January 25, 2020
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Delhi Diary

I am not a diehard Modi supporter yet. Nor am I a fan. What I am presently doing is watching...

Delhi Diary

Yours Brickbattered

I’m not unused to being trashed. But even by my standards, I am taking a real pasting on the social media and the Letters pages of Outlook. It seems I have not merely sold myself, I have sold myself short. Turncoats, my critics say, do these things, but I’m a particularly shameless turncoat, a “crook for sale”. Since my attitude to criticism is Voltairean and since I have a thick skin, I accept the brickbats. However, I feel I should point out that for the best part of five months—starting late December 2013—I have been pleading in favour of Modi arguing he be given the ‘chance’ he so ardently asks for. Judge him by the present and future rather than his past—that has been my refrain.

Which does not make me an admirer of Mr Modi. Call me what you will, I am happy to admit that I changed my view of the Strong Leader because I could no longer ignore the writing on the wall. In one of my recent Diary pieces, I revealed that in the May 2014 general election, I pressed the NOTA button. Therefore, this supposedly Sonia-Rahul chamcha did not vote for the Congress. Neither, of course, did I vote for the BJP—that would be a bridge too far.

I am an independent (no giggling please) columnist. While I have my biases and preferences, I am not indifferent to public opinion. Or at least that part of public opinion which voted for Modi largely because they wanted Manmohan/Sonia out.

I am not a diehard Modi supporter yet. Nor am I a fan. What I am presently doing is watching the prime ministership of Narendra Modi like a hawk. And it is in that context I asserted that his early weeks in office had been promising.

IE to Say

Lots of changes in The Indian Express. Mr Viveck Goenka, the chairman, promises ‘upgradations’ besides many more ‘exciting changes’. I look forward to seeing them.

It’s hardly a secret that my relations with the previous editor (Shekhar Gupta) were strained. He threatened to sue me for Rs 500 crore for an interview I had given Hartosh Singh Bal of Open magazine—a threat never carried out, incidentally. However, he did manage to get Open, under its new right-wing editors, to apologise on my behalf. When I wrote a letter in response, the editor ack­nowledged receipt but refused to print it. I let the matter pass since Sevanti Ninan in Hoot published the letter, and since the whole idea of someone else apologising for my interview was absurd.

Shekhar and I are poles apart in our worldview and editorial orientation. I am a pseudo-secular softie and he a Davoswallah who worships the free market ideal. I make no value judgements. Indeed, our respective polarised positions represent the real strength of the Indian media: its diversity. As long as this is maintained, the freedom of the media in India is safe. Alas, I see disturbing signs of the diversity being curtailed in favour of monopoly and its attendant rightist thrust. I must say at the mom­ent Shekhar’s ‘bash the jholawallahs’ approach seems to have the upper hand with a government in power which shares Shekhar’s view.

But remember, India is a poor country, unlike the United States and Europe where the dominant class is the middle class. In India, the dominant class is the poor class. I am backing the poor.

Football Practice

There is a football fanatic in Narendra Modi’s team of advisors. It seems 200 copies of Sir Alex Ferguson’s bestselling autobiography have been bought and distributed to top bureaucrats in North and South Block. For those living on Mars, Ferguson was the legendary manager of the Manchester United football team for 27 years. And under his charge, Manchester United won the English Premier League 13 times. He is widely considered as the greatest manager in the history of British soccer.

The former United Kingdom prime minister, Tony Blair, once consulted Ferguson on how to deal with his talented but troublesome deputy, Gordon Brown. Blair asked Ferguson: “What would you do if your best player won’t do what you want him to do and just does his own thing?” Sir Alex advised: “Chuck him out.”

So, what message is prime minister Modi sending his babus? Sir Alex’s success in Manchester United is being attributed to his ruthlessness. Clearly, the PM wants his bureaucrats to emulate Sir Alex’s habits, besides coming to office at 9 am.

Editor in OT

At 8 am on June 25, Edi­­tor will be operated by Dr Prabhakar at Friendicoes (what would we do without Friendicoes?). The surgery, says the doctor, is fairly serious with a 50:50 chance of success. Guruji, who helps me with my yoga, and I will start praying at 7.59 on the critical date. I hope an agnostic’s prayers count.

Last week...

I heard someone is planning a feature film based on my book on Sanjay Gandhi.

Vinod Mehta is editorial chairman, Outlook, and its founding editor-in-chief; E-mail your diarist: vmehta [AT] outlookindia [DOT] com

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