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His choice, his misstep

Pranab Mukherjee’s decision to address RSS meet in Nagpur need not perturb the Congress. He did not go there as a representative of the party.

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Pranab Mukherjee

Pranab Mukherjee is a consummate politician. Yet, sometimes politicians falling in that class also trip up. For a person who understands the historical moorings of the Congress party, its avowed ideals and the challenges it faces, he must have given deep thought before he acquiesced to stand in the midst of forces that have had a visceral hatred for what the Congress has always stood for.

The RSS propagates a kind of religious fervour, far removed from the essentials of Hinduism. It seeks a form of revanche which manifests itself in levels of intolerance, that have since 2014, witnessed a turbulent India trying to come to terms with the civilisational values she historically cherished. There are two parallel ideologies at play. One that is sanctioned by the Constitution and the other that is constitutionally abhorrent. One that seeks to uphold the values of our Republic, the other that endeavours to emasculate those values. One embraces nationalism and patriotism as concepts that are associated with citizenship, the other seeks to redefine both concepts. When provoked, people must, to prove their patriotism, say “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, otherwise they are slapped around. The silence of the RSS is a sign of approbation. All those who condemn this government’s turns and u-turns in our policy towards Pakistan or criticise the army’s use of pellets with children losing their eyesight in Kashmir are targeted for being anti-national. We are required to follow majoritarian impositions to prove both our patriotism and nationalism.

This majoritarian cultural mindset is antithetical to what we peace-loving citizens have always stood for. The thoughts of K B Hedgewar provide the breeding ground for RSS ideologues. The aspirations of the RSS are not limited to capturing the reins of power. They seek transformation of India and assertion of Hindu pride badly bruised by centuries of dominance. Innocent victims of violence at the hands of obscurantist mindsets are setting an example of such assertion. Today, it is not the BJP but the RSS that seeks to guide India to realise her destiny, in direct contrast to the BJP of the Vajpayee era. This majoritarian culture muffles free speech of all those opposed to it; celebrates violence with impunity; decides on what we should eat and how we should dress; issues diktats on what we should trade in and how we must trade; derides and punishes if we marry outside the narrow confines of their prejudices; seeks conformist forms of artistic expression and decides on the heroes and villains of history which need not emerge from scholarship; ensures that children’s textbooks align with majoritarian thought processes and makes universities laboratories of conflict by demoralising those holding contrarian views. To achieve all or some of the above, the recruitment of RSS pracharaks in the several layers of government is part of the national agenda. All this is a precursor of things to come including government control of all channels of communication. To top it all, the RSS through rumours and misinformation evokes societal frenzy, treating those on the other side as the enemy. Corrupted social media platforms are used to spread rumours, breed hatred and help the majoritarian cause.

The lathi is not a weapon to be used for self-defence. We have been shaken by images of lathis lacerating innocent victims for following their vocations. The bizarre sight of the flow of lathis is in sharp contrast to stratified thoughts and static minds that wield them. The trappings of discipline along with a moulded mindset provide for an uncompromising authoritarian culture. To see Pranab Mukherjee in their midst was almost surreal. He surely had not gone there to convince the RSS top brass. Nor could his valedictory address be an occasion for a dialogue. To give the RSS lessons in the history of a multi-cultural, tolerant India and the true meaning of nationalism and patriotism was akin to pouring water off a duck’s back. So why did he go? He certainly did not go there to prove his credentials. His long years of public service did not need public articulation and that too within the ranks of those whose purpose in life is to deconstruct the legacy of India.

Yet, I don’t think his presence gives legitimacy to obscurantist forces that seek to paint India saffron. The Congress need not be unduly perturbed. He did not go there as a representative of the party. Had that been so, he would not have given any space to those who are seeking to prosecute the Congress president. He went there, I think, to symbolise the forces that represent the mainstream of Indian politics reasserting itself. That he could have done the same without embarrassing mainstream India was a matter of his choice. That choice was a misstep. To have him pay respect to the bhagwa jhanda and refer to Hedgewar as a great son of India will be moments that will be savoured by the RSS: Moments embarrassing for the idea of India. This is the time for the Congress to be the uncompromising mainstream of politics, undiluted by this hyphenated moment.

Courtesy: This article is published in Indianexpress on 12 June 2018
The writer, a former Union minister, is a senior Congress leader.

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Which of Vajpayee’s bequests will the BJP honour?

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee

It cannot be gainsaid that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as it is run today, will find it difficult to live up to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s legacy of moderation.

From this aspect, his death has come at an inconvenient time for the party because there will be constant reminders during the run-up to the four state assembly elections this winter about Vajpayee’s gentleness, which was his foremost political talent.

