ARTICLES FROM THE SUNDAY GUARDIAN
This week I am writing for my dear Muslim countrymen who believe that they are Indians first, who understand and cherish the secular values of our Constitution that protects them, who love our country and whose commitment to it is as strong as to their faith. I ask them, where do they see a conflict between the two?
I am not very sure what kind of indoctrination is going on within the madrasas today, but it would be of great religious and intellectual benefit to the Muslim community of India, if they could revisit the true tenets of Islam that were preached by the Prophet. Early Islam was never a rigid faith. It was built upon Zoroastrian, Jewish and Christian elements, that were combined to a code of conduct, which became a simple and clear religion, and strong morality. Mohammed did not repudiate Christ or the Jewish prophets.
Are the Muslims of India aware that the Prophet declared that "He who leaves his home in search of knowledge walks in the path of God", and the "ink of a scholar is holier than the blood of a martyr"?
Are they aware that early Islam tolerated the growth of Mu'tazilah, an Islamic school of theology based on reason and rational thought that flourished, between the 8th and 10th centuries? Its main assertion was that because of the perfect unity and eternal nature of Allah, the Quran must therefore have been created, as it could not be co-eternal with God. From this premise, the Mu'tazili school of Kalam proceeded to posit that the injunctions of God are accessible to rational thought and inquiry — because knowledge is derived from reason; reason is the "final arbiter" in distinguishing right from wrong. It follows, in Mu'tazili reasoning; that "sacred precedent" is not an effective means of determining what is just, as what is obligatory in religion is only obligatory "by virtue of reason".
I have always said that while the impulse of the Prophet lasted, Islam flourished. Its decline started when the message of the Prophet got diluted and when education of the young got into the hands of teachers with closed minds and darkened souls — a tragic phenomenon that persists till today.
I ask my Muslim countrymen to carefully verify whether Islam as practised by the corrupt politician or the ignorant mullah bears any resemblance to the original and pristine verses preached in the Quran.
Every faith, more so a revealed religion runs the risk of getting corrupted at the hands of the "interpreters". For all its liberal foundations, Islam has perhaps been the worst victim of exploitation at the hands of its supposed defenders.
The 17th century produced, in a remote village of east Central Arabia, an ideologue who has become the scourge of the 21st century — Mohamed Ibn Abdul Wahhab, founder of a sect called Wahhabi. He misunderstood the religion of Prophet Mohammed, a religion which by its name, stands for peace. He misconstrued what the Prophet had preached, picked up stray lines and convinced himself that his faith decreed death and annihilation to all mushrikhun, i.e. polytheists. By his definition, Christians, Jews, Shias and Hindus, among others, are polytheists, who have forfeited their right to live. He wanted to use jihad as a "cleansing" war against fellow Muslims, in complete disobedience to the Holy Quran that clearly forbids aggression: "fight in the way of god against those who fight against you, but do not commit aggression"(Quran 2:190-92).
Abdal-Latif, descendent of Wahhab, a scholar and religious leader in Riyadh, promoted a similar religious movement called Ikhwan, or brotherhood, the tenets of which were revived and intensified Wahhabism. Ibn Saud, founder of the House of Saud saw great merit in enlisting both — Ikhwan, which was useful for uniting warring tribes in their emerging state, and Wahhabi Islam, which would set up a well regulated Wahhabi society. Ibn Saud's descendant, King Faisal, went a step further and gave Wahhabi religious leaders control over Saudi religious education.
The founder of Jamaat e Islam, the India-born Maulana Mawdudi offered a parallel ideology during the last years of British rule, and this is the point from where cloistering and intellectual conflict of the Muslim community started. Secularism in education was condemned as aggression against Islamic legitimacy. Such thinking spawned the Muslim World League, which soon set up office in Peshawar, and became a recruiting ground for Osama bin Laden's followers. Osama bin Laden is the most evil face of Wahabbism.
I would like my Muslim countrymen to reflect whether Wahabbi Islam, apart from indoctrination through a counterfeit creed of Islam promoting terror, intolerance and fanaticism, in direct negation of the Prophet's teaching, has diverted the religion away from the path of inter-religious harmony, and acceptance of other faiths and creeds. And most tragically, has it legitimised and created a terror identity within Islam, in today's world, indoctrinating young minds into fanaticism that killing innocent persons in cold blood in the name of Islam will earn them post-mortem bliss.
