An open letter to Narendra Modi


Let this historic win be followed by a historic innings, which stuns the world by surprises your supporters may not want of you but many more would want to see you unfurl, writes Gopalkrishna Gandhi

Dear Prime Minister-designate,

This comes with my hearty felicitations. I mean and say that in utter sincerity, which is not very easy for me to summon, because I am not one of those who wanted to see you reach the high office that you have reached. You know better than anyone else, that while many millions are ecstatic that you will become Prime Minister, many more millions may, in fact, be disturbed, greatly disturbed by it.

Until recently I did not believe those who said you were headed there. But, there you are, seated at the desk at which Jawaharlal Nehru sat, Lal Bahadur Shastri did, and, after a historic struggle against Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, another Gujarati, Morarji Desai did, as did later, your own political mentor, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Those who did not want you there have to accept the fact that you are there.

Despite all my huge misgivings about your deserving that rare privilege, I respect someone coming from so sharply disadvantaged a community and family as yours, becoming Prime Minister of India. That fulfils, very quintessentially, the vision of our egalitarian Constitution.

Revisting the idea of desh

When some spoke rashly and derisively of your having been a “chaiwala,” I felt sick to my stomach. What a wonderful thing it is, I said to myself, that one who has made and served chai for a living should be able to head the government of India. Far better bearing a pyala to many than being a chamcha to one.

But, Mr. Modi, with that said, I must move to why your being at India’s helm disturbs millions of Indians. You know this more clearly than anyone else that in the 2014 election, voters voted, in the main, for Modi or against Modi. It was a case of “Is Narendra Modi the country’s best guardian — desh ka rakhvala — or is he not?” The BJP has won the seats it has because you captured the imagination of 31 per cent of our people (your vote share) as the nation’s best guardian, in fact, as its saviour. It has also to be noted that 69 per cent of the voters did not see you as their rakhvala. They also disagreed on what, actually, constitutes our desh. And this — the concept of desh — is where, Mr. Modi, the Constitution of India, upon the authority of which you are entering the office of Prime Minister, matters. I urge you to revisit the idea of desh.

Reassuring the minorities

In invoking unity and stability, you have regularly turned to the name and stature of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The Sardar, as you would know, chaired the Constituent Assembly’s Committee on Minorities. If the Constitution of India gives crucial guarantees — educational, cultural and religious — to India’s minorities, Sardar Patel has to be thanked, as do other members of that committee, in particular Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, the Christian daughter of Sikh Kapurthala. Adopt, in toto, Mr. Modi, not adapt or modify, dilute or tinker with, the vision of the Constitution on the minorities. You may like to read what the indomitable Sardar said in that committee.

Why is there, in so many, so much fear, that they dare not voice their fears?

It is because when you address rallies, they want to hear a democrat who carries the Peoplehood of India with him, not an Emperor who issues decrees. Reassure the minorities, Mr. Modi, do not patronise them. “Development” is no substitute to security. You spoke of “the Koran in one hand, a laptop in the other,” or words to that effect. That visual did not quite reassure them because of a counter visual that scares them — of a thug masquerading as a Hindu holding a Hindu epic’s DVD in one hand and a minatory trishul in the other.

In the olden days, headmasters used to keep a salted cane in one corner of the classroom, visible and scary, as a reminder of his ability to lash the chosen skin. Memories, no more than a few months old, of the riots in Muzaffarnagar which left at least 42 Muslims and 20 Hindus dead and displaced over 50,000 persons, are that salted cane. “Beware, this is what will be done to you!” is not a threat that anyone in a democracy should fear. But that is the message that has entered the day’s fears and night’s terrors of millions.

It is in your hands, Mr. Modi, to dispel that. You have the authority and the power to do that, the right and the obligation as well. I would like to believe that, overcoming small-minded advice to the contrary, you will dispel that fear.

All religious minorities in India, not just the Muslim, bear scars in their psyche even as Hindus and Sikhs displaced from West Punjab, and Kashmiri Pandits do. There is the fear of a sudden riot caused with real or staged provocation, and then returned with multiplied retribution, targeted very specially on women. Dalits and Adivasis, especially the women, live and relive humiliation and exploitation every minute of their lives. The constant tug of unease because of slights, discrimination, victimisation is de-citizenising, demoralising, dehumanising. Address that tug, Mr. Modi, vocally and visibly and win their trust. You can, by assuring them that you will be the first spokesman for their interests.

No one should have the impudence to speak the monarchist language of uniformism to a republic of pluralism, the vocabulary of “oneness” to an imagination of many-nesses, the grammar of consolidation to a sensibility that thrives in and on its variations. India is a diverse forest. It wants you to nurture the humus that sustains its great variety, not place before it the monochromatic monoculturalism of a political monotheism.

