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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 50 New Delhi December 3, 2016

Men and Mountains / Not Sorrow but Atonement

Monday 5 December 2016, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

This article, which brings into focus the Third World stalwarts who attended the Seventh NAM Summit in New Delhi in March 1983, is being reproduced after almost 34 years to recall the rich tributes paid by N.C. to the outstanding Cuban leader Fidel Castro who was a magnetic personality at that remarkable gathering of numerous heads of state and government.

Men and Mountains

“The Conference is over. The concord must endure.” With these words, almost Biblical in their pithy simplicity, Indira Gandhi announced in Vigyan Bhavan on March 12 the end of the Seventh Summit of the Nonaligned countries.

It was a moving moment, the new milepost in the long journey of millions upon millions from continents far and near, who have broken the fetters of colonial bondage and are striving for a better world to live in.

A star-studded conclave comprising the majority of mankind, and commanding two-thirds of the membership of the United Nations, the Nonaligned Summit inevitably represented a cross-section of humanity and can hardly be put into the straitjacket of a single or similar outlook, no question of an ideological monolith nor a uniform political pattern: Kings and Presidents, Prime Ministers and Martial Law Administrators, leaders representing millions or reigning over vast chunks of territory or tiny islands or principalities. At one end is the Republic of India with its population of over sixtyeight crores, and at the other end, the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principle with a population of 84 thousand. One could see the Socialist camp represented by Cuba, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea and South Yemen, and the heavily pro-West adherents of free-market economy represented by Singapore and Saudi Arabia, Jamaica and Kenya.

The one common feature that binds them together is that they have all come out of the tutelage of colonialism or are still battling for the right of an independent existence. It has been a fascinating experience to watch this kaleidoscope of differing and even opposing political, economic and ideological patterns converging in this seat of an ancient civilisation which has steadfastly sustained the principle of unity-in-diversity.

In this glittering array, who have emerged as the cynosure of all eyes, who have been the most conspicuous, one way or the other? Evaluation of personalities by their performance is not an easy job. However, it is not difficult to discern the towering ones among the giants, just as there are the ugly and the ungainly.

Irrespective of political proclivities, observers at the Summit would have no difficulty in voting Fidel Castro as the most attractive of all the guests. Barring the host, Indira Gandhi, who topped them all in charm, grace and stamina, Castro carried the most distinguished demeanour in the entire gathering. With his legendary beard, the olive-green fatigues, the tall gait but gentle eyes showing signs of weariness Fidel rose above all petty controversies, and many among those who would not subscribe to his politics paid handsome tributes to his undoubted qualities of leadership.

Another personality who could capture with ease the affection and admiration of one and all was Yasser Arafat. Despite his sartorial militancy, Yasser’s oration reminded one of a poet, a marvelous imagination—monosyllabic words coming out gently and softly out of his pouting mouth. There was pathos in his voice when he referred to old friends, the freedom-fighters of yesterday now presiding over power in their respective countries: for, he, the leader of his people, is barred from his homeland. It was Arafat who coined the apt phrase that Indira Gandhi would provide the locomotive for the nonaligned for the next three years.

There was Sekou Toure, President of Guinea, very much of an aged personality; such a contrast to the sprightly figure that we had seen when he first came here on the morrow of the independence of his country. Another leader on whom the scars of age could be noticed was Forbes Burnham, President of Guyana; despite his beard growing grey, there was no difficulty in recognising him when he spoke with his mellifluous diction, the same resonance that kept us spell-bound when he visited our country in the company of Cheddi Jagan, to campaign for the independence of his island-homeland.

Polish and sophistication mark the personality of Kenneth Kaunda and Milton Obote, while the personification of ancient wisdom, a sort of Gandhian touch could be discerned in Julius Nyerere, who spoke little but thought more. Mozambique’s Samora Machel belongs to the same genre but the brunt of the apartheid next door has taken its toil as his furrowed brow would bear out. Mauritius Prime Minister Aneerood Jugnauth represented the new generation among the non-aligned, while the young men with boyish visage are our two royal neighbours—Birendra of Nepal and Jigme Singye Wangchuk of Bhuttan.

Among our other neighours, personality-wise, Sri Lanka’s Jayewardene could be matched in flamboyance by Pakistan’s General Ziaul Haq; his discordant reference to Kashmir notwithstanding, he put in a heroic public-relations exercise. Bangladesh’s General Ershad could hardly make an impact and one could not help feeling how Sheikh Mujib would have been in his elements rubbing shoulders with the great and the mighty.

With all the slings and arrows directed at him, Afghanistan’s Sultan Keshtmand gave the impression of solidity. Egypt’s Mubarak was neat but projected a calculatedly low-key presence, while Lebanon’s handsome Amin Gemayel spoke with finesse. Zimbabwe’s Mugabe had embarrassing moments in his press conference over his squabble at home with Joshua Nkomo. Indira Gandhi’s feeling reference to Sam Nujomo and the imprisoned Nelson Mandela touched many a heart.

