Kumarakom Musings

Falsehood -- thy name, Vajpayee

The man was said to be tired. Probably from repeated acts of wearing his mask and then discarding the domino. And there can be no better place than the land of Kathakali to do a little bit of facelift. To that end, as the fascist-with-a-liberal-mask, Atal Behari Vajpayee retired to the serene settings of Kumarakom resort on the banks of the picturesque -- but dirty and highly polluted -- Vembanad Lake in Kerala, he apparently started musing. The result: a two-part write-up titled Kumarakom Musings, released to some select newspapers. Vajpayee, famous for his rabble-rousing rhetoric, is not exactly known for clarity of mind or depth of expression in his writings. Nevertheless, he had chosen to muse through the print media in this age of the visual media. Obviously, the objective was to put something on record more enduringly than merely sending out a message in time for the late-evening news-slot on the TV channels. Vajpayee came to Kumarakom with his troubled knees and torn mask. His earlier statements on Ayodhya had shredded his image among his liberal fan club. We don’t know whether the Ayurvedic oils soothed the pain in his knees but the hypocritical outpourings from his cynical mind have hardly succeeded in doing a patchwork on his liberal mask. Though it has already faded from the pubic memory, let us go back to Vajpayee’s Kumarakom ramblings, for a closer look, to unravel saffron duplicity.

Vajpayee begins his write-up with a distortion thus: “Our country is facing many problems that are a legacy of history. I wish to share my views on two of them. One is the long-standing problem with Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir and the other is the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute at Ayodhya”. First of all, Ayodhya problem is not a legacy of history, Mr. Prime Minister! Rather it is a problem created in recent times by the Sangh Parivar -- a problem kept alive and aggravated by the BJP from time to time for its communal vote-bank politics. This time round the problem was reactivated by none but your own self. Your characterisation of the Ayodhya movement as an “expression of national sentiment” and your assertion that the temple would be built at the disputed site brought the issue back on the agenda. Your communal brazenness came as a rude shock to the liberals. They expected you, as the Prime Minister, to represent all sections of the people and not act as a Hindu crusader. You even left some of your NDA allies startled. Don’t blame history, Mr.Vajpayee, the “problem” is your own creation. In any case, how do you reconcile your claim that the “unresolved” problem was a legacy of history with your own subsequent musing that “the wrongs of a medieval past cannot be righted by a similar wrong in modern times”? Of course, consistency is the not the virtue of confused minds.

From Kumarakom you were musing bold to admit that the demolition of the disputed “mosque structure” on December 6, 1992, was certainly a “flagrant violation of law”. Your exceptionally candid ‘admission’ on this point is understandable, Mr.Vajpayee, for we are well aware of your problems with your colleague Mr.Advani and your need to keep him on the defensive! But why keep the ‘flagrant violators of law’ -- Advani, MM Joshi and Uma Bharati -- in your cabinet when the CBI, under your own charge, had chargesheeted them? What kind of precedent you are trying to set by continuing with a flagrant law-violator as the country’s Home Minister? The Opposition rightly demanded their resignation but you rejected that saying the Ayodhya movement was an “expression of national sentiment”. From Kumarakom you were once again musing hard to establish that it was an “expression of national sentiment”, drawing a wrong parallel with Somnath, which itself was a highly controversial act and where, in any case, no disputed structure existed in the first place. Why did the so-called nationalistic Ayodhya movement end up in a criminal act? The end qualifies the means, isn’t it? Pray tell us how it can be both an “expression of national sentiment” and a “flagrant violation of law”?

In your original statement you had said that construction of a temple was possible either through a favourable court verdict or by the minority community conceding the disputed site through an out-of-court settlement. Your cabinet colleague, Uma Bharati gave a win-win interpretation to your statement that either the court should give a favourable verdict or, if the court ruled against temple construction, the Sangh Parivar would nevertheless intensify the movement and force the minority community to accept a temple at the disputed site. You stood unmasked with your aggressiveness challenging the rule of law and the authority of the courts even while being the head of the government. Loss of face has now forced you to clarify that the “Government will accept, and is constitutionally bound to implement the judiciary’s verdict, whatever it might be”. The nation was thus witness to the amusing spectacle of the Prime Minister and a Cabinet Minister musing aloud differently!

But with your belated statement on abiding by the court verdict “whatever it might be”, whom are you trying to fool, Mr.Vajpayee. The Supreme Court had already said that it was not for the courts to adjudicate a socio-political dispute of this nature and refused an opinion on this. Other than the original title suit, only contempt proceedings and criminal cases are pending before the courts. And those who know the ABC of law should know that the title suit could be settled in favour of the temple construction only through a colossal miscarriage of justice. Above all, it was not a judicial issue but a political issue and that was the reason why the courts were sitting tight on a simple title suit for nearly five decades. That leaves a negotiated settlement as the only option, and not one of the two options, as you would like to have the nation believe. But then, will browbeating the minorities bring about an amicable settlement, Mr.Vajpayee? A blatantly communal statement justifying an act of criminal vandalism -- a “flagrant violation of law,” in your own words -- by an organised communal mob as the culmination of an “expression of national sentiment” -- is it conducive to a negotiated settlement? More than that, don’t you argue like a Hindu zealot and not as a Prime Minister when you reduce an “amicable settlement” to the building of a temple there? Why don’t you ask your Sangh Parivar to give up its claim for a Hindu temple and accept building of a national memorial there for the martyrs of 1857? Why do you keep equating an expression of Hindu communal-fascist chauvinism with an expression of national sentiment?