This is the oppressive religious pressure under which the Muslim community of India has to live with, and I sympathise with their dilemma. I can only urge the educated and intelligent segment of the Muslim community to assess their situation through the lens of rationality which was the essence of pristine Islam, and provide enlightened leadership to their community that can take them forward and not backwards, not only in terms of their own personal progress, but also in terms of building a truly secular and integrated India.
The chequered history of Hindus and Muslims in our sub-continent has been traumatic, but for that very reason, it is imperative that both communities must make a conscious attempt to rise above the old traumas. Military and religious conquest invariably leaves behind a bitter trail, but little purpose is served by listing the thousands of temples demolished by Muslim invaders, down the centuries, or the immature Babri revenge. I have always stated that if a Ram temple is to be built where the mosque of the victorious Babar stood, it should only be built with the cooperation, support and love of the Muslim community. Let my Muslim friends reflect upon this. This gesture alone will demonstrate their magnanimity, the only sentiment that can heal the past wounds of conquest.
The Muslim leadership should also revisit the secularism as was practised in the days of early Islam, in accordance with the true teachings of the Prophet, and instil it in institutions of religious learning. True religious teachers must explain to the faithful that underlying all religions, whether they are teachings of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddha, Kabir or the Vedas, the core essence and the values they preach are universal, immutable, and eternal, because they are based on love, peace, tolerance and non-violence.
The Muslim community should take into account the instances of communal violence that have occurred in Congress and ally ruled states, and in BJP states, and judge for themselves which are more reliable in protecting their Constitutional rights. Yes, the Gujarat riots of 2002 were a tragedy as all such incidents anywhere are. But Modi has been able to prevent their recurrence, through able and inclusive governance. I appeal to my Muslim countrymen to note this achievement, liberate themselves from the destructive propaganda disseminated by the Congress, and support Modi in the coming election.
I have always agreed with Karl Marx that religion is the opiate of the masses. Religion has often lulled the unfortunate and the underprivileged to accept the injustices, sorrows and failures which they face within the inequitable social and political systems that they live in. In Hinduism, injustices and sorrows of life are ascribed to karma, and in other revealed religions, there is promise of rewards for undeserved suffering in the afterlife. But clinically, opium is expected to have a tranquilising, pacifying effect, leading the subject to passivity and separation from the real world. I'm sure even Marx would have been somewhat bewildered at seeing the opiate transforming itself into a strong stimulant for violence and discord, as is being witnessed in the world today.
Unfortunately, it is an accurate statement of the debit side of religion that all the ships of all the navies of the world can sail comfortably in the ocean of innocent blood that has been shed in the name of religion throughout the history of mankind. But I am proud of the outstanding wisdom of our founding leaders that we in India, opposing strong pressures to the contrary, opted to create not a religious state, but a secular one.
The speed and intensity with which religion is spilling over political and social space across the world is startling. The wheel is turning full circle, just when we thought we had left religious fanaticism and religious wars far behind us in history. And it is indeed ironic that religion seems to have become the signature of this young 21st century that held so much civilisational promise for democracy and secularism.
Christianity and Islam are two foreign revealed religions in India that came first through missionaries and then through conquest over the last two millennia. But today, both are asymmetrically placed as minority religions, with Christianity having turned completely secular in traditional Christian countries, but not in "propaganda territory" (i.e. third world countries), and Islam that has been politically captured by Wahhabis and extremists. Our non-revealed religion of the majority of people of India, called Hinduism, a name given to Sanatan Dharma by the British, has been under sustained pressure of conversion after conquest by Islamic rulers, for about 800 years, and after that by the Christian missionaries of the Empire for about 200 years, until 1947. Conversion to Islam and Christianity has been the norm in Indian society for the last 1,000 years, and I do realise that present day secular Indian intellectuals would have a problem in breaking with the past. However, it would appear today, after six decades of Independence that the majority religion has found a voice to speak, without any of the hypocrisy of simulated or engineered secularism, or any of the sham of vote banks. The hired secularists, who have no views on conversion, but only criticise any statement about it from the majority community, have enough space and freedom to continue the debate. Let a thousand flowers bloom in the marketplace of ideas, without judgement from apologetic mercenaries or hired secularists, and let the best ideas win in accordance with Article 25 of the Constitution. Let the crazy statements from Sadhvis Prachi and Niranjan Jyoti, or Yogi Adiyanath or Azam Khan and Asaduddin Owaisi come forth and be demolished, as they are being demolished, in the level playing fields of the secularism debate, as enshrined in our Constitution. So too let the highly avoidable statement from Sushma Swaraj advising that the Bhagwad Gita should be declared the national scripture of India be debated — a statement that has since been repeated in different forms and words by others, bringing no credit to our secular credentials. Monobina Gupta, editor of DNA Thought, has written a very sensible piece on this subject on 19.3.2015.
