Nineteen years of serving up the National Interest

Yamini Lohia Posted online: Monday, Apr 28, 2014 at 0000 hrs
New Delhi : When did the Congress first begin to shrink its prime minister? Why is Delhi getting better as a city and Mumbai going downhill? When did Narendra Modi’s rise within the BJP become inevitable? Who are the HMTs? And what does the Anna Hazare agitation say about us?

Over 19 years and 900 columns, Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of this newspaper, has employed National Interest to explain, provoke and predict change in India. Anticipating India, a collection of the best of these columns, will be released in the capital on Monday.

Gupta asserts in the introduction that Anticipating India is not “a definite history of contemporary Indian politics”, which is “best left to so many of our wonderful scholars... This collection is like a real-time view from the spectators' gallery, and while there may be the pretense of archival research here and there, mostly thanks to much younger, uncomplaining colleagues, the only other wisdom these writings reflect is a die-hard reporter's selective professional memory and hindsight.”

Informed by more than three decades of reporting and a credibility that gives Gupta unrivalled access to decision-makers in government, politics and business, Anticipating India interprets everything from the successes and failings of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh to the ascent of Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal, from the forces that have deepened Indian federalism and constitutionalism to the public mood that keeps a check on excesses in the use of political power.

A recurring theme in the collection is how politics in India is frozen, failing to keep pace with the voter, ratcheting up the tension to a point where something has to give. Gupta argues that India stands at just such a crossroads right now, and that the three political leaders who personify this shift — one that is generational as well as political and philosophical — are Modi, Kejriwal and Gandhi.

Gupta foresees all three leaders changing in the months to come. Modi, in his view, will become a little more moderate, while Kejriwal will probably move somewhat towards establishmentarian calm. And Gandhi might even shed some of his public diffidence and risk avoidance. Together, he argues, the trio will lead a brilliant cast of political characters who will “never leave you short of an idea when you sit down to writing another National Interest on a weary Friday afternoon”.