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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 15 New Delhi April 2, 2016

Getting One’s Priorities Right

Monday 4 April 2016

by N.V.K. Murthy

The following was written by the author sometime ago but could not be used earlier due to space constraints. It is now being published as its contents have not been fully overtaken by the latest events.

The Government of India in recent days has been making an excellent showing at inter-national meetings. The country’s leaders have been making right statements, winning appro-bations all around. These statements talk about adherence to secular ideals, democratic gover-nance and inclusive economic and social progress. But when these statements are judged against events happening within the country, they ring hollow.

What has caused concern among people in India and abroad are the daylight assassinations of liberal intellectuals fighting for freedom of thought and speech. Dr Dabholkar was a leader of Andha Shradha Nirmolan Samithi (Committee for Eradication of Superstition and Blind Faith) and had been carrying on a campaign of rational thinking for many years. Govind Pansare was a Left-wing liberal intellec-tual and was in the thick of fighting for civil liberties. Dr Kalburgi was an eminent intellec-tual and educationist. He was fighting for freedom of thought and expression. All these three were assassinated in broad daylight. The suspects belong to the Rightist Hindu organi-sations close to the ruling party. Then came the lynching of a Muslim man not far from the national Capital for allegedly eating beef, a normal food for a Muslim. He was lynched by a Hindu mob for his act of eating beef when it was banned by the State Government. No government, which claims to be democratic, can lay down what a citizen should think or say or eat. Now comes a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader who has urged volunteers to put together stones for the construction of a Ram Mandir at the Babri Masjid site. The country has still not forgotten the widespread violence that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid structure some two decades ago. The case is before a court of law. Moderate leaders amongst Hindus and Muslims are trying to find a solution to the problem acceptable to both the communities. When such is the case, the recent Vishwa Hindu Parishad call is nothing but an invitation to trouble.

This writer had earlier pointed out that the landslide victory of the BJP in the last parlia-mentary elections was not to be interpreted as an endorsement by the country of the Hindutva ideology of the RSS core of the BJP, but as a reaction to the misrule and extensive corruption under the previous government. The BJP and RSS have a lot to answer. The country has still not forgotten the conspiracy of Godhra, where a railway carriage of returning volunteers from the Ram Mandir/Babri Masjid site, were alleged to have been burned alive. Later investigations showed that the railway carriage was empty, all the volunteers were detrained at the earlier station, and the carriage was torched deliberately from inside before being abandoned. This so-called torching of a carriage full of volunteers was to justify the genocide of Muslims all over the Gujarat State which followed.

In spite of these events, Indians across the country were excited when the new government assured the people of good, fair and clean governance. The assassinations referred to above shook the public badly. Prime Minister Modi made a bold resolve to change the anti-Gandhi legacy of the RSS. He visited Raj Ghat soon after taking over as the Prime Minister to pay homage to the Father of the Nation. He further went on to initiate the “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” (Clean India mission) on Gandhi Jayanti day. These were imaginative and constructive moves. But he has to go a lot further. He has to stop the Right-wing Hindu organisations, like the RSS and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, from organising vigilante groups and taking the law into their own hands. He has to take action which will make minority groups feel secure in India. In other words, PM Modi will have to make sure that the Government of India is really a secular democracy.

There are equally pressing problems, which need to be on the priority list. The problem of climate change is one such. It is good that India is part of the agreement signed at the Paris conference. Here again the immediate action of starting four new coal-based energy projects goes against the Paris agreement. Considering the dire pollution situation in New Delhi and other cities and the recurrent droughts and floods all over the country, there is an urgent need to scale down coal and other fossil based energy units and to build renewable energy units on an emergency scale. Earlier all attempts to put up renewable energy units were discouraged as uneconomical compared to fossil fuel-based units. Now that we have realised the terrible social, health, and other costs that we have to pay for fossil fuel-based energy, renewable energy is the only answer. There are no alternatives. The availability of fresh air and clean water must be the top priority of any sensible government. No special interest should be allowed to interfere with this priority. Fortunately the country has resources and the know-how to provide fresh air and unpolluted drinking water to its citizens. Two names immediately come to mind in this connection —Ratan Tata for renewable energy and Mukesh Ambani for fresh water. The Tatas have been in the power business for many years. They also have the know-how for electrical power production based on solar energy. They should be encouraged and given all the help to take on leadership in this matter. In the past, the oil refinery project of the Ambani group based in Rajkot had helped in desalinating seawater to supply drinking water to drought-affected Rajkot. With the shrinking importance of refining mineral oil for fuel, the Ambanis could be encouraged to convert the Rajkot plant into a water desalination plant.

As far as the problem with Pakistan is concerned, PM Modi has seized an opportune moment to try and solve the long-standing Indo-Pak problem. In earlier days the Govern-ment of Pakistan’s encouragement of the Taliban elements to commit terrorist acts against India was the main obstacle. Now the Pakistan Government seems to have realised the Taliban menace is also threatening the stability of its own country. So this is the right moment to offer Pakistan all the help it needs to root out the Taliban menace from Pakistan once and for all for the good of both the nations. Then perhaps India could persuade Pakistan to accept the Line of Control (LoC) as an international border between the nations. This could be followed after a period of five or seven years of friendly relations by some sort of referendum overseen by an agreed-upon team of inter-national observers to find out what the Kashmiris on both sides of the border really want. Meanwhile the Government of Jammu and Kashmir should be allowed the maximum amount of regional autonomy possible under the Constitution so that the people could enjoy the benefits of living in a free and open secular society.

PM Modi has two options. Option number one is to be a loyal RSS member, and against the advice of the sane and secular, to simply follow the RSS mantra of supremacy of Hindus in a Hindu-majority nation, and in good time be remembered only as a prejudiced leader. Option number two is to rise above the narrow confines of loyalty to the RSS ideology, grow up to be a true nationalist and world statesman, and go across the aisle to the Opposition to build a national coalition for establishing a truly secular and open society. Then he is likely to become “a yugapursha”, a historic figure and join the company of personages like Buddha, Asoka, Akbar and Gandhiji. The choice is his.

The author, now retired, was the First Registrar of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Subsequently he functioned for sometime as the Director of the Film and TV Institute of India, Pune. Later he was appointed the Director of the Nehru Centre, Mumbai.