Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2007 > April 28, 2007 > In Search of the Destabiliser

Mainstream, Vol XLV No 19

In Search of the Destabiliser

Friday 4 May 2007, by Nikhil Chakravartty

The battle cry of the Congress-I under Rajiv Gandhi has been sloganised. It is: Fight the Destabiliser.

In the two months of the tension-charged journey towards the declining credibility of the Congress-I leadership, all the complexities of the unfolding crisis has been beautifully simplified as just the mischievous handiwork of the accursed destabiliser. A massive thesis on destabilisation at work was laid thick by the Congress-I Working Committee meeting on April 18. As the follow-up of that proclaimed crusade against destabilisers, Rajiv Gandhi, as the party President, addressed an elaborately organised mass rally in New Delhi’s Central Vista on May 16. Although the meeting could not draw as large a crowd as the neighbouring Congress-I Chief Ministers had been enjoined to muster, its importance had been publicised as the one where the party President’s address would serve as the keynote for the nationwide campaign against destabilisers.

What was extraordinary was that after combing the entire political spectrum, Rajiv Gandhi in his speech could identify only two destabilisers against whom he trained his gun. Although not mentioning them by name, his profusion of innuendoes—the Mir Jafars and Jaichands—pointed to President Zail Singh and former Cabinet Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh as the top destabilisers.

Although the danger of the President arbitrarily dismissing the Prime Minister has considerably receded—thanks largely to the firm stand of the main Opposition parties—Rajiv Gandhi has not ceased to attack the President (who, it is worth noting, also holds an elected office) particularly on the undefined area of Article 78 which lays down the duties of the Prime Minister to keep the President informed. This is a dispute which can be settled by referring it to the Supreme Court. Perhaps Rajiv’s aides feel that the bogey of Presidential intervention can be made use of to draw public attention away from the unsavoury items of wheeling-dealing in Defence purchases.

As for V.P. Singh, the tactics of Rajiv loyalists seem to be that if he is sufficiently provoked and pummelled, then his words would carry little weight with the public, thereby providing a breathing space for the Prime Minister and his pets to recover lost grounds.

It was a high-keyed performance. Perhaps the image-builders in the backroom felt that the smiling but deadpan face should this time be recast and must reflect the turbulence which has besieged the leader. Hence the diction and manner of delivery were totally changed. With their idea of going folksy, the speech became abusive and vituperative. The classic piece of vulgarity was the reference to the threat from the US and Pakistan to which the Congress-I President-cum-Prime Minister promised dire retaliation: Aisa jawab denge, unke jo maa-baap bante hain unko nanni yaad ajayegi! This resort to abusive slang was supposed to be meant for the benefit of the villager audience, who, by the calculation of Rajiv’s image-makers, prefer such language to chaste Hindi.

In a sense, this reflects the low opinion with which the Rajiv establishment holds the vast majority of our village population. How far removed these pundits are from any understanding of our proud political traditions could be gathered from the fact that the greatest among our national leaders, Gandhi and Nehru, never indulged in abuses and invectives. Indignation without vituperation, they could exude the pride and strength of the nation without indulging in heroics. Sixteen years ago, on August 9, 1971, Indira Gandhi spoke to a large crowd at the same spot reminding it of the great heritage of the freedom struggle and exhorting it to defend the country. The armed confrontation with Pakistan was only four months ahead and yet there was no jingoism in her speech.

On this score has been exposed not only the unseemly style but the bad politics in Rajiv’s speech. Throughout the forty years since independence, our national leaders adorning the august seat which Rajiv Gandhi occupies today, never, never shrieked against Pakistan even in the most difficult times of armed confrontation. There never was, on their part, the talk of the “fight to the finish” or that of “the iron hand behind the soft glove”. Our leaders always emphasised that they were not against the people of Pakistan but urged them to realise the folly of their government resorting to armed conflict with this country.

One can imagine the very negative impact of Rajiv’s braggadocio: in this highly sensitive area of Indian politics in which an outright attack on Pakistan—instead of on the military junta under whose jackboot the people of that country have been placed—could have a dangerously communal fall-out. Viewed in this light, one need not be surprised that Rajiv Gandhi’s speech made no reference to the latest round of communal riots travelling all the way from Ahmedabad and Broach now to Meerut and Delhi. Is not such communal bickering one of the main weapons in the hands of the destabiliser? Did Rajiv’s speech-writers weigh carefully the words they got him to utter? They seem to be no wiser than the Prime Minister himself.

Such heroics about giving a bloody nose to a neighbour has other implications. One year ago Rajiv Gandhi was all excited about SAARC friendship: he exuded it himself six months ago at the Bangalore Summit; and this year he is supposed to be its Chairman. How would he reconcile it with his abusive attack on a neighbour—an attack which is bound to be misunderstood by all our neighbours as also by the world at large? We have to warn our countrymen about the danger to our security posed by the US-Pak strategic alliance, but this can be done not by hysterics but by calm confidence.