I have been an ardent adherent of the Gita, after I read the poem Song Celestial by Sir Edwin Arnold. I do believe that it is a sacred scripture. To me the essence of the Gita is contained in the portion that reads, "If one ponders on objects of the sense, there springs Attraction; from attraction grows desire, Desire flames to fierce passion, passion breeds Recklessness; then the memory — all betrayed — Lets noble purpose go, and saps the mind, Till purpose, mind, and man are all undone."
But this is not to say that I accept every word or message that it contains — certainly not its exposition of the duty of Kshatriyas to kill their kith and kin in a horrible war, fought and won with some treacherous actions too. However, every scripture has its essence and its disposable waste too. Secular India committed to the supreme rule of reason and logic must follow the former, and treat the latter as a myth. Mahatma Gandhi did that. He never suggested that when India becomes free, it shall make Gita a national scripture. He followed V.D. Savarkar in this particular formulation, and I am proud to follow them both. The great Shri Aurobindo too wrote in his essay on Gita, "Every Scripture must necessarily include two elements: the first is temporary, perishable, relative to the time and place in which it took shape, and the other is eternal and imperishable, applicable to all times and cultures." The second is captured in Sir Arnold's Song Celestial quoted above.
Now let me come to Subramanian Swamy, who has been in politics perhaps much longer than me. I am happy that the BJP has recognised his talent by elevating him as a member of the party's National Executive. I have had many differences with Swamy but our friendship has survived all of them.
Swamy has been in the news lately for stating his views about mosques during his recent visit to Assam, that they are not religious places, for which he gives historical evidence and contemporary evidence from Saudi Arabia, and even a quote from the Supreme Court constitutional bench, 1994, in the Ram temple matter, "that a masjid is not an essential part of Islamic religion and, therefore, in the British time mosques have been demolished for a public purpose". His views must be seen in their entirety on the merits of his evidence and logic, in the spirit of a secular debate, instead of being condemned, just because he has said something unconventional about a mosque at a time when religion has gone astray.
Swamy, himself a highly educated person and Harvard alumnus, is not really wrong in his belief that it is piety and devoutness of worship that constitute religion, and not the architecture or premises of prayer. I am sure he went to Assam with a pious political mission and certainly not to anger the Muslim population of the state or indeed the country. Unfortunately, only some portions of his speech have been extracted without context, and used against him, not only for an attempt to block his entry into Assam but also to institute proceedings against him by the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) before the local police for promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion.
Even though the BJP has tried to distance itself from Swamy by declaring that his statement reflects his personal views, I personally think a healthy debate on the subject, which incidentally Swamy wanted, would have been a much better reaction.
The right of every citizen to profess, practise and even propagate his religion has in express words been made completely subordinate to public order, health and morality by our Constitution. All religious belief must surrender to the rule of reason and logic, and the Constitution also, in express terms, makes it the duty of every citizen to develop a scientific spirit. Shifting a mosque from one place to another for the sake of peace, harmony or national integration would be quite in accordance with our Constitution. Of course, senseless demolition of a mosque, synagogue or temple without an overriding compulsion arising out of national need must be an offence punishable by law. But Swamy has not suggested anything like that. It will do some good to the BJP as well the people at large to understand the advice that Swamy gave in Guwahati with respect and an unprejudiced mind. I do hope the FIR filed against him will soon be withdrawn.