This will be particularly relevant in the matter of rhetoric which has tended to become increasingly acerbic in recent times. The chances of the speeches becoming more venomous are all the greater when the BJP’s prospects are not supposed to be all that bright in the key states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, as a poll survey has predicted.

Therefore, as caustic comparisons are made between aristocratic lineage and the humble background of a worker — naamdar and kaamdar — Vajpayee’s more temperate oratory may be recalled.

It was Vajpayee’s moderation which enabled him to hold together for more than three years from 1999 to 2002 a mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) of as many as 24 parties, the likes of which had never been seen before and is unlikely to be seen in the future.

The achievement will appear all the more remarkable at a time when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre is fraying at the edges with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) having walked out while the Shiv Sena is forever engaged in verbal onslaughts against the BJP and the Akali Dal is patently uneasy.

What is more, doubts are being expressed as to whether the BJP will be able to form a coalition at the Centre if it fails to secure a majority of its own in the Lok Sabha in 2019 because Modi is seemingly temperamentally averse to act in tandem with others. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s restiveness is a reminder of this proclivity at the NDA’s highest levels.

If Vajpayee’s accommodativeness cannot be seen in the BJP today, neither is its ability to push ahead with the economic reforms as during the former Prime Minister’s reign when several PSUs such as Modern Foods, Balco and Hindustan Zinc were disinvested. In contrast, the present government has not been able to find a buyer for the perennially sick Air India.

However, the most crucial of Vajpayee’s legacies is the peace which prevailed in his time till the Gujarat riots of 2002, which paved the way for his defeat two years later as he ruefully conceded.

Before the riots, however, there was nothing like the present near-anarchic scenes which have made the Supreme Court bemoan the prevailing mobocracy as the “new normal” and the Centre to consider enacting a law to stop lynchings.

It would be a mistake, however, to claim that Vajpayee did no wrong. The targeting of Tehelka and Outlook magazines beause of their embarrassing disclosures about the unsavoury goings-on in high places is a reminder that no government — not even Vajpayee’s — can be tolerant of a genuinely free press.

It is an unworthy legacy going back to Rajiv Gandhi’s abortive attempt to muzzle the media with his proposed Publication of Objectionable Materials Act in the wake of the Bofors howitzer scam, not to mention his mother’s draconian Emergency rule.

But, for Vajpayee, it was an uncharacteristic misstep in the misuse of the Enforcement Directorate and other government agencies, which has largely been forgotten. What is remembered instead is the fact that of all the saffron leaders, he was the only one who had the Nehruvian vision of the “idea” of a multicultural India.

It was this broad outlook which made Vajpayee urge the Jan Sangh in 1960 to open its doors to “all Indian citizens irrespective of creed or sects”. Noting that at least formally, the party is opposd to politics being linked with religion, he said that “in the partition of the country, we have already had a grim experience of the consequences of mingling politics with religion”.

Not surprisingly, Vajpayee was not a favourite of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) despite the swayamsevak tag that he wore all his life, which is why one of the RSS chiefs of his time, K.S. Sudarshan, wanted his as well as L.K. Advani’s ouster from positions of power by calling for a generational change in the BJP.

Incidentally, Sudarshan was believed to have prevailed upon Vajpayee on the eve of the ministry-making in 1998 not to make Jaswant Singh the finance minister since he was not a true-blue (true-saffron) Sanghi.

Now that a generational change has taken place in the BJP, it has to be seen how many of Vajpayee’s inheritances are honoured and how many disregarded.

If his moderation does not gell with the party’s aggressive pro-Hindu line, which made observers say that Vajpayee was the right man in the wrong party, the BJP can at least acknowledge his adulation of Jawaharal Nehru (whom the party likes to dislike at present) as Bharat Mata’s “favourite prince”. As Vajpayee’s accolade to Nehru showed, not all naamdars are to be shunned.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected] )

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Kofi Annan, global statesman, architect of UN development goals

He rose to become the head of UN peacekeeping operations in 1993 and a under Secretary-General in 1994.

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Kofi Annan

United Nations, Aug 18 (IANS) Kofi Annan, the gentle global statesman who died on Saturday, led the world body for two terms during which brought focus to development as the foundation of peace and security.

During his tenure from January 1997 to December 2006 as Secretary General, he steered the UN in making development a top priority, even as he guided it through through several crises, among them the heightened post 9/11 terrorist threats, the Afghan and Iraq wars, the Balkan conflicts which saw the worst bloodshed in Europe since World War II, and the liberation of East Timor.

In 2001, he and the UN received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Current Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his tribute called “Kofi Annan a guiding force for good”.

“He provided people everywhere with a space for dialogue, a place for problem-solving and a path to a better world,” he added.