In your musings, you make a high-sounding declaration: “I wish to make it absolutely clear that the law will take its course, should any organisation attempt to disturb the status quo. The government will not remain a silent spectator and adopt delaying tactics, as unfortunately happened eight years ago”. The status quo, Mr.Vajpayee, has already been disturbed. First and foremost, by your own communal statements which have emboldened the Sangh Parivar; by your own Home Minister standing in attention and saluting the saffron flag at a paramilitary-style camp in Agra even as the RSS don Sudarshan was reiterating his brotherhood’s resolve to build a temple at the disputed site; then by the VHP heightening the communal temperature by convening a Dharam Sansad coinciding with the Kumbh Mela and announcing a time-schedule for commencing the temple construction and by its plans for a parliament march to demand that the land in Ayodhya acquired by the Centre during Narasimha Rao’s period be handed over to it. The Ayodhya issue is on the boil again. The minorities are agitated. The peace-loving people are apprehensive. Not only you remained a silent spectator, you were the initiator of the Sangh Parivar’s Ayodhya--II offensive. Hardly a month could pass after you mused at distant Kumarakom, and the VHP, which was banned for this very reason in the past, is back at its game of communal brinkmanship. Only the timetable has been suitably adjusted by a year to coincide with the elections to the UP Assembly. If you have remained true to your words, why did you not re-impose the ban on this communal outfit disturbing peace and communal harmony? We know, for all your brave words, you would never lift your little finger against the VHP.

There is perfect strategic unity among all of you in the Sangh Parivar. Ayodhya is a strategic issue for you to realise your fond hopes of establishing a Hindu Rashtra in this country. All of you -- yourself, Advani, Sudarshan and Ashok Singhal etc. -- have carried on your game of double-speak and division of labour for so long, covering up even the tactical differences. But the truth, Mr.Vajpayee, is that you are riding a tiger. You can’t hold back the communal outfits like VHP beyond a point even if you want to. Things of this nature have a propensity to get out of hand and issues and organisations of this type have a dynamics to acquire their own autonomy and momentum. When it comes to the crunch, your government, much like Narasimha Rao’s, will prove to be an abettor of the crime. Only the vigilance and vigorous resistance of the democratic forces can thwart your sinister designs.

Your musings on J&K too are full of falsehood, Mr.Vajpayee. You pose the Kashmir problem as purely a problem between India and Pakistan. Kashmir problem is not a creation of Pakistan, Mr.Vajpayee, it was a creation of the Indian rulers. It is the high-handed strategy of the Indian ruling classes towards Jammu and Kashmir that has given a handle to Pakistan. It is because of their shortsighted approach in their relations with Pakistan that the country is able to make use of the Kashmir card as a leverage. From your Kumarakom retreat you expressed your readiness to talk to Pakistan leadership “even at the highest level”. Why did it take more than a year for you to reconcile to this reality? Why has your government prolonged the agony of the people of J&K, with your refusal to talk to General Musharraf on the pretext of his being a military ruler? Why did you create this artificial and absolutely unsustainable obstacle in the peace process? Your words lack sincerity as much as your peace process lacks credibility. Having mused on New Year’s eve, one would have expected you to act immediately after returning to Delhi. Even after a month has lapsed, there has been no impetus to initiate a dialogue with Pakistan; rather your Home Minister is busy dividing the Hurriyat Conference. Will this inspire confidence among Kashmiri organisations? After patting yourself on the back for the statesmanship-like gesture of initiating the peace process, you have let your government descend to the level of petty nit-picking. Militancy in Kashmir is already divided between two centres of Hurriyat and Jihad Council. If you are really keen on ending the militancy through a political process of dialogue, what would you gain by creating yet another centre? Won’t you end up lionising some jehadi leaders in the process? It seems you have let your ‘dirty-tricks’ departments, intelligence agencies as well as the hardliners in your government dictate policy. Some statesmanship this, Mr.Vajpayee!

You are yet to spell out your government’s overall framework for the peace process and reconciliation -- both with Pakistan as and in J&K. On the one hand, your defence establishment chooses this juncture to go on with its saber-rattling with LCAs and Agnis. On the other hand, you have nothing to offer to the people of J&K. Do you expect the people of Jammu and Kashmir to believe in the sincerity of your government which rejected the autonomy resolution of the J&K Assembly out of hand? Do you think there can be durable peace, leave alone real reconciliation, when thousands of political prisoners are still languishing in J&K jails? When tens of thousands of cases foisted against Kashmiri youth have not been withdrawn? When all means of legitimate, legal, open and mass protests still remain curbed for the Kashmiri organisations and the political liberty of the people of J&K continues to be denied? When the culprits in all the umpteen cases of human rights violations by the Indian occupation forces still remain unpunished?

