He is credited with uncovering the Indian version of Watergate. When he speaks or writes, people notice. One might disagree or agree with the contents but one appreciates the flair. Arun Shourie’s name elicits a raised eyebrow and grudging expression of respect, even from his sworn opponents. It was the launch of a new edition of his books. Shourie is nothing if not thorough. All the books have a two inch thick spine. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, who moderated the panel discussion remarked, “There is atleast one place where Arun confirms to being a Gandhian. His complete works will have 90 volumes.”
Soli J Sorabjee, Arif Mohammed Khan and Pratap Bhanu Mehta were a part of the discussion at India Habitat Center. The four books, (released by Harper Collins) deal with topics, that are both controversial and sensitive. Falling Over Backwards is an essay against reservations and judicial populism. It was published during 2006, immediately after the 27 per cent increase in reservations were announced. The World Of Fatwas or the Shariah in action, is concerned with the social, religious and political context of fatwas through ages.
It was first published in 1995. Worshipping False Gods, demystified the legend of BR Ambedkar.
Does He know a mother’s heart, deals with his own life and how at times, even god cannot be held responsible for what happens on Earth. The relationship of Aditya, his son (who has cerebral palsy), with the family is poignant. The book came out last year.
On Falling Over Backwards, Soli S Sorabjee commented, “When we talk of reservation, we need to address that yes, certain groups have been discriminated against.
“And three things need to be kept in mind — the extent of the reservations, the application and duration. The aim was to enhance people’s lives. But the underlying philosophy hasn’t been employed.... it’s the parliamentarians who make it tough,” said Sorabjee.
Arif Mohammed described The World of Fatwas... as “not an attack on the Muslims. It’s an attack on the deviation that took place in Islamic history.
He added, ““In the Quran its said, that the judgment belongs to God alone. Not even the Prophet has right to issue judgment. The word ‘fatwa’ is used just ten times in the Quran. And not the way the current fatwa making industry uses it.”
Pratap Bhanu Mehta felt that Falling over Backwards was the most disturbing of the books, because of its powerful reasoning. “Arun writes about a judge, ‘if any one else had passed such gas, it would have been nauseous’. It questions the democracy we live in. A democratic government is run by public reason, not votes. It should be spirited, have free speech, and practice of public reason. We have free speech, but what about frank speech? There is no public reason. Leave alone the corrupt, second guessing nature of current democracy.”
He quoted Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, ‘Jab dil bhara ho aur dimaag khaali, toh kisko charcha main ruchi hogi,’ Arun’s books show that hum sabke dimaag khali hain, par dil kyun bhara hai, that is the question”. (If the heart is full, and the mind empty, who will be interested in debate? Shourie proves our minds are empty, but why the heart is full, is the key question.)
Diatribes were expected. “I haven’t spared anyone, for I haven’t spared myself Soli,” came Shourie’s rejoinder. “We seldom talk about these issues in public. In private we may have a stand, but we care more about being political correct. The Khaps and fatwas gain power for no has spoken against them. There is a silence that is deafening.”
He concluded, “I took these subjects, as I wanted to grill facts, and create an avalanche. I read 18000 pages on fatwas. Its necessary to deal with the facts. While Indian politics has become freer, the politician has become more silent. The current discourse is dominated by people who believe in nothing.
“The media has ignored important issues of our time. Even though its writing against the current intellectual fashion, some one must do it.”