions. Chidambaram opened a case against him. BJP protected him till 2014.

It was a good strategy by Modi to distance Shourie, as any corruption laden Cabinet Minister would cloud his first term in office. Besides, “untainted” Chidambaram was watching. But in Modi second term, in 2019, and with Chidambaram freshly “tainted,” Modi paid a visit to the ailing Shourie at his residence in Lavasa, Pune. This is suspicious action, which shows there is more hidden in Shourie’s stance. Is he playing the Devils advocate? By positioning himself against the government, he may be weakening the opposition, because the ruling party can always negotiate in-camera with Shourie and blunt any opposition attack.

There is a history of Shourie. It is in his family.

Arun Shourie belongs to a family, what Modi calls – Andolan-Jivi, one who thrives on protests. Arun Shourie’s father HD Shourie, was a well-known consumer activist and also Civil Servant, and Padma Bhushan and Vibhushan. And HD Shourie got prominence via activism. His daughter, (Arun’s sister) is the journalist Nalini Singh, another activist.

Arun Shourie’s also had a counterpart – Ram Jethmalani and his periodic “10-Questions to Rajiv Gandhi” was a classic rabble-rouser. It created more doubts about Bofors than provide any lead. It may have been the first case where “Nation wants to know” theme was evolved, as only questions were raised and no answers were expected. Such doubt mongering always leads to demagoguery. Besides, it garnishes images of people who later become ambiguous themselves.

The brand of activism that Arun Shourie pursues worked best during paper media days – those days when Members of Parliament used to wave Newspapers in the Parliament (and also in state assemblies), as unqualified proof of scam or scandal. There was a time when national newspapers were held as credible and anything printed in it, as metaphor for fact and truth. But its claims were uncontested. Letters to the editor was the only means to point out their lacuna, but those too were sanitized.

These days of social media, no news goes uncontested. Every lede has innumerable counters. Although most comments are plain drivels and invective, but some write well to inform. But all-together, the waves and waves of voices, called “trolling,” those unending threads of gifs and emojis, help digress and deflect any issue to oblivion.

Modi is lucky because when he appeared on the national scene in 2012/2013, the social media climate was ripe in India. People were very active on Facebook and Twitter. Hence, Mody not only got support on the day of voting, but before and after and since, all thanks to Social Media. For any paper or media denouncing Modi, there exists armies in social media ready to troll support.

Contrast the above scenario with the time when Arun Shourie (and Ram Jethmalani) wrote in one paper, others followed and added to the scribe and there was no counter. At that time, the politicians did what politicians do, but the masses who read those “wordplays” had no recourse except chat among themselves.

Arun Shourie had his readership, his listeners, followers, admirers. It appears that he had a greed for an office, but when not rewarded by Modi in 2014, he turned against. But he made a mistake of making a very sharp U-turn. Till the eve of government formation in 2014, Arun Shourie was all for Modi. Post-this period, he became all against. This fact is not lost on his x-followers, now turned his haters. There are innumerable YouTube videos of 2014 and 2015, and his dichotomy is absolutely visible for all to view.

The problem now is – Arun Shourie may be speaking the truth, but his reputational loss has made him a Cassandra. Anything in this world can be argued from both sides – for and against. But any convincing argument’s first principal is – The Person Himself.

People may or may not read Arun Shourie for the truth. Who knows the truth? Everyone establishes his own. But Shourie’s brilliance is in his arguments. He brings into his writings a tremendous amount of erudition. His sources are big, heavy, ancient. But, unfortunately, he was once on a man to mouth it. Now when he attempts the same, it sounds like a cant.

Shourie shows how one can use others’ words, either to beat others or best himself.