Democracy, the Indian style

By K.N. Pandita

Long before independence actually dawned upon us on 15 August 1947— the day we were told was of our tryst with destiny—-Indian National Congress, spearheading the freedom movement, had decided that independent India would be a secular, egalitarian and democratic republic.

Two factors prompted the pioneers of freedom movement to opt for democracy. One was their personal experience of British democracy as the best known form of government since many among them had their education in UK. The second factor was the heterogeneity of the Indian society. Only democratic arrangement could keep the flock together. Theoretically speaking this was correct.  

Our tryst with democracy has had many ups and downs. In the course of our post-freedom history, the Parliament took many decisions with far reaching consequences; many wrong or fragile decisions, too, were taken. This is learning by error.

But the nation has to grow more mature and become wiser as we proceed along the chartered political course. Judged by the standards with which we have been familiar, we are not becoming wiser anymore.

I take only one case of recent happening to substantiate my point. In 2005 the US revoked the visa of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The reason given by the US foreign office was that under the law of that country visa cannot be given to a political leader or a person who is alleged to have been instrumental to fomenting or overlooking communal violence. US had the 2002 Godhra communal clashes in mind.

All decent citizens abhor communal violence. A secular democracy is shamed by communal violence. This much is as a matter of principle. But in the aftermath of Godhra tragedy, numerous judicial inquiries have been instituted including one by the then Railway Minister who was part of UPA II government, into the tragedy. In all these inquiries Narendra Modi has been exonerated by the court. If in one set of inquiry, Modi was exonerated by the court, the UPA constructed another case against him and set up another inquiry. One can say that the UPA made it a policy matter to go after the Gujarat Chief Minister. Incidentally, during a decade of unrelenting vendetta, Modi was returned to power by the Gujarat electorate for the third time. That speaks for the real profile of the man.

In a recent Times Now television channel discussion, a US expert invitee candidly said that the purpose of the US behind revoking Modi’s visa in 2005 was neither the much touted human rights issue nor its rebuff to Modi administration. It was done to serve the sensitivities of the Muslim community which has substantial population in the United States.

From this one can understand that Obama administration is out to neutralise its military action against the Muslim jihadis anywhere in the world, but more specifically in drone-hit Af-Pak region by posing to be a sympathiser of the Muslim communities in regions under majority pressure. What would be the impact of this policy on local political situation is not what Washington would care for.

Although officially the Indian Ministry of External Affairs did express its unhappiness over the US revoking visa of Gujarat Chief Minister, yet Congress, the leading partner in UPA II, lost no opportunity of brandishing US’ rejection of visa to Modi as US’ recognition of Modi as the main culprit of Muslim killings in Godhra tragedy. In ostrich-like behaviour, the Congress forgot that what the US had been concerned about was its own national interests viz. Muslim community. Washington felt vindication of its interests in ruling Congress party in India giving unprecedented media hype to its anti-Modi vilification campaign.

Now that western anti-Modi stance of the first decade of this century has been falsified by ground realities, the Congress-led UPA II is again caught on the horns of dilemma in regard to Washington directing its Ambassador in New Delhi to hold a meeting with the Gujarat Chief Minister on former’s request.

The Congress thinks that Modi-Powell meeting of 13th February in Gujarat was an indirect rebuff to its prospects in impending parliamentary elections. That is what made the cynical Indian External Affairs Minister recall German holocaust while referring to Godhra incident. Nothing could have been more disgraceful.

The US did not revoke the visa of late Rajiv Gandhi in the aftermath of 1984 Sikh carnage; it did not revoke the visa of perpetrators of Kashmir insurgency and ethnic cleansing of Hindu minority from the Valley of Kashmir. It did not question the NC-Congress combine of J&K Government in 1990 for abandoning the people they represented and ruled over but went into lent for personal safety and security.

The Congress should try to understand that Ambassador Powell’s meeting with Modi is prompted neither by any anti-Congress and pro-Modi/BJP stance nor is it indicative of any radical change in US’ policy towards India. The prime motivators of re-structuring their policy towards Modi’s Gujarat are the big business and corporate houses who look at developing and rising India as immensely big and viable market to conduct business with.

The British government was first to have that realisation in 2012 and subsequently Australian, German, French and the EU ambassadors called upon Modi thinking him the man with whom they could talk about trade ad commerce. Powell is the last in the line up. The question of reinstating American visa to Narendra Modi is such an insignificant matter that it did not merit even passing reference. Now it is not Modi going to the US, it is US coming to Modi.

There is no doubt that fast rising profile of Narendra Modi in the eyes of Indian electorate and also the favourable ground prepared by him in his State for free and rapid flow of trade with foreign countries and business houses of international repute are motivating factors for the western countries to deal directly with him. With Modi in the driver’s seat in New Delhi, prospects of brisk and hassle free trade between India —– a country of 1.20 billion people—- and the developed world including Japan, China and Russia are expected to be as bright as never before. Benefits of this massive prospect of trade will percolate down to the lowest rungs of Indian nation. That is the vote catcher of Narendra Modi.

We have still some weeks to begin serious election campaigning. It is time that political leadership across the country, more particularly the traditional and mainstream political leadership, understands and responds to its responsibility to the nation, gives up churlish antics and mutual mud-slinging, failing which the electorate will send them to the dustbin. Behave as matured, seasoned and responsible leaders and representatives of people; come out of mentality of slavery and servility that has haunted and flattened our nation for a thousand years of foreign rule. Freedom of thought and action has to be held fast in the interests of the nation and not self seekers. Instead of becoming the coteries of demagogues become the coteries of the nation; instead of delighting in servility aspire for human dignity and national pride.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

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