As far as I am concerned I have been continuously advocating that we must come out with a textbook on secularism that must be made compulsory reading in all schools and colleges. I also recommend that a wonderful interfaith book Religion Gone Astray, jointly produced by Christian pastor Don Mackenzie, Jewish rabbi Ted Falcon and Muslim imam Jamal Rahman, must be made available to our citizens in all regional languages, and be prescribed in our educational institutions.
And what exemplifies our secularism better than the oft quoted poem of Kabir, the famous weaver and Sufi Saint of India: If Khuda lives only in Masjid/ who looks after the rest of the world?
If Ram is lodged in the temple idol/who takes care of the universe?
Is East the abode of Hari,/and West that of Allah? Search in your heart for both of them,/there live both Karim and Ram.
They are one and the same,/Creator of the universe men and women are His image and Kabir is son of both Ram and Karim his preceptors are Guru and Pir alike.
It must be conceded that in the field of foreign policy Jawaharlal Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi was more astute than her father. While she must be given full credit for bringing freedom and democracy to Bangladesh, the debits she left behind started the destructive process in our polity. It was her manipulations of democracy that started its downward descent, a process that has expanded exponentially and diversified in every conceivable direction with the passage of decades. Thanks to the seeds sowed by her, we can, today, boast of being one of the most degraded and rogue democracies of the world.
She won her elections to Parliament by gross violation of prevailing election laws. She went into the witness box and gave false evidence, which was disbelieved. Her election was set aside by the high court. She appealed to the Supreme Court and lost. Instead of respecting law, the Constitution and judicial decision, she acquired the persona of a dictator, and decided that her salvation lay in completely subverting Indian democracy, and attacking the Constitution of India. She declared Emergency, imprisoned all her political rivals and critics, suspended human rights and made justice inaccessible to victims. Even when nine High Courts ruled that despite Emergency, courts could protect human rights, she got from the Supreme Court the notorious ADM Jabalpur judgement, making the judiciary completely impotent as defender of citizen's rights. She destroyed the Republic and all the self-respect of Indian democracy in the comity of nations. She ultimately held elections not because the spirit of democracy had revived in her, but because the sycophants surrounding her convinced her that she had won a lasting place in the heart of all the people of India who had forgiven her sins, however grave, and would re-elect her as PM. The people proved them wrong. After losing political power she refused to apologise and resorted to corruption and bribery to bring down the Janata government. It is true that she found wiling collaborators in the Janata Party, but it does not bring any credit to her for political integrity.
The most pernicious legacy left behind by Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay Gandhi to India's political ethic, that we see in its full blown form today, is the lumpenisation and criminalisation of politics, mainstreaming and institutionalising corruption in governmental and social systems, and distorting and subverting the term "secularism" by pitting it against the majority community, deepening vote bank politics, and trying to divide the country once more on the basis of religion.
The best Prime Minister that India has had till today, is the one that Congress Party never talks about, whose picture is never seen in their literature, and whose outstanding contribution has never been acknowledged. Lal Bahadur Shastri's tenure was short, curtailed by unkind providence, but his two great achievements need to be highlighted to the people of India. Way back in 1961, as Home Minister, Shastri saw the steady rise of corruption to the highest decks of our political life, and realised that India's problems, particularly its appalling poverty find their source in corruption. He appointed the Committee on Prevention of Corruption under K. Santhanam, one offshoot of which was the constitution of the Central Vigilance Commission. Have we ever heard the Congress leadership speak proudly of these contributions? Naturally not, because he was not from the dynasty.
His second achievement, completely concealed from today's voter, was even more magnificent. After the 1964 Indo-Pak war, he leveraged India's dominant position to heal the Kashmir ulcer created by Nehru's ceasefire folly, and attendant Indo-Pak problems, by a few simple sentences in the Tashkent Declaration — that both India and Pakistan will settle their disputes through peaceful means, not attempt to change the existing status quo by force, and not even indulge in propaganda for changing it. This was unprecedented. But, Indira Gandhi, victorious in the 1971 Indo-Pak war for Bangladesh, holding 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war, allowed the clever Bhutto to talk her into releasing them under the so called Simla Agreement, which apart from being otherwise useless, contained the final clause that the two Prime Ministers will meet to find a final solution to the Kashmir problem. What Shastri had made final and unalterable, Indira made tentative and negotiable, almost as if she was determined to revive the Kashmir ulcer. History shall never forgive her for this crime against the nation.
