Mainstream, VOL LIII No 24 New Delhi June 6, 2015
Saturday 6 June 2015, by
Information Minister Arun Jaitley is inviting editors from different parts of India to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi to underline the achievements of his of first-year rule. This public relations exercise is nothing new because all his predecessors have done so.
India’s icon, Jawaharlal Nehru, did not have to do so. Still, when India was licked at the hands of China in 1962, Nehru met editors to explain the debacle. Lal Bahadur Shastri had so much goodwill that he did not have to placate them in any way. However, after the 1965 war with Pakistan—both countries claimed victory—Shastri took editors into confidence before going to Tashkent. His humility stood him in good stead because before leaving he told them that his fate was in their hands and whatever they wrote would guide public opinion.
Mrs Indira Gandhi was riding a high horse until the crops failed and the country had to import wheat from America, which gave it against rupee payment. She too informally talked to editors and gave an insight on India’s deteriorating economic conditions.
Her son, Rajiv Gandhi, who was hit hard because of the Bofors scandal, never threw his weight around. One, he was conscious that the dynastic ties had parachuted him from being a pilot to the gaddi of the Prime Minister and two, he was aware of his limitations in the political field. He suffered from the complex that his brother, Sanjay Gandhi, was more suitable for the job which something his mother had instilled in him. He too went out of the way to cultivate editors. His successors, lesser in stature, expanded the PMO to have information advisers.
Modi is his own PRO. He has not appointed anyone as the Information Adviser. Maybe he has felt the necessity now and that explains Jaitley’s invitation to editors to meet the Prime Minister. But will this exercise help? Modi may not be guilty of any misrule, yet his regime is that of non-rule. There is nothing spectacular that stands out in his first year’s tenure as the PM.
Take for instance, his visit to China. It was neither productive nor was it an unmitigated disaster. However, that it was not successful is not the criterion by which to judge its merit. He undertook the trip and reportedly conveyed India’s unhappiness over China’s occupation of Indian territory. That was good enough. Authentic reports, now available, indicate that he took up even the matter of China’s stapling of a visa on the passport if the person is from Arunachal Pradesh, which the Chinese claim is part of their territory.
I personally think that Modi should have cancelled the visit when one day before his arrival at Beijing, the ruling Communist Party paper ran a vituperative piece against India and carried a map without showing Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir as parts of the country.
Why New Delhi was keen on the visit is beyond my comprehension. On a lesser provo-cation, New Delhi cancelled its Foreign Secretary’s meeting with his counterpart in Islamabad. The Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi had met the Hurriyat leaders before the Foreign Secretaries’ meeting. There is apparently no such yardstick for relations with China. Instead, India is offering it access to the country’s large market.
Granted India cannot take on China. This does not mean that New Delhi has to be overawed by Beijing. To give a befitting reply, New Delhi should have introduced the stapled visa system to the people visiting from Tibet.
We would be fooling ourselves if we believe that the border issue is spoiling our relations with China. Nehru put it correctly when he said that the clash was that of two giants preaching different ideologies. Only posterity will judge whether or not democracy wins the race against totalitarian communism.
As of now, totalitarianism has won. Most South Asian countries are under the influence of Beijing, although they follow their own way of governance. Nehru had expected that a democratic polity would have preference. But he had not reckoned with the might of the communist ideology. Ballot box has a moral appeal which demands reason, not rustic force.
Modi’s worst performance is in the economic sector. Many were taken in by his promise of achche din aagaye (good days have come). The reality is entirely different. The common man has never suffered so much before as he is today.
Nevertheless, Modi’s regime has been democratic of sorts. Knowing his credentials, I expected him to train his guns of parochialism from day one. That he did not do so is a reprieve. Yet, there is no mistaking of his policies. He has left the dirty work of dividing the society on religious lines to his party’s mavericks, members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
Modi and his Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s public assurances that they want all communities, including the Muslims, to enjoy equal rights are positive. But they have hardly helped keep the atmosphere free from the pollution of parochialism. Yet, it looks odd that the exponents of Hindu Rashtra make provocative speeches that do not incite the people to indulge in communal riots. This is a big relief. It would, however, be better if they were not to pollute the atmosphere. Probably they are conscious of the harm it would do to the society, which is 80 per cent Hindu.
It seems that Modi has drawn a red line which the RSS and its ilk are not to cross. This has helped create a healthy secular ambiance, however tenuous. One expects communal amity to prevail in the remaining four years of Modi’s regime. Maybe, he and his party seem to have realised that communalism is neither conducive to peace nor to the democratic ethos we cherish. He and his party must ensure that mistrust between Hindus and Muslims does not appear in any shape.
There are complaints that Muslim youths are picked up and detained without trial. And it is harrowing to know that hundreds of them are languishing in jails for years without trial. That it happened even during the Congress regime does not make the crime less felonious.
The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com