Kapil Sibal’s strident critique of Narendra Modi’s government Shades of Truth hurts.
If the aim of the truth-teller is to hurt and do only that – hurt, the one hurt glowers.
If the truth-teller tells it about himself or “his” with the intention to punish himself or “his”, the self-punisher glows.
Self-criticism glows. Anywhere, and always.
And that is what Hamid Ansari means when he says in the blurb to the book : “This book also acknowledges the shortfalls of an earlier period that may have contributed to the current happenings”. Those two words – “also” and “acknowledges” – are the key words in that blurb. The book also acknowledges, owns up to, admits, failings of an earlier, pre-Modi period, the “UPA I and II period” when Sibal’s party, the Indian National Congress, was in power and Sibal himself was in office, high office.
This is where Sibal’s self-directed candour makes his narrative glow. For me, the several take-away lines from the book are about self-truth and they include:
“In the 2014 general elections, we not only lost, but lost badly. In boxing terms we could say that we were mauled.”— (p.188)
“Our meeting with Ramdev at the Delhi airport was a big mistake.”— (p. 191)
“…over the years, the party leadership at the regional and local has not concentrated its energies and focussed on strengthening the party at the booth level…PCC chiefs, on many occasions, have not been appointed for long periods of time.”— (p.192)
“We failed to connect with the people of India.”— (p.193)
It is lines like these four that give credibility to the paragraphs, chapters in the book that take on the Modi government. Without these powerfully inward-looking lines the book would have exposed itself to the charge of being partisan, even propaganda.
The most valuable resource of Sibal’s book is its mine of facts, hard facts, attested to by data sourced not from the author’s own “side” but from independent authorities. All of which go to show the use of bombast, hectoring, “event management” and social media driving to exaggerate the achievements, downsize the failings of the Government of India under Prime Minister Modi.
Be it in the field of our electoral politics, our judicial architecture, our economy, foreign policy, Aadhaar, Sibal meets his “target” head-on. He shows in lucid words the means by which public opinion is sought to be manipulated to believe that “magic” is happening, that Achhe Din have indeed arrived for rich and poor alike. Sibal’s is a post-mortem report of dead promises, lifeless claims, inert policies.
And while it does this without being apologetic for its clear affiliation with the Congress, it does not do so without a higher affiliation – to veracity. Factual veracity. Sibal does not say “I speak for the Congress but I also speak for facts, Congress or no Congress”. But he means that and hats off to him for that. If in his persuasive chapter on Aadhaar he had only said “we in UPA should have but did not foresee the possibility of data-abuse”, he would have enriched the account.
As a former Minister for Science and Technology, Sibal’s chapter on that subject is grippingly written.
A truer line cannot be written than: “Nature has a way of both destroying and protecting itself.” And then follows an invaluable discussion, brief as it is, of mangroves and their criticality. He becomes an eager Scout when it comes to his treatment of Antarctica and India’s explorations of the earth’s southern pole. He does not, in his enthusiasm for “research”, see the growing concern over the pointlessness of replicating known knowledge and in the process, of fouling by rude footfalls and human debris the earth’s last primeval patch. He does not see Antarctica’s icecap breaking and falling like Marie biscuits in a hot cup of coffee.
Sibal’s chapter on India’s foreign policy is particularly valuable, not least in the way he analyses our relations with our neighbours. The paragraphs on China, Russia, Israel and the USA are eye-openers, if the ones on Japan and Europe seem to have been put there pro forma. In Sibal, I believe we have a future External Affairs Minister.
The book’s Epilogue is indeed its dessert-plate. For a clearer exposition of the need for logical pre-poll teaming-up, it cannot be bettered. And its frank statement “…you never know what the voter will do” is both self-indemnifying and selfless.
But the Epilogue does raise one question : Is it wise for the GOP to be so aloof vis-à-vis, for instance, the AAP? Is a fellow democrat, albeit a critic, even a carping one, not to be embraced in the common fight against their behemoth “Other”?
Do shades of hubris cloud over truth’s glow? We must wait for Sibal’s post-2019 analysis to find out.