By: B.G. Verghese
Many have commented on Mr Modi’s extraordinary silence on a whole series of poisonous and divisive statements made by his party colleagues, Parivar mentors and allies blatantly propagating the Hindutva line over the past 10 days. Contrast this with his pledge while assuming office to put India first. Some statements have been disowned as individual views and one or two others have retracted. It has been pleaded on behalf of Mr Modi that the PM cannot comment on every report or statement. Certainly; but his office can and must do so on matters of national concern.
The fact of the matter, however, is that propagation in Gujarat of textbooks authored by Dina NathBatra, privately produced but given full state patronage, are out to “Indianise” Indian education and fill the minds of children with supposedly original truths. Thus students are asked to draw the true Indian flag, that is of Akhand Bharat, which incorporates all of SAARC plus Burma and Tibet. This offends Article 1 and Schedule I of the Constitution that define India and impair friendly relations with foreign states as enjoined by Article 19(2).
But the folly is not that of Dina NathBatra’s alone. The nine volumes approved by the Gujarat School Textbook Board for supplementary reading were released by the State Education Minister on March 4, when Mr Modi was chief minister and carry a foreword by him. In other words the books had Mr Modi’s explicit approval as chief minister and have it now as Prime Minister.
Mr Modi invited SAARC heads of government to his swearing in. What the textbooks endorsed by him would have told them is that they are vassals of India. When China depicts Arunachal as “Southern Tibet” the BJP and RSS bristle. But appropriating Tibet, Burma, Afghanistan and Pakistan (after Partition”) et al as parts of India is kosher! Mr Modi has not been silent. He has spoken loud and clear and now, as prime minister, has endorsed Batra’s trash. Does this attract Sec 126 of the IPC?
The Batratexts, also propagate racism (by sneering at“negroes”), advocate superstition at the cost of scientific endeavour (by appropriating automobiles, television and stem cell research as established by Vedic discoveries) and promote magic remedies (by citing gausevaas a cure for childlessness). The Gujarat Education Minister, BhupendrasinhChudasama, described the books as “references that will help build character”. And Mr Modi, as prime minister continues to commend Chudasama’s revealed wisdom as a means of modernising and developing India on the Gujarat model!
Coincidentally, a few days after the Batra-Modi new educational model was nationally publicised, the Government reversed a decision announced by the Agriculture Minister in Parliament a few days earlier to put on hold the permission granted on the basis of an official expert committee’s findings to recommend field trials for 15 GM crops. There are and can legitimately be two views on the desirability of promoting GM crops. But a veto on controlled field trials scientifically to establish outcomes is an unacceptable yielding to unreason and superstition. And the reversal came a day or two after the SwadeshiJagranManch and BhartiyaKisanSangh, both RSS front organisations, met PrakashJavdekar, the Environment Minister. Ram Madhav, a senior RSS leader recently “loaned” to the government, told the press that the RSS had ideological influence over all its flock, including members of the BJP. So there it is. Nagpur has spoken.
The other storm that has hit the nation is Natwar Singh’s autobiography, “One Life is Not Enough”, widely previewed before its formal release. More than the book, his TV interviews have revealed more under questioning. It is good that men and women in public life are now increasingly penning their memoirs. They have stories to tell from insider knowledge and even otherwise can offer nuances that could fill and illuminate the interstices of history. None should cavil at his. Nor need timing be questioned. Earlier or later, some will always cry foul. Why pre-release publicity? Why not? Is it merely to boost sales? Again, why not? Any book will stand and fall on its contents, style and credibility. Intelligent people will disagree on details and interpretation. And dissenters can always write their own book.
It is therefore good news that Sonia Gandhi plans to write her own book. Hopefully, Manmohan Singh will do so too. The country will look forward to reading these accounts. Sonia’s response to the publication suggests she has been stung by Natwar Singh’s narrative on two counts. Firstly, she has been pained and wounded by the revelation that her renunciation of office as prime minister was a result of RahulGandhi’s strong emotional veto. He had seen his grandmother and father die at the hand of assassins and did not wish the same fate to befall his mother. That was a legitimate concern. But for Sonia or other loyalists now to hint that that is not true and that Natwar has betrayed a trust is off the mark. Why else did Priyanka Gandhi and Sonia go out of the way to meet Natwar in Mayto ask and plead that this episode, to which he was witness, be omitted? There was no reason to omit the incident and nothing wrong or dishonourable about how and why it occurred.
If this incident was not the cause of their concern was there something else they wished edited out? If Natwar has not mentioned that, what is the other record that Sonia wishes to put straight? It is she that has created a mystery, not Natwar.
The other objection, presumably, is to Natwar’s scathing comments on Rajiv Gandhi’s naivety and immaturity in matters of state and his responsibility for the Sri Lanka-IPKF fiasco that led to the loss of thousands of Indian lives. He has been kinder to Rajiv than the Indian Express was editorially in this regard throughout the sorry Sri Lanka episode that did the country great injury and whose effects survive to this day.
A third issue is the reference to PMO files been clandestinely shown to Sonia Gandhi. Sanjay Baru said the same thing in his book. Angry denials by Party loyalists do not lay the matter to rest.
Natwar Singh and the Congress were indicted by the Volcker Report on the UN food-for-oil deal in Iraq after Saddam Husain’s ouster. Natwar resigned as Foreign Minister and was later forced out of the Congress Party following an investigation into the deal by Justice Pathak. Natwar says that the Volcker Report was published while he was abroad and the Government did not give him a chance to read and respond to it before going public while exonerating theCongress Party. He was left to fend for himself. He further avers that Pathaklater told him that he was under pressure to report as he did?
These matters must be impartially probed. Meanwhile, to dismiss Natwar’s book as merely getting back at Sonia and the establishment is far too glib.