“In 10 years, no other politician has gone through so much scrutiny as Modi has gone through. He was scrutinised by police, central government, CBI, court-appointed institution. And those who rake up this issue all the time, I want to tell them to read the Justice (VR) Krishna report (on Gujarat riots).”
That was what M. J. Akbar, noted journalist and once a Congress candidate from Kishanganj had to say when he joined the BJP on Saturday.
Akbar might have wanted everyone who doubted Modi’s record to read the Justice Krishna report.
But those who doubt Akbar are reading some of his own old articles about Modi and Gujarat. Like this one from 2002.
Modi is an ideologue, with a difference. The difference is hysteria. It is an edgy hysteria, which can mesmerise; and it easily melts into the kind of megalomania that makes a politician believe that he is serving the larger good through a destructive frenzy against a perceived enemy. In Hitler’s case, the enemy was the Jew; in Modi’s case the enemy is the Muslim. Such a politician is not a fool; in fact, he may have a high degree of intellect. But it is intellect unleavened by reason, and untempered by humanism.
To be fair that article was also harsh on the Congress for pursuing what Akbar felt was a strategy of soft Hindutva in Gujarat trying to woo Modi’s voters, smug taking Muslims for granted. But in an election season where a Rahul Gandhi was slammed for obliquely comparing Modi to Hitler, the BJP has just welcomed into its fold, apparently without question, a journalist who once did the same.
Now every man is entitled to change his opinion but that will require someone like Akbar to eat his own words. Modi today might talk more about development and less about Hindutva but for better or for worse, he has not changed. So it will up to MJ Akbar to explain why he has changed. Is MJ Akbar going to say “I was wrong”?
“Over the course of these 2 decades, MJ Akbar was a fierce critic of Modi's role in Gujarat. How quickly he has forgotten his own views,” tweets the academic Vijay Prashad. “I'm not sure if NK Singh & MJ Akbar in exchange for Jaswant Singh is such a good deal for the BJP,” tweets Sadanand Dhume adding for good measure that “If BJP wants to be more like Swatantra, it needs people like Jaswant. If it wants to be more like Congress, NK Singh & MJ Akbar will do.”
MJ Akbar might become a spokesperson for BJP. But it looks he will have to spend a lot of time talking about himself and his change of heart before he talks credibly about BJP and Narendra Modi.
Perhaps M J Akbar is hoping that his column today paying tribute to Khushwant Singh is in some ways about himself as well.
Khushwant preferred ideas to any ideology. He was, in a sense, profoundly non-ideological. He thought the Left, which was the intellectual fashion of the age, was inherently antagonistic to individual liberty, which he prized above all else, because of its doctrinaire traps. He saw doctrine as a casket, fit for a graveyard.
But Hartosh Singh Bal tweets acidly “where mj omits to mention that khushwant had a clear view of the ideology akbar now finds convenient to subscribe to.”
Akbar might say in his defence that some of articles popping up now were from a long time ago and indeed, as he said when he joined the BJP, much has changed since then. Except some of what he wrote back then seems remarkably prophetic, a little uncomfortably so for the BJP’s new leaders.
If Modi wins big, he will immediately seek to make the whole of the BJP a version of his Gujarat experience. He is already visibly contemptuous of the senior leadership of his own party. One reason why Advani got poor crowds was because Modi wanted to prove to his official boss that in Gujarat, it was Modi who ran the show, not anyone from Delhi. Modi will mount a challenge within his party, and get some support too; he will dream of becoming Prime Minister of India after a national victory fashioned through the Gujarat rhetoric. He will depend on terrorists to supply him with Godhras elsewhere in India.
The flaw in the dream is that long before Modi gets anywhere near Delhi, he will have destroyed the BJP.
M J Akbar has a lot of explaining to do. But after this week he will not have his usual Times of India column to do that. That’s the first casualty of his joining a political party.