Book Review: Shades of Saffron: From Vajpayee to Modi by Saba Naqvi

‘When a writer writes a book on a certain event or phenomenon; he is not just airing his opinion but judging it.’

Journalists have the privilege to access information that is often not available easily or is not completely in the public domain. This privilege of the journalists often makes them to be better at psephology not just in predicting the election results but also what the people of a country or geography are thinking or where the tide is headed to. For this ability is also very conditional. To have a clear view one needs to have little or no prejudice and should not be furthering a specific goal or agenda. Prejudiced writers often focused on certain specific issues more while ignoring a large part of the event or phenomenon to prove their theory. When a journalist turned writer has prejudices or agenda to further, it is reflected in her/his writings. Their skill and magic with the words opens the slits wide.

The criticism of any phenomenon or event along with the detailing is necessary to judge the relevance and importance of that phenomenon or the event and help the future generations to make proper amendments so that the positive values created by the phenomenon or the event is gracefully put forth while the negative values are criticized so those who pursue or follow such goals have some ideas about how to navigate or opine and none commits the same mistakes which had been committed earlier. Such criticism helps in building a better society; so the nation. So it's a very important task at the hand of the critic at her/his disposal.

The book ‘Shades of Saffron: From Vajpayee to Modi’ by Saba Naqvi is detailing the journey from the Vajpayee Era to the Modi Era. From the perspective as well as the information available to the writer, this book tries to detail this journey of complete transformation. However what happens with most of the writers is that they often end up being myopic and sometimes ill-informed with their prejudices to force them to focus on specific aspects rather than the broader picture of the whole phenomenon. This journey from Vajpayee to the Modi era is neither a normal journey from Delhi to Mumbai or between two cities, nor is a simple event with a single or a few layers! Rather it is a multi-layered and very complex journey which takes India together in this endeavour changing the meaning of a lot of hues and colours as well definitions forever and this journey can never be judged or described with a myopic and very limited vision.

The writer in this book is very critical (it should be) to the whole journey of BJP from the era of Jana Sangha to Vajpayee to Modi; more importantly on the navigation from Vajpayee era to Modi era. Being fairly critical is necessary but the criticism that has been put forth in this book seems to stem from ideological differences and prejudices rather than fair judgement. It is not possible for most of the people to put aside their own values and ideologies when judging anything. Like all the scholars in India, the writer in this book ends up comparing Modi with Vajpayee, two different personalities in very different eras ignoring the fact that every journey and era is indigenous. Also one must be very clear that different times need different value systems, standards and scales for the measurement of the similar phenomenon or personalities. Even the great kings (kings were the real state) in medieval and ancient times were cruel enough to kill anybody they seemed to be culprit at their will but in the modern times the state cannot prosecute anybody without enough evidence!

It must be appreciated that the author has detailed a lot about the journey with an opinion irrespective of fairness. But the author ends up looking at the journey as a religious and almost blind follower of ideology rather than just a citizen of a civic society. There is nothing wrong or bad about being religious or a follower of an ideology. It’s sometimes is enabler as it moderates the person to be more humble and inclusive and expands the wings but when one becomes too religious or blind about the ideology to judge every single issue on the scale that religion or ideology has made available, things get complicated and often ill-directed and when it done in the civic life, the worst can be expected. 

Rajeev Upadhyay

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