Information Minister Arun Jaitley is inviting editors from different parts of India to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi to underline the achievements of his first year in the office. This public relations exercise is nothing new because all his predecessors have done so.
India’s icon, Jawaharlal Nehru, did not have to do so. Still, when India was defeated by China in the 1962 war, Nehru met editors to explain the debacle. Lal Bahadur Shastri had so much goodwill that he did not have to placate them in any way. However, after the 1965 war with Pakistan – both countries claimed victory – Shastri took editors into confidence before going to Tashkent. His humility stood him in good stead because, before leaving, he told them that his fate was in their hands and whatever they wrote would guide public opinion.
Indira Gandhi was riding a high horse until the crops failed and had to import wheat from America, which gave it against rupee payment. She too informally talked to editors and gave an insight on India’s deteriorating economic conditions. Her son Rajiv Gandhi, who was hit hard because of the Bofors scandal, never threw his weight around.
One, he was conscious that the dynastic ties had parachuted him from being a pilot to the throne of prime ministership and, two, he was aware of his limitations in the political field. Rajiv suffered from the complex that his brother, Sanjay Gandhi, was more suitable for the job which was something his mother had instilled in him. He too went out of the way to cultivate editors. His successors, lesser in stature, expanded the PMO to have information advisers.
Modi is his own PRO. He has not appointed anyone as information adviser. Maybe, he has not felt the necessity and that explains Jaitley’s invitation to editors to meet the PM. But will this exercise help? Modi may not be guilty of any misrule, yet his regime is that of non-rule. There is nothing spectacular that stands out in his first year’s rule.
Take for instance, his visit to China. It was neither productive nor an unmitigated disaster. However, that it was not successful is not the criterion to judge its merit. He undertook the trip and reportedly conveyed India’s unhappiness over China’s occupation of Indian Territory. Authentic reports, now available, indicate that he raised the subject of China issuing stapled visa to people of Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing claims to be a part of their territory.
Modi should have cancelled the visit when one day before his arrival at Beijing, the ruling Communist Party paper ran a vituperative piece against India and carried a map without showing Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir as part of the country.
Why New Delhi was keen on the visit is beyond my comprehension. On a lesser provocation, New Delhi cancelled its foreign secretary’s meeting with his counterpart in Islamabad. The Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi had met the Hurriyat leaders before the foreign secretaries’ meeting. There is, apparently, no such yardstick for relations with China. Instead, India is offering it access to the country’s large market.
It is true that India cannot take on China but this does not mean that New Delhi has to give in to Beijing. To give a befitting reply, New Delhi should have introduced the stapled visa system to the people visiting from Tibet.
We would be fooling ourselves if we believe that the border issue is spoiling our relations with China. Only posterity will judge whether or not democracy wins the race against the totalitarian communism. As of now, totalitarianism has won. Most South Asian countries are under the influence of Beijing, although they follow their own way of governance.
Modi’s worst performance is in the economic sector. Many were taken in by his promise of ‘achche din aagaye’ (good days have come). The reality is entirely different. The common man has never suffered so much before as he is suffering today.
Nevertheless, Modi’s regime has been democratic of sorts. Knowing his credentials, I expected him to train his guns of parochialism from day one. But that he did not do so is a reprieve. Yet, there is no mistaking his policies. He has left the dirty work of dividing the society on religious lines to his party’s mavericks, the members of the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
Modi and his Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s public assurances that they want all communities, including the Muslims, to enjoy equal rights, are positive. But they have hardly helped keep the atmosphere free from the pollution of parochialism. Yet, it looks odd that the exponents of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ make provocative speeches that do not incite the people to indulge in communal riots. This is a big relief. It would, however, be better if they were not to pollute the atmosphere. Probably, they are conscious of the harm it would do to the society, which is 80 per cent Hindu.
It seems that Modi has drawn a red line which the RSS and its ilk do not cross. This has helped create a healthy secular ambiance, however tenuous. One expects communal amity to prevail in the remaining four years of Modi’s regime. Maybe, he and his party seem to have realised that communalism is neither conducive to peace nor to the democratic ethos we cherish. He and his party must ensure that mistrust between Hindus and Muslims does not appear in any shape.
There are complaints that Muslim youths are picked up and detained without trials. And it is harrowing to know that hundreds of them are languishing in jails for years without trial. That it happened even during the Congress regime does not make the crime less felonious.