Rajiv Gandhi, the young and modern grandson of Nehru, son of Indira Gandhi became the imprimatur of dynastic democracy. This Nehru-Gandhi dynastic entitlement gradually started getting replicated across the country and spread to other political families of India. Today, this legacy has become a political tradition in our democracy, a lasting contribution of the Congress dynasty.
Rajiv, the idealistic young man with a dream, assiduously continued the corrupt and lumpen political tradition. His prime ministership started with an uncontrolled, state sponsored Sikh massacre and genocide, resulting in the death of thousands of innocent Sikh men and women, and destruction of their property, for which the only remorseless response he could offer was, "when a giant tree falls, the mother earth below shakes." As on date, no Congress leaders who perpetrated and led the anti Sikh riots have been punished, and some continue to enjoy important positions in government today. As I have repeatedly stated, it is only the greatness of the Sikh community that they have forgiven the Congress. The Gandhi family can never wash their hands of their sins of sponsoring, and now protecting the genocide leaders. They may have been able to secure friendly judges in India, but class action suits filed by Sikh organisations in the US for protecting perpetrators of Sikh genocide continue to haunt Sonia Gandhi even today.
Rajiv's achievements on the corruption front were inadvertent. Before departing from this world prematurely, the words Rajiv Gandhi, Bofors, Quattrocchi, and commissions had become bracketed together in common parlance. The science of practising corruption with guaranteed protection against the arm of law and punishment, has become the forte of Rajiv's widow, Sonia Gandhi. Her first great success, achieved after great perseverance and commitment, was the burial of the Bofors case, with able political assistance provided by both opposition and ruling parties, and the right CBI directors. Bofors was the first of the "foreign hand" kind of defence related scams, a forerunner and inspiration for several more to follow — Scorpene, Tatra, Agusta Westland, Rolls Royce — that we have seen practised in the last ten years of the UPA government, under the chairpersonship of Sonia Gandhi, with a trusted Defence Minister, A.K. Antony. And mind you, like Bofors, the first information of these scams almost always seemed to come from the foreign press.
Rajiv Gandhi, despite his dreams for India and pretensions to modernity succumbed to communal and vote bank politics with his stand on the Shah Bano case, in which the Supreme Court ruled that Shah Bano be given alimony by her divorced husband. Muslim fundamentalists agitated that it was an encroachment in their Personal Law. Under their pressure, in 1986, the Congress, which had an absolute majority in Parliament at the time, passed an Act that nullified the Supreme Court's judgement in the Shah Bano case. This can only be seen as retrogressive obscurantism for short-term minority populism, betraying the welfare and protection of Muslim women in India. This legacy of the Congress has incrementally evolved to proportions that can today, in most moderate language, be termed only as anti-national, anti-Muslim, communal and divisive vote bank politics, using every trick of the trade to divide the majority and minority communities, and ensure that minorities and the vote banks they constitute, remain in a position of dependency forever.
Rajiv's disastrous foreign policy and fatal misadventure in Sri Lanka, not only cost him his life, but left another ulcer in India's southern maritime border with Sri Lanka. The double dealings with the LTTE and Jayawardane, and the humiliation of the IPKF have led some political analysts to term Rajiv's Sri Lankan misadventure as the Vietnam of India.
These destructive legacies of the Congress Party, more particularly of the Prime Ministers from the Nehru Gandhi family have embedded themselves deeper and deeper into India's body politic, and have become full blown under the ghost prime ministership of Sonia Gandhi in UPA 1 and 2. We have during the last ten years seen our democracy reduced to a game of dice in Parliament, where numbers are bought, sold, and traded. Criminalisation of politics and corruption have reached unsurpassed limits; looting the nation's resources by elected representatives has become their entitlement; constitutional institutions have been subverted to serve the corrupt government, through a system of cronyism and corruption partnerships, and rewards and appointments; rule of law has been substituted with the rule of the jungle, might over right; and divisive communalism has replaced secularism as enshrined in the Constitution of India.