What has been taken as your stand on Article 370 of the Constitution, the old and hackneyed demand for a Uniform Civil Code, the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, and what the media have reported as your statements about “Hindu refugees” in our North and North-West and “Muslim refugees” in our East and North-East, strikes fear, not trust. Mass fear, Mr. Modi, cannot be an attribute of the Republic of India. And, as Prime Minister of India, you are the Republic’s alter ego.

India’s minorities are not a segment of India, they are an infusion in the main. Anyone can burn rope to cinder, no one can take the twist out of it. Bharat mata ki jai, sure, Mr. Modi, but not superseding the compelling urgency of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s clarion — Jai Hind!

A historic win it has been for you, Mr. Modi, for which, once again, congratulations. Let it be followed by a historic innings, which stuns the world by surprises your supporters may not want of you but many more would want to see you unfurl. You are hugely intelligent and will not mind unsolicited but disinterested advice of one from an earlier generation. Requite the applause of your support-base but, equally, redeem the trust of those who have not supported you. When you reconstitute the Minorities Commission, ask the Opposition to give you all the names and accept them without change. And do the same for the panels on Scheduled Castes and Tribes, and Linguistic Minorities. And when it comes to choosing the next Chief Information Commissioner, the next CAG, CVC, go sportingly by the recommendation of the non-government members on the selection committee, as long as it is not partisan. You are strong and can afford such risks.

Addressing the southern deficit

Mr. Modi, there is a southern deficit in your India calculus. The Hindi-belt image of your victory should not tighten itself into a North-South divide. Please appoint a deputy prime minister from the South, who is not a politician at all, but an expert social scientist, ecologist, economist or a demographer. Nehru had Shanmukham Chetty, John Mathai, C.D. Deshmukh and K.L. Rao in his cabinet. They were not Congressmen, not even politicians. Indira Gandhi had S. Chandrashekhar, V.K.R.V. Rao. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the UPA did not make Professor M.S. Swaminathan and Shyam Benegal, both nominated members in the Rajya Sabha, ministers. There is a convention, one may even say, a healthy convention, that nominated members should not be made ministers. But exigencies are exigencies. Professor Nurul Hasan, a nominated member, was one of the best Ministers of Education we have had.

Imperial and ideological exemplars appeal to you. So, be Maharana Pratap in your struggle as you conceive it, but be an Akbar in your repose. Be a Savarkar in your heart, if you must, but be an Ambedkar in your mind. Be an RSS-trained believer in Hindutva in your DNA, if you need to be, but be the Wazir-e-Azam of Hindostan that the 69 per cent who did not vote for you, would want you to be.

With every good wish as you take your place at the helm of our desh,

I am, your fellow-citizen,

Gopalkrishna Gandhi

(The writer is a former administrator and diplomat. He was Governor of West Bengal, 2004-2009, and officiating Governor of Bihar, 2005-2006.)

courtesy : “The Hindu”, 19 May 2014

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

Politics is a strange game where no holds are barred for electoral advantages. It also expresses, to some extent, the political ideology of those playing these games in addition to the distortion of events, which are done deliberately. Interpretation of the very same events is diametrically different for different political groups. The sad plight of Kashmiri Pundits exodus is no exception to this.

During his election campaign the BJP leader Narendra Modi has been making several statements which at one level are factually inaccurate and at another level they have communal interpretation through and through. He stated that biggest blow to secular fabric of India was delivered from Kashmir from where Kashmiri Pundits were forced out and that Abdullah’s (Sheikh Abdulla, Farooq and Omar) were behind it. (28th April 2014) In response Farooq and Omar shot back that exodus of Pandits took place under the Presidents rule with Jagmohan, a BJP hand, as the Governor of Kashmir. That time it was the V.P.Singh Government at Center and this Government was being supported by BJP from outside. While all three Addullah’s  are not the same, nor is their role a continuum nor all of them secular angels the tragedy of exodus of Pundits is much more complex than being attributed to them. The role which each of the Abdulla’s played cannot be put in the same basket.

