ARTICLES FROM THE SUNDAY GUARDIAN
Copyright. All rights reserved. Ram Jethmalani. 2019.
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I write this as one of the earliest victims of the conquest, notwithstanding the several secret ones that must exist, but cannot reveal themselves. During the frenetic run-up to the general elections, during the last year and a half, people across the country for the first time saw their future Prime Minister at closer quarters. They saw his personality, his charisma, and his positive energy light up their television screens, and they grew to admire him. They knew already of his phenomenal administrative skills, and his passionate commitment to the people and land of Gujarat. They also knew that he had during his decade long governance, transformed the face of Gujarat, and improved its every facet, be it agriculture, development, industry or environment. During the last decade, they had witnessed in suppressed horror, the powerful, persistent, uninterrupted hate and disinformation campaign that was unleashed against him by the Italian branch of the Congress Party and their toadies to somehow get Modi fixed in the several cases that kept getting filed against him directly or indirectly.
Modi became an inspiration and role model for India's leadership, as people from Kashmir to Kanyakumari came to know him better during the election campaign, and collectively realised that India needed him badly. The youth of India, who hadn't seen inspirational leadership during their lifetime, came to love him immediately. After all, what they had seen during the decade long UPA rule, was that government was just another name for corruption and anti-nationalism.
After becoming PM, and with the mountain of responsibilities descending upon him, Modi's public conversational interactions with the people naturally shrank. He had to get down to business immediately, with no time to waste. Exchanging inane pleasantries, or cultivating Delhi socialites and wannabes or allowing them to cultivate him, was certainly not on his governance agenda. The famous Delhi fixers were left homeless and orphaned. Modi had to start working on converting his promises into reality, an arduous task that required road maps, sequencing of activities, budgets, state cooperation and public affirmation and participation. Everyone understood that after a decade of UPA decadence and misrule, and decades of indifference before that, it would be an extremely challenging and time consuming exercise.
But the people of India, who had showered him with their faith and trust, did indeed miss him. They had become so accustomed to hearing him almost every day, speaking about so many issues, directly touching their lives or the advancement of our nation, which they had never heard before. After he became Prime Minister, they wanted him to share his opinions and intentions about any and everything that happened in India, whether it was the recent Assembly election results, or calling off secretary level talks with Pakistan, or on ISIS claiming India as part of the ludicrous and imaginary new Caliphate. Wisely, Modi has abstained from public statements, unless it is about something immediately important for the nation; something which he would like them to hear with greatest attention and impact. He has his own canny sense of timing in this regard.
He decided he would start his term as Prime Minister by getting India and the subcontinent in the right geopolitical perspective, emphasising the strategic imperatives of "India First". He surprised the nation and the world, even as he was preparing for his swearing in, by inviting his SAARC counterparts. They were delighted, and so was the nation. He continued his geopolitical message by visiting our gentle, beautiful Buddhist neighbour Bhutan, coveted by Maoists and anti Indian groups, and our other neighbour Nepal, abandoned by India for more than a decade, exploited by ISI and Maoists.
Came 15 August and we got a clear indication of the first phase of his governance agenda rolling out, when he addressed the nation, as usual extempore, with all the sincerity and passion that describes his nationalism. The agenda was, for the most part, so elementary and basic that it sounded almost innocuous, with the greatest emphasis on sanitation for families, and inclusion of the poor in our banking systems. Modi himself admitted that he might well be criticised for announcing such elementary basics in what is seen as an august address that must highlight visionary and lofty stuff. But he was firm that every society can progress to greater heights only when the basics are firmly in place, innocuous that they might appear. The nation and the international community were stunned but appreciative of this refreshing, unfettered new approach. As he himself explained in New York, he saw himself as a small man trying to do big things for small people.
His visit to Japan, an old friend from Gujarat days, was a monumental success. While investment and economic growth were the major spurs, they included development of Varanasi, his new constituency, and of course, cleaning of the Ganga. And most important were the strategic overtones, for a bulwark against the maritime irredentism of China, the message being forcefully conveyed to them through his comparisons between vistaar and vikaas. But he also drummed with the drummers with astonishing skill, chatted with children, and shared India's Buddhist heritage with the monks. Japan unveiled to the world the evolving international personality of Modi, a combination of statesman, patriot, businessman and rock star.
I would consider the visit of the Chinese President last month as a definite watershed point for the future of India-China relations. China saw, after decades, a new kind of Indian leadership — decisive, confident and nationalist — which would not barter away national interest for the sake of appeasement. Of course, China tried their stale old tricks for embarrassment. This time, it was incursions into Ladakh. But Modi did not balk, and the talks went on undeterred, with a definite agreement to solve the border dispute. I am confident that by now the China desk of our Ministry of External Affairs would have a formidable "To Do" list. I must confess though that I am a bit disappointed that we are not using the great lesson on conduct of foreign policy bequeathed to us by the founding fathers of our Constitution, in the 51st Article of our basic law. And that is to reduce disputes by Arbitration, which includes intervention by the International Court of Justice. If the Chinese do not accept this, we must stop trusting them, and giving them access to our domestic markets. But perhaps, I am not as enlightened as our External Affairs Ministry leadership.
Modi's immediate response to the devastating Jammu and Kashmir floods and his offer to help the other half of Kashmir across the border was impeccable diplomacy. And while television channels beamed the state of the common people on both sides of the border, the world could see for itself, which side had more prosperous and better cared for communities.
The much awaited US visit, is undoubtedly a milestone signalling a decisive break with all the confounding, unsavoury baggage of the past, and marks the beginning of a new era of our relations with the US. Modi's rapturous reception in the US by the American Indian community and the US establishment is already legend. Modi spoke about everything he holds dear to his heart — the power of youth for unleashing India, our democratic and demographic strength, the urgency for skill development, our economic potential, particularly for manufacturing, and the need to aim for parity in agricultural, industrial and service sector growth. Both the US and India stressed their cultural similarities, their innate pluralism and their inclusive ethos for all religions and cultures.
But clearly, it was economic growth, defence and security, and combating terrorism that were uppermost on Modi's mind. His meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, something bold and unprecedented, gives an indication of the security shield that is envisaged. He spoke unambiguously about the need to have a global coalition against terrorism, something I have always advocated, and I am certain after reading the Vision Statement for the US-India strategic partnership, "Chalein Saath Saath: Forward Together We Go", that this is merely the beginning of a new relationship that will provide a common platform for fighting terrorism comprehensively. I disagree with the sceptics who believe that the Vision Statement is just another general, cosmetic statement, with no specific details. They should know that specific programmes are not announced by a head of government on foreign soil. They are finalised after a good deal of negotiation for the fine print, which must then follow the approval processes of democratic governments.
President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi also wrote a joint editorial for the Washington Post, again something unprecedented. This paragraph captures the spirit of the future transformational relationship: "Still, the true potential of our relationship has yet to be fully realized. The advent of a new government in India is a natural opportunity to broaden and deepen our relationship. With a reinvigorated level of ambition and greater confidence, we can go beyond modest and conventional goals. It is time to set a new agenda, one that realizes concrete benefits for our citizens."
I hope and pray that this is the first genuine step in creating an international federation of all genuine secular democracies of the world to combat the evil of exploitation, terrorism, violence and war that infest this sorry planet of ours.