Two leaders from island-countries caught the limelight. Spyros Kyprianos of Cyprus came in his own right, but Maurice Bishop brought out that the proximity to the Pentagon has sharpened defiance even in the tiny Grenada—showing the temper of the times, which came into full view with Nicaragua’s Commandante Daniel Ortega Saavedra.

One can wander along this picturesque gallery. The only case of unmitigated ugliness was provided by Singapore’s twin—Deputy Premier Rajaratnam and Foreign Minister Dhanabalam—who ranted and ranted until they tired them-selves out into oblivion. A loss indeed for their mentors in the West.

A misfit indeed this in a fraternity whose proud tradition was set two decades ago by men of granite, to whose memory Indira Gandhi paid her moving tribute in words which shall long be remembered: “Jawaharlal Nehru and Ahmet Soekarno of reawakened Asia, Gamel Abdel Nasser of the resurgent Arab world, Josip Broz Tito from independent Europe, Kwame Nkrumah from Africa astir. Indomitable fighters all, their message was one of struggle and sacrifice. They dared and suffered, they won and built. They inspired people, and in turn were inspired by the people. Only so, can freedom be attained and strengthened.”

These were the men who moved mountains, whose memory gripped one even today as one came into the wide open arena, out of the beautifully bedecked Vigyan Bhavan.

[First published in The Telegraph; reproduced, with acknowledgement, in Mainstream (March 19, 1983)]

o o o

The following piece, which was published as ‘Political Notebook’ in Mainstream (December 12, 1992), is being reproduced on the twentyfourth anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Its significance is heightened due to the ongoing offensive of the Hindutvavadi forces following the seizure of power at the Centre by the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah-led BJP in May 2014 and the events thereafter.

Not Sorrow but Atonement

The vandalism that brought down the Babri Masjid structure on December 6 will remain a Black Sunday in the annals of independent India. Like the insensate violence of fratricidal communalism of the partition days that culminated in Gandhiji’s killing fortyfour years ago, the demolition of the Babri Masjid will remain a symbol of shame for the nation, and particularly for the majority community which permitted a bunch of blackguards to pose as its guardian and get recognised as such.

While anger and anguish over this ghastly incident have overwhelmed millions in this country, there is no escape for certain elements in public life from being held responsible for this despicable act. The BJP and the RSS leaders who backed the so-called Dharma Sansad issuing the fatwa for the kar seva have to unequivocally own up the guilt for having collected such a huge number of people around the disputed area by whipping up raging frenzy which was beyond control. And the BJP bosses who had been campaigning in support of the kar seva were found to have beaten a retreat when the mob was actually demolishing the mosque—an ignominious commentary on both their capacity and courage. Those who incite a crowd and lack the guts to face and halt it are unworthy of claiming to be leaders. Their moral posture which they flaunt as part of their Hindutva should have the honesty to offer public apology for this shocking abdication of responsibility on their part.

The BJP leadership is accountable for the grave misconduct on the part of the Uttar Pradesh Government which the party was running. Chief Minister Kalyan Singh was giving assurances to the Central Government and the Supreme Court which turned out to be thoroughly bogus. If he had any idea about the importance of the commitments he had made to the Supreme Court, he should have anticipated the grave risk he was taking in handling an unmanageably massive crowd, which by its very nature was beyond any discipline. Instead of asking for more Central force, Kalyan Singh was protesting against the despatch of whatever the Union Home Ministry had despatched as a matter of precaution.

The point to note is that the BJP Government in UP, like the rest of the BJP-VHP-RSS combine, was trying to run with the hare and hunt with the hound. They were stoking the frenzy for kar seva all over Uttar Pradesh and beyond, while at the same time assuring the judiciary, the Parliament and the public that the disputed areas would not be touched as per the Supreme Court directive.

Not only that. In the critical days after the National Integration Council meeting on November 23, the senior BJP-RSS leaders were working out some settlement terms with the Central Government. The terms of these negotiations, which the present writer can vouch for, were, firstly, the Babri Masjid disputed structure complex would be adequately protected until the dispute is settled by dialogue or due process of law, and the UP Government would invite the Centre, if it so desired, to send its force to reinforce the State Government’s security arrangements. Secondly, there would be no kar seva in violation of law. Thirdly, the Centre would make a one-point reference to the Supreme Court under Article 143 and the Court‘s opinion would be accepted as binding by both the Centre and the UP Government as also the BJP-RSS combine. Fourthly, the Centre would express its support for expeditious disposal of the case about the disputed plot now pending before the High Court. As these terms were hammered out, an impression prevailed on the eve of December 6 that perhaps the crisis was on the way of being defused. In fact, the BJP-RSS leaders were expected to persuade the Dharma Sansad not to precipitate the crisis.

The question now arises whether the BJP-RSS leaders were diabolically agreeing to these terms while preparing for the demolition of the Babri Masjid; or, were they themselves outstripped by the blitz attack of the mob? The fact that Advani resigned from the post of the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, coupled with the RSS leader Rajendra Singh’s statement that the vandalism on December 6 was a “grievous” setback for the Ram temple cause, might be put up by them in their defence that they were themselves overtaken by the developments. Be that as it may, there is no doubt that before the bar of public opinion in India and abroad, the BJP-RSS combine has no option today but to acknowledge their guilt for the heinous act of violent destruction. It is not just a question of owning up moral responsibility, but substantive responsibility for whipping up frenzy and then giving in to mob-violence and thereby desecrating their commitment before the highest court of law and the supreme tribune, that is, Parliament.

The BJP leaders have to bear in mind that the rule of law has to be respected if they do not want to put their party outside the pale of law and the Constitution. More than once during these crisis days, the BJP spokesmen have talked about “the majesty of law”, and now they themselves connived, if not were actively involved, in the blatant defiance of the Constitution. The pulling down of the Babri Masjid structure is not just a matter of religious frenzy, but the blatant assault on the rule of law and civilised conduct of public affairs. Here is the essence of their guilt.

In the history of contemporary India, this is how terrorism has crept into politics. Whether it is the Akali Party or the Asom Gana Parishad, one finds the moderate parliamentary leaders using the rowdy terrorist groups as their battering ram against the adversary and in course of time, they themselves become the captive of the militants, as many of the distinguished Akali leaders have become today in Punjab politics. What has happended at Ayodhya looks like the curtain- raiser of the very same type of political adventurism coming over to the BJP. The RSS leaders may have survived the stigma that stuck to them after Gandhiji‘s assassination, but there is grave doubt whether they can come out of the present crisis intact. The more mature among them would soon have to make their choice here and now.

Looking at the predicament facing the Congress and its government today, there is little doubt that public opinion has already marked out those in power as being guilty of dereliction of duty. There is no room for passing the buck to the UP Government, since it was as much the Centre‘s solemn charge to protect the Babri Masjid structure.

It was all the time given out that the Centre was on the alert even while the talks for a settlement were continuing. When para-military forces were sent, one can very well ask, why these were not sent in adequate strength, at least to guard the disputed structure? Even if a fully equipped Army unit had been posted to guard the disputed structure, it would have acted as a deterrent, and the shame of the Indian state not protecting a place of worship of its citizens would not have come upon our country. This is the simple charge of any government claiming to rule from New Delhi as the guardian of a secular state. The Prime Minister himself had made the solemn commitment on August 15 in his Red Fort speech saying that the mosque would be protected as much as the government would like the proposed temple coming up.

In this context, this writer needs to acknow-ledge in all honesty the validity of the criticism voiced by some observers that the Centre dithered in imposing the President‘s Rule in UP immediately after the NIC meeting when the kar sevaks were yet to gather. Hindsight makes it clear that such a pre-emptive strike might have averted the tragedy of December 6. At the same time, such an action of dismissing an elected government could have been miscon-strued at that stage as a partisan move with poor legitimacy.

The exploitation of religious sentiments for political purpose has become the bane of Indian politics over the years. The opening of the lock at the Babri mosque complex and the subsequent permission of shilanyas on the disputed spot were done by the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi to collect Hindu votes. The passing of the Muslim Women‘s Bill in the wake o the Shah Bano case was done by the Congress to gather Muslim votes. If the Janata Dal took the help of the BJP to form its government at the Centre, the Congress too did not hesitate to vote along with the BJP to oust the same Janata Government at a moment when the Janata Dal fell out with the BJP‘s clamour over the same Babri Masjid issue. Even the Left in the late sixties did not have any qualms to form coalition governments with the Jan Sangh at the State level. The cumulative effect of this exploiting religious faith for electoral gains today is that the BJP leadership at this moment, instead of being branded as having violated the tenets of the Constitution, is regarded by the large body of Hindus, particularly in North India, as being heroes who have dared to defy the law to uphold the urge for Ram‘s temple.

With nobody having a clean hand on the issue of pampering to communalism, the BJP-RSS combine has been able to go so far in initiating a totalitarian communal approach as could be seen from their moves to change names of places and rewrite textbooks apart from the ghastly deed at Ayodhya. This multipronged communal approach can hardly be halted by mere seminars on secularism, but only by launching a nationwide mas movement for Hindu-Muslim amity, which alone can provide the surest guarantee for genuine secularism in the country. While swift administrative action to halt communal violence is imperative at the moment, the building of communal amity on sound footing can come only through relentless mass campaign. All parties will have to unequivocally abjure the slightest communal bias in political life with relentless vigilance. This applies equally to all communities, as is brought out by the ugly demonstrations in the Jamia Millia over the secular stand of a distinguished scholar. Hollow men do not make History, but unmake it.

Indian nationalism shall not endure by preaching hatred and deceit and disdain between brother and brother. Out of the ruins of the Babri mosque must rise the shining mansion of communal harmony. We, each one of us, have to pledge ourselves as our brother‘s keeper. What we need today is not sorrow but atonement.

(Mainstream, December 12, 1992)

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