You are half-hearted when it comes to talks with Pakistan, Mr.Vajpayee. You agree for talks only under external pressure. But then you immediately attach a caveat that terrorist activities should stop. You are making the very solution to the problem a precondition for talks on the problem! Splendid diplomacy indeed, Mr.Vajpayee! Cessation of terrorism and violence in J&K and restoration of peace there is not Pakistan’s responsibility. In fact, they are part of the problem and cannot be fully solved in isolation; rather they can only be solved as part of the solution to the larger problem. It is not just a sign of bad diplomacy, Mr. Vajpayee. It is an indication that your government is not interested in seeking a lasting solution to the larger problem of J&K and other outstanding problems with Pakistan.

True, you make a lofty statement in your musings: “In our search for a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem, both in its external and internal dimensions, we shall not traverse solely (sic) on the beaten track of the past. Rather, we shall be bold and innovative designers of a future architecture of peace and prosperity for the entire South Asian region”. First, get a better speech-writer, Mr.Prime Minister, before designing a better architecture of peace. And if you are to come out of the beaten track -- instead of just “not traversing solely on the beaten track” -- first convince your party to give up its stand that Article 370 should be scrapped. Also get the Sangh Parivar to give up its position that the only pending issue with regard to J&K is the recovery of PoK. And make your government’s stand explicit on making the LoC the permanent international border and come up with a specific commitment on ending the arms race with Pakistan. Above all, reverse your cabinet’s summary rejection of J&K autonomy. In any case, you don’t have much choice Mr.Vajpayee. After traversing along the beaten track of ‘solution through the gun’ for more than a decade, the Indian government finds itself back against the wall. Terrorist raids have come up to the Red Fort and the Indian security forces are preoccupied with their own security as the prime concern! Your actions belie your words, Mr.Prime Minister. You are not really interested in solving either Ayodhya or Kashmir but only in masquerading as a “peacemaker”.

The second part of your write-up is full of platitudes. Empty phrases do not eradicate poverty, Mr. Prime Minister. You have mused hard in defense of economic reforms. Only if you were to recall your own words as the Opposition leader! Changing over to treasury benches has changed your language too. You come before the nation as hypocrisy personified. You dismiss as “ludicrous prophecy” the “widespread fears in the country that India will again be sold out to foreigners if economic reforms are allowed to be continued”. This is neither a prophecy, nor is it ludicrous, Mr.Vajpayee. It is an actual, day-to-day happening. Tell us a single policy decision of your government that was not proposed first by the World Bank. Tell us a single sector of the economy that has not been opened up for FDI. Shortly in the wake of your musings your government abandoned even grain procurement and storage to the private sector including foreign investors. A recent study indicates that more than 50% of the Indian corporate sector is being held by foreigners, through FDI, FII and foreign subsidiaries. Pooh-poohing these apprehensions you assert India is a free nation. With people like you at the helm, free nation is passť, Mr.Vajpayee, it is only an emerging free market.

What is ludicrous is your assertion that economic reforms are intended to remove poverty and unemployment. Your own government’s figures show that the number of people under poverty line has increased during the reform years and inequality has widened. Organised sector employment is actually shrinking at an alarming rate. Unorganised sector employment is unrewarding and acutely exploitative. In this scenario, you have announced your government’s plans for cutting government employment by 10%. Your government is intending to legalise contract labour. What happened to your promise in the NDA manifesto that one crore new employment would be generated and a job for one member in every family would be guaranteed?

Your government has brought untold misery to the farmers. Didn’t the cries of agony of Kerala farmers reach you in the scenic stillness of Kumarakom? You have no words of assurance for them. Rather, you throw up your hands in helplessness and sermonise that the forces of globalisation are at work behind their problems. The forces of globalisation are nothing but the rapacious multinational capital, Mr.Vajpaayee. You and your government have become its foremost agents in India, throwing millions of farmers at its mercy. It is your government which agreed to remove QRs before the stipulated time. It is your government which favoured the importers -- multinational trading companies -- by bringing down the tariff levels below what was agreed to at the WTO. It is again your government which created a procurement crisis by rolling back PDS. Why blame globalisation in the abstract? And you reprimand the opponents saying the issue should not be politicised. Weren’t you doing the same by passing off government welfare schemes as your birthday gift?

Like a true fascist, you take the people to task for the “habit of looking up to the government for a solution” and exhort them for “ a better work culture, a superior civic culture, strong discipline and a radical shift in the attitude of the citizenry from rights to duties”. No wonder, your liberal mask is being torn asunder by the rising tide of people’s struggles and growing authoritarianism of your government. The biggest problem before the people of India today is the continuation of your government in office. The longer it continues the greater will be the danger for democracy, peace and communal amity and greater will be the threat of war, violence and destruction of livelihood. The foremost duty of the people of India is to ensure that you, and your government, are sent packing to some permanent retreat where you can keep musing forever.