Kofi Annan Manmohan Singh

The late UN Secretary-Geneeral Kofi Annan meet former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005 in New Delhi. (Photo: UN/IANS)

Annan was outspoken at times, but always maintained dignity and upheld the best traditions of diplomacy, leaving the way open for consensus.

The Ghanian diplomat was 80 when he died, surrounded by his Swedish wife Nane, and his children — Ama, Kojo and Nina — the Kofi Annan Foundation said.

The Millenial Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by world leaders at their 2000 Summit under his leadership continue to inspire the UN as it works with renewed efforts like the current Agenda 2030 for sustainable development.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “Kofi Annan’s significant contribution to the MDGs will always be remembered.”

During his 2005 visit to India, Annan said in New Delhi: “Development is the subject of the first and longest chapter in the report, which maps out a detailed and practical strategy for reaching the MDGs by 2015.”

Annan also advocated Security Council reform, a goal dear to India. He said during the visit that while the reform should be reached by consensus, the lack of consensus should not become an excuse for postponing action.

Among his other accomplishments as the UN head, were starting reforms of the UN bureaucracy and structure, setting up of the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council.

His worst days as Secretary General, he later recounted, was the powerlessness to do anything about the US-led Iraq War in 2003 that sparked a catastrophe in the Middle East that the region was yet to recover from.

More recently Annan led an effort to resolve the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, heading a commission at the invitation of the government there to propose an internationally accepted framework for the return of refugees, and a Syrian peace effort at the request of the Arab League.

Kofi Annan, global statesman

The late UN Secretary-Geneeral Kofi Annan, along with his wife Nane meet South African freedom struggle leader Nelson Mandela in New Delhi in 2001. (Photo: UN/IANS)

He served as the chairman of the group of statespeople founded by South African leader Nelson Mandela, which was known as “The Elders”, and sought to play an international role in promoting peace and democracy through moral authority and persuasion.

Annan is the only one of the seven secretaries-general from Sub-Saharan Africa, a continent that has become central to the UN’s missions of peacekeeping and development.

He made two official visits to India in 2001 and 2005, when he met the spectrum of political leaders in the government and in opposition, as well as development experts.

New Delhi set up the a supercomputing and technology development faciity in Ghana in 2003 and named it in his honour as the Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in Information Communications Technology. It was inaugurated by the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Annan began his international civil servant career as a budget officer for the World Health Organisation in 1962. Along the way, he worked for the UN High Commission for Refugees and as a UN Assistant Secretary-General holding key portfolios of security and administration.

He rose to become the head of UN peacekeeping operations in 1993 and a under Secretary-General in 1994.

(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected])

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee: The Gentle Colossus

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Atal Behari Vajpayee

In passing away of Atal Behari Vajpayee, India lost its one of the tallest leader and a statesman. He was a democrat and nationalist to the core apart from being an orator par excellence and a poet. Vajpayee was for BJP what Pandit Nehru was for the Indian National Congress. Vajpayee’s only sin was that he moulded the early BJP as a secular and a socialist legatee of the Janata party which came into existence in 1977 to oppose Mrs Indira Gandhi.

He had also opposed the Ram Mandir movement and it was Advani who was the RSS’s first choice for Prime Minister for the 1996 elections. But it was Advani who in November 1995 in Bombay announced Vajpayee as the prime ministerial candidate – to the astonishment of those present on the stage. It also took RSS by surprise but from then on, Vajpayee never turned back becoming Prime Minister in 1996, 1998, and in 1999 – while Advani withdrew to being his deputy.

The close friends and family members used to call him “Baap ji” and the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once addressed him as the “Bhishm Pitamah” of Indian politics. Vajpayee was a gentle colossus among the contemporary politicians and there were few among Indian leaders who attained the respect which he did. Journalists and newsmen all over the world do without salutations in addressing a politician but Vajpayee Ji was an exception and “Ji” became an integral part of his name.

“This young man would one day become the Prime Minister of India” said Pandit Nehru about Vajpayee. Nehru’s prophecy did come true decades later in 1996 when Vajpayee occupied the coveted post. Vajpayee was elected 11 times for Loksabha and twice for the Rajya Sabha and remained a Member of Parliament for 47 years.

In 1977, he became the External Affairs Minister under Morarji Desai and when he entered the office of Ministry of External Affairs in the South Block, he found the usual portrait of Jawaharlal Nehru missing from its spot in the ministerial chamber, removed in an excess of zeal by functionaries to please the new rulers. Though a lifelong critic of Congress, he wanted it back on its original spot. That was the persona of Vajpayee – a great heartedness as he embraced even those with whom he disagreed.