The Congress Party has ruled India for almost 55 years since independence, and the Nehru Gandhi dynasty for 37 years, 47 if one includes Sonia Gandhi's ghost prime ministership. Many of our young voters were not born or were too young to know about the atrocities that have been unleashed on India, that I have detailed above. Let them enquire further and judge for themselves the debits and credits bequeathed to the nation by the Congress Party and its dynasty.
Well, the prodigal has returned, with unbelievable numbers that even he did not expect. And surely, it couldn't be on account of "tampered" EVMs, about which he complained to the Election Commission. He is back to government, despite his inherent discomfort with it, and will have to overcome his addiction to the heady, irresponsible world of activism and protest. But who must he thank for this bonanza? Himself alone, or must he also thank the BJP, who from start to finish did everything possible for him to achieve not only his goal of capturing the Government of Delhi despite his previous shenanigans and betrayal of the people, but to also virtually sweep away both the dying Congress and the hubris-ridden BJP with his broom.
For the BJP, it was a star-crossed campaign, starting with the timing of the election. Can BJP political strategists explain why Delhi elections were not held just after the Parliament elections, when Narendra Modi was at the crest of a wave, and Kejriwal was a demolished leader, a deserter? Then followed what appeared to be a calculated marginalisation of the established Delhi BJP leadership.. Harsh Vardhan, an extremely popular Delhi BJP leader and a continuous winner of five elections since 1993, was humiliated and removed as Health Minister. A charitable interpretation of this insult was that this would give him more time to concentrate on the impending Delhi elections, where he would be projected as the Chief Ministerial candidate. Instead, Harsh Vardhan was humiliated further by having his constituency snatched from him, a constituency he had won by more than 40,000 votes in 2013.
Why a career police officer, who joined the BJP barely 22 days before the election, was suddenly catapulted into a highly contested election, and why the local BJP cadre was marginalised, if not humiliated, is also inexplicable. Such actions only confirm public comments that the BJP has fallen into the Congress high command mould, something that will cause costly political mistakes, Delhi being just the first. These perceptions do no credit to BJP's political decision makers, whoever they might be, and surely these same decision makers should be aware of the feedback — that they are seen as averse to having powerful and popular Chief Ministers, just like the Congress before them. Maharashtra, Haryana, and Goa are cited as examples. The Prime Minister must realise that such perceptions have already started denting his image. He must reflect on how to prevent further damage.
I must also inform the BJP leadership that they are being perceived as having only aversion and scorn for known and unknown persons and organisations which supported them in their dark days, when the entire heft of the previous regime was out to destroy them and send them to political oblivion. Take the case of the powerful section of lawyers who sincerely worked for BJP's success, just as I did, during the entire election campaign last year. But the new dispensation showed their gratitude by ignoring them completely. When they turned against the BJP after Kiran Bedi was announced the Chief Ministerial candidate, even I could not succeed in changing their mind.
Though still not the subject of public debate, yet I'm sure the BJP is quite aware that a large chunk of the AAP vote was the erstwhile BJP vote. Clearly, this was the answer that the Delhi BJP cadres gave to their dictatorial high command. One might just look at the simple arithmetic of Krishna Nagar constituency where Kiran Bedi lost by about 2,200 votes, which Harsh Vardhan had won by about 43,000 votes in 2013. Where did all of Harsh Vardhan's votes go? Call it sabotage or revolt, but most importantly, it is a lesson that BJP's highest decision makers must learn.
Now, let's see how the BJP wooed the Delhi voter. I'm informed that the newly elected MPs remained uninvolved in connecting the party with the voter. Prices of fruit, vegetables, pulses and other day to day requirements kept soaring, hitting their highest during election month, and bringing great distress to the poor and middle classes. This failing of the government became even more pronounced because in spite of petrol and diesel prices falling, corresponding decrease in food prices did not happen; instead there was a colossal upward jump. Every administration has enough powers and mechanisms to stabilise prices, if it so chooses. But the Delhi administration under President's Rule remained inert and unresponsive. As if that were not enough, the Finance Minister came up with a special incentive to woo his voters, promising them that LPG subsidy would soon be scrapped for "well off" people. Many motives are being ascribed for this strategy for inviting defeat, that I'm sure will come to light sooner or later. But the middle classes were completely disillusioned.