Pakistan—instead of on the military junta under whose jackboot the people of that country have been placed—could have a dangerously communal fall-out. Viewed in this light, one need not be surprised that Rajiv Gandhi’s speech made no reference to the latest round of communal riots travelling all the way from Ahmedabad and Broach now to Meerut and Delhi. Is not such communal bickering one of the main weapons in the hands of the destabiliser? Did Rajiv’s speech-writers weigh carefully the words they got him to utter? They seem to be no wiser than the Prime Minister himself.

Such heroics about giving a bloody nose to a neighbour has other implications. One year ago Rajiv Gandhi was all excited about SAARC friendship: he exuded it himself six months ago at the Bangalore Summit; and this year he is supposed to be its Chairman. How would he reconcile it with his abusive attack on a neighbour—an attack which is bound to be misunderstood by all our neighbours as also by the world at large? We have to warn our countrymen about the danger to our security posed by the US-Pak strategic alliance, but this can be done not by hysterics but by calm confidence.

Destabilisers are certainly there. They have been there right from the start of our journey along the freedom road. To understand the game of destabilisation and to identify its promoters and operators, one has to be clear in one’s mind about what undermines the stability of our country. Once the country got political independence, it has to struggle to gain economic independence and then to retain it. Here lies the essence of the endeavour for self-reliance. The concept of self-reliance as it has grown through the experience of our country has several components: the defence and extension of the public sector in the programme of industrialisation; curbs and controls to guard against the penetration of multinational corporations; and thirdly, the full-scale promotion of indigenous technology.

If we take even a general view of Rajiv’s tenure as the Prime Minister, there is no doubt that under his leadership, the public sector has had to face the biggest ideological offensive ever launched by people in power. The praise and preference that Rajiv Gandhi has consistently accorded to large private enterprises have been unswerving. Even this week, addressing the FICCI diamond jubilee session, the Prime Minister assured that the preferences to the public sector would be reduced “over a period of time”, and the transition to an open economy would come, albeit gradually. What this means for the economy of a developing country needs no elaboration. However much his image-builders might try through a cascade of rhetorics in the Congress-I Working Committee ‘s bombastic resolution, the public assessment of the Rajiv economics is that it heavily tilts on the side of the private sector as opposed to the public sector.

The polemics against multinationals have been extra-loud in the Congress Working Committee resolution. But what is the reality on the ground? The very week-end Rajiv Gandhi thundered against destabilisers at the New Delhi rally, his very trusted lieutenant, L.K. Jha, now decorated with the Rajya Sabha Congress-I membership, made a beseeching come-hither plea to the American business tycoons in New York. Nobody can accuse him of an accidental deviation because he has been a consistent protagonist of foreign investment in India, and with equal felicity has he continued as the super-economic adviser to the Prime Minister. If the liberal entry of the multinationals into a country heightens the danger of destabilisation therein, then one has also to note that the largest number of deals for the entry of multinationals into this country have been made during these two years of the Rajiv Raj.

As for the promotion of indigenous technology under Rajiv Gandhi’s dispensation, one has to look at his patently shabby approach towards our own scientists and engineers as compared to the handsome support and encouragement extended to them by Nehru and Indira. His condescending homilies to our scientists are in marked contrast to his passion for importing hi-technology from abroad ignoring the difficulties under which our dedicated scientists have been striving to reach the frontiers of high technology. This has reached ludicrous limits over his obsession at getting a super-computer over which the Americans have been keeping us wistfully waiting to the detriment of our national self-respect.

No, Rajiv Gandhi cannot expect the public at large to take seriously his alarm bell about destabilisation and destabilisers. If he is serious about combating the destabilisers, he has to begin by purging his inner circle of persons of dubious allegiance to national interests. Without any access to all the nooks and corners of his security-infested citadel, one can spot at least ten if not more in his close proximity whose record is as unreliable as that of those already marked out as potential destabilisers. Those who glibly talk of a CIA plot must realise that no establishment since independence has had so many hardened pro-Americans on its roster as the one presided over by Rajiv Gandhi.

The cleansing must therefore begin at home. And along with it, must come the cancellation of the basic policy changes brought about during the first two years of Rajiv’s Prime Ministership—which has to cover a very wide spectrum ranging from economic strategy to foreign policy. There has to be high visibility of a significant change in the government’s policy direction. These form the basic minimum that may convince the public about the seriousness of Rajiv Gandhi’s call for a crusade against destabilisers. No phoney declaration from the loudest of loudspeakers can convince the public on this score. The masses may be quiet at the moment, but they are by no means the dumb-driven cattle they appear to be. Make no mistake about it.

If the Prime Minister does not realise this himself, can others really help him?
(Mainstream April 23, 1987)

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