Image result for morarji desai atal bihari vajpayee

Pro-India; anti-Indira: (From left) Jagjivan Ram, Morarji Desai, Ashok Mehta, Chandrasekhar and Atal Bihari Vajpayee | Pramod Pushkarna. “

According to a popular legend, once Henry Kissinger asked Chou-en-Lai in 1972 what he thought of the impact of French Revolution on Western civilization. Apparently, Chou thought about it for a minute and then turned to Kissinger and said: “It is too soon to tell.” Something like that could well be said about the legacy of Vajpayee, India’s first BJP Prime Minister and also the first non Congress leader to complete a full tenure.

He had the distinction of being the first head of nation to address the United Nations in Hindi. He ran a coalition Govt of 24 parties in one of the most chaotic times in the country and provided not just stable but very efficient governance. His coalition partners in ideology were as diverse as chalk and cheese but it was to his credit that he kept his flock together despite extreme provocations.

When Jayalalitha pulled the carpet under his feet, he refused to opt for the customary horse trading and lost the confidence motion by just 1 vote. He took integrity and probity to a level which was unheard of in the Indian politics. He was also the best performing parliamentarian for over 5 decades and was a true Bharat Ratna on all counts.

His stewardship of economic reform and his skilled management of unruly coalition made his 6 year tenure as a Prime Minister a memorable one. But more than these accomplishments, Vajpayee should be remembered for the way in which he achieved them. Judged on most parameters, Vajpayee was a great Prime Minister.

He continued the policies of economic liberalisation initiated by Narsimha Rao and as a result economy flourished during his reign. He took the historic trip to Lahore by Bus to break the ice with Pakistan but unfortunately it was followed by their usual betrayal in the form of Kargil war. His summit with President Musharraf at Agra also ended in a fiasco but Vajpayee improved India’s relations with US, Russia, China and most of other important nations.

He was a great consensus-builder and worked closely with the opposition, avoided political invectives and endeavoured to bring all Indians and not just Hindus to bring them together in harmony. After the Pokhran-II nuclear test of May 1998 and the victory in Kargil, India began to be taken seriously as an emerging Asian power. It was under Prime Minister Vajpayee that the old hyphenation of India-Pakistan ended and a new one like India-China emerged on the global scene.

Vajpayee’s legacy remains in doubt as people forget that for all his charisma, he began his career as a hard-core Sanghi and made his reputation in the great Hindi debates of the Sixties, demanding that all of India should embrace Hindi, his mother tongue.

Vajpayee only began to mellow in the Seventies when experience convinced him that there is no place for divisive politics in India. From then on, he lost interest in the agitation for Hindi language and more significantly also moved away from the hardliner Hindus-first politics of Jan Sangh. By doing this, he alienated most of his old colleagues and earned the ire of the RSS.

After the BJP was almost wiped out during Congress landslide victory of 1984, the RSS looked around for alternatives and it found one in Vajpayee’s old lieutenant LK Advani, who abandoned the liberal approach that he too had once espoused, and pushed the concept of RSS. Advani undertook a Rath yatra through most of North India in an effort to whip up the communal tensions and weaponise Hinduism.

Vajpayee had no option but to distance himself altogether from his protege Advani’s movement. But when the BJP seemed like it had a chance of finally coming to power, the RSS also conceded that it was only Vajpayee who could attract the potential allies.

We think of Vajpayee as a strong Prime minister but that was only because he always remained calm and composed and seldom let the tensions show. RSS continued to push its own agenda and was not happy with Vajpayee’s politics and propped up Advani as a rival power centre. The allies in coalition Govt were difficult to handle but somehow, Vajpayee made it all seem easy.

From then on, the BJP should have continued as a centre-right party as even Advani suddenly turned into a liberal and visited Pakistan to sing paeans in support of MA Jinnah. But that was not to be and the BJP went back to her Hindu-centric ideology that Advani had once espoused much to the delight of RSS. Only, this time around, the shift to a muscular Hindutva was so extreme that even a hardliner like Advani began to seem like a lily-livered secularist in comparison.

Related image

Lal Krishan Advani lays a flower wreath at the mausoleum of Mohammed Ali Jinnah

From BJP’s point of view, Vajpayee’s greatest achievement was that he took a party that had once been a political pariah, brought it into the mainstream and acceptable to the electorates.

In many ways, it is as if the Vajpayee Prime minister ship with its consensus-building and taking everyone in confidence never happened. Sometimes it seems that the BJP moved directly from the destruction of the Babri Masjid to the dominance of the ideology that celebrated the demolition. So, it will be pertinent to say, Vajpayee was a great Prime Minister. But what will India remember as his legacy? As Chou-en-Lai might have said, “It’s too soon to tell”.

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