This ill-conceived strategy, something unexpected from master strategist Amit Shah, whose greatest forte is supposed to be winning elections, was further debased by the substandard and counterproductive content of the campaign, so uncharacteristic of Modi. Why the Prime Minister had to repeatedly stake his personal credibility to compete with a neophyte, famous for making false promises to a constituency of the gullible, is not easy to understand.
As a well-wisher of the PM, I can only express that he is lucky that this jolt has come early in his tenure. He must use it as a window of opportunity to seriously reflect upon several leadership and governance issues and take corrective action if he wants to retain the trust of the people.
The PM must start by asking himself how many promises he has kept to the people of India, and must remain in communication with the common man regarding their progress. He must empower his ministers to update the people regarding them regularly, particularly promises that touch their lives, such as, food prices, skill development, employment, agriculture reform.
I wonder if the PM is aware that in public perception, the government is being branded as being pro rich/industry, and disconnected with the poor. Do not make the same mistake of NDA 1, which did not give India's poor a single transformational programme.
The PM should start giving equal time and importance to good governance, as he does to foreign affairs. Of course, he must send the right messages in international affairs to correct the diplomatic somnolence of the previous regime. But he should also become aware that his preoccupation with foreign affairs has become a talking point, something seen as heady escapism and narcissism.
He must also know that the general atmosphere of governance has become completely PM centric — where the entire bureaucracy only works if there is a PM's announcement. Other important, regular work of several ministries is suffering, because ministers don't seem to matter, only the PM does. These are bad signs.
There is also adverse comment that the government has become completely inaccessible and impervious to public voice, that it considers criticism a hostile act, and has forgotten how to listen. "Arrogant" and "dictatorial" are two most commonly used words for describing the government. Let the PM know these perceptions and change his lifestyle and work style to overcome them, while he still has the opportunity.
Lastly, let me mention another misfeasance that contributed to the humiliation of the BJP, and of course its chief executive — the virtual frustration of the Prime Minister's solemn promise to the people of bringing back our stolen wealth stashed in foreign banks. The previous government was only shielding the criminals. But important and favoured BJP leaders occupying crucial positions of power continue to imitate Chidambaram's tactics, whose correspondence with the German government only reveals that he did not want any disclosures from the Germans. Under pressure of the Supreme Court judgment and Transparency International, India, he reluctantly made some pretence of effort. But his correspondence reveals that he only wanted the names not of the real criminals, but of small offenders who were liable by the laws of more than one country to pay income tax on the same income.
The present Finance Minister has gone one step further. He has admitted before Parliament that he has been using the Amended Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement, and no wonder he gets nothing. This Amendment was brought about by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in mid 2011. It prevents India from invoking the UN Convention Against Corruption and has only prospective effect.
Amit Shah made a shocking statement during the Delhi election, that treaties with foreign governments are great hurdles for retrieving black money abroad, and scoffed that the PM's promise was just an election "jumla" (gimmick). Questions are being raised as to how the PM is tolerating this impertinence that is harming him the most. I have written to Amit Shah my protest and expression of contempt, and the fight in the Supreme Court will intensify.
Mr Prime Minister, as an elder and well wisher, who has striven in several ways during the last few years to see you reach your present position, I urge you to reflect seriously upon where you stand with the nation and its people today. The people of India have imposed great trust in you to give them a better life and the nation greater progress. Let it not be frittered away through ill-meaning advisers and sycophants, whose only intention is to weaken and mislead the ruler and separate him from reality. The sooner you identify and discard them the better, otherwise, their stranglehold only grows.
Meanwhile, a crown of thorns awaits Kejriwal. Delhi waits to see whether he will legislate and not agitate, whether he will compose and not oppose. Let his self-confessed anarchism transform into constitutionalism, and let not his 67 swallow him. I personally would appreciate, even now, if he disowns what I have asked him to.
Copyright. All rights reserved. Ram Jethmalani. 2019.
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