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Manish Tewari was Minister for Information and Broadcasting between 2012 and 2014, and is the national spokesperson for the Indian National Congress. His new book, Decoding a Decade: The Politics of Policymaking, is a collection of his writings from the last decade, exposing the underbelly of Indian politics and taking a hard look at the controversies that cropped up during this period. Juggernaut spoke to him about the perceptions surrounding UPA-II, and what he thought were the achievements of the Narendra Modi government:

Your book, Decoding a Decade, speaks of both the UPA and the current NDA governments. What do you think are the achievements of the Narendra Modi government?

The greatest achievement of the Prime Minister has been his constant communication with the people. During the UPA there was a perception that the leadership does not speak enough and directly to the people. The Prime Minister has used the 360 degree media paradigm effectively, but it is a double-edged sword. Too much talking and little doing can also be a problem.

Corollary to above, what are the biggest failures of the current government?

The biggest failure of the current government is the spectre of fear they have perpetuated. The country is on an edge. Minorities are subdued, intelligentsia is insecure, institutions are regarded as adversaries. There is a sense of suffocation in the air.

Looking back, how fair do you think are the charges against UPA-II, that the government suffered from ‘policy paralysis’ and corruption? 

The UPA government’s biggest problem was that it was a government of gentlepersons. They were paranoid of the hysteria in the discourse. Rather than waiting for the judicial processes to play themselves out, ministers were advised to resign at the mere whiff of an allegation.
Insofar as policy paralysis is concerned, if an average yearly growth rate of 7.8 per cent year-on-year for ten years, despite the biggest economic meltdown in 2008 after the great depression of the 1930’s and the Euro-zone crisis that followed, is policy paralysis, then I do not know what the term means. Yes, where we failed was to effectively counter a corrosive narrative between November 2010 and September 2012, which had a lot to do with the R virus — the then C&AG. By September 2012, the UPA’s story was over.

 

You also write, ‘The BJP’s coming to power and its obvious “Hindutva” agenda in its 100 days in office may have given a fillip’ to young Indian Muslims being radicalized. Do you think the growing power of the RSS is responsible for this? 

A sense of alienation is the start of all problems. It then leads to radicalisation in the search for identity, and can easily end up in violence or terrorism. There is a growing feeling among young people, especially from the Muslim community, that they are being profiled. The shrill narrative that emanates out of the ruling echelons, whereby it is anti-national to question the BJP, seditious to critique the government and treasonous to ask intelligent questions about civil-military relations, does not help. The RSS should also introspect. In sheer numbers collectively, all the minorities would be 300 million-plus, and that is a lot of people.

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Do you think the Narendra Modi government is forcing the media to censor itself? 

Not only the media — a great evil stalks this land. The spectre of fascism hangs low. India’s liberal spaces are shrinking. An insecure media that is routinely intimidated and coerced is measuring up to what L.K. Advani had once said in a different context: ‘When they were asked to bend, they crawled.’
Manish Tewari’s Decoding a Decade: The Politics of Policymaking is now available on the Juggernaut app here
 

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