As such communalism has been the great bane of the subcontinent and its biggest and most tragic expression was the partition of India in which millions were butchered and a larger number migrated to both sides of the border. Apart from these migrations which took place, forcing people to far off lands, there are local migrations also, which follow the communal violence of mass scale like the one in Mumbai 1992-93 or Gujarat 2002 where the people left their homes, where they were living for decades and had to shift to the other parts of the same city leading to formation of ghettoes, Mumbra in Mumbai and Juhapura in Ahmadabad being two major ones’.The roots of exodus of Kashmiri Pundits lies in the aftermath of the partition, the decision of Maharaja of Kashmir to remain indepe

ndent, the attack of Kabayilis, Tribal, from Pakistan and the Sheikh Abdullah’s strong stance to accede with India and not with Pakistan. This decision was not on religious considerations but was with the hope that in India secularism will flourish with leaders like Gandhi and Nehru. With murder of Gandhi by communal forces and the pressure of communal forces to forcibly abolish article 370, the autonomy of Kashmir started being questioned. Just to recall Article 370 was the basis of accession of Kashmir to India. This Article gave to autonomy to Kashmir Assembly in most matters barring defense, communication, currency and external affairs. With the opposition to this clause and demand for forcible merger of Kashmir to India by communal forces, the Sheikh started feeling jittery. He started reconsidering his decision of accession to India, leading to his arrest and starting of process of alienation in Kashmir. This process of alienation led to militancy in due course and with the encouragement from Pakistan took on dangerous proportions. Still this militancy was centered on the concept of Kashmiriyat. Kashmiriyat is synthesis of Buddhism, Vedanta and Sufi traditions. After the hanging of Maqbool Butt in 1985 and the entry of Al Qaeda type elements in Kashmir in the aftermath of Afghan war, this militancy got transformed to being communal. The result was that the Hindus, Pundits, started being targeted badly.

Even before1990, the first major exodus of Pundits took place after the partition riots and partly due to land reforms introduced by Sheikh Abdullah. Incidentally the Hindu population in Kashmir had gone through a very complex history of conversion to Buddhism and later to Islam through Sufi saints. The Hindus started being referred to as Pundits from 15th Century onwards. This happened after Akbar won over Kashmir and employed the Hindus in his administration. He was impressed by their qualities and conferred the title Pundit on them. 

The process of latest exodus begins with communalization of the militancy, a transition from Kashmiriyat to Islamism. One version a la Modi says that Kashmiri Pandits were driven from Kashmir valley by the Muslim militants and this was a planned move by the Muslim majority Kashmir. The Muslim majority was totally opposed to the harassment of Pundits.

In this militancy while Hindus were targeted in a big way, even Muslims were not spared. We will have a look at the figures of the casualties and destruction of property in Kashmir by the militants. Thousands of Muslims from different parts of the Kashmir valley also had to migrate to the neighboring Himachal Pradesh in search of employment. Over 40.000 Muslims from Kashmir also live in a refugee camp in New Delhi. They have also taken to various jobs like coolies etc in neighboring states. One of the Times of India report (5th Feb.1992) based on official figures reported that militants killed 1585 men and women, including 982 Muslims, 218 Hindus, 23 Sikhs and 363 security personnel between January 1990 and October 1992.

The wholesale migration of Pundits from the valley was a big blow to the traditions of the valley. The damage by militants was to both the communities and not to Hindus alone. The Pundits were intimidated much more and had considered migration first in 1986 but this decision was held in abeyance due to the appeals of a goodwill mission, which was constituted by reputed Kashmiris, steeped in plural culture. As we saw in 1990 the militancy was stepped up. This time around Mr. Jag Mohan, who later became a minister in BJP led NDA Government, was the Governor of Kashmir. Balraj Puri in his book Kashmir (Orient Blackswan, 1993) points out that Jagmohan  ensured dissolution of the goodwill mission to Pundits by pressurizing one of the Pandit members of the team to migrate to Jammu (Puri, 2000, 65).

Balraj Puri in March 1990 stated " I found no hostility among common Muslims in Kashmir against Pundits, and that allegations of gross violations of Human rights by security forces needs to be investigated"(Puri, 2000, 66). At that time Hindu Communal forces took it upon themselves to spread fear amongst Pundits, "Much disinformation is being spread in Jammu and Delhi that scores of Hindu temples and the shrines have been desecrated or destroyed in Kashmir. This is completely untrue and it is baffling that the Government has not thought it fit to ask Doordarshan to do a program on mandirs in Kashmir just to reassure people that they remain unharmed."(Press Council of India, 1991)

All things considered the problem of Pundits migration is unfortunate outcome of the alienation of Kashmiri people resulting in militancy, communalization of militancy in late 1990s, Hindu communalist outfits’ baseless spreading of fear psychosis and pressure of Governor Jag Mohan and not due to the Hindu-Muslim hostility, not due to Abdullah’s.

Poet Kalhan of Kashmir, in his classic Rajtarangini writes that it is only through punya (noble deeds) and not force that Kashmir can be won over. We need to remind ourselves of this profound wisdom of Kalhan while making policies about Kashmir. Rather than putting the blame on one political stream. The role of global politics, the historical baggage of partition and post partition problems, the role of global terrorism propped up by US policy of control over oil resources; its influence on militancy in Kashmir and the role of communal forces in spreading fear also need to be kept in mind while commenting on this tragedy of mammoth proportions.

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED