Bridging the many divides

A National Imperative
Last Updated 19 December 2019, 19:48 IST

Having worn the nation’s uniform for 41 years with great pride and a childlike joy, as a veteran now, there are some issues concerning the country which sadden me, as they do countless citizens of our beloved land. This relatively young nation, with its roots in one of the world’s most profound civilizations since antiquity, despite its myriad achievements, appears to be losing some of its moorings. Some in the nation unabashedly strive to diminish its age-old syncretism and consequently its loftiness, even as the world, which has always admired India for its tolerance, is now adversely commenting on our handling of some sections of our people.

The veneration of the motherland is above the call of one’s faith, language, region, caste and, importantly, even political ideologies. All these attributes could divide or unify people, depending on how these are used or misused.

On many vexed issues and the formidable challenges that confront us, it requires no great intelligence to state that holistic solutions are warranted to tackle national problems. Currently, I have no hesitation in unequivocally, and regrettably, stating that what’s happening is just the opposite.

The nation today appears hopelessly divided into ‘Us’ and ‘Them’. A total divide on matters of national security, the state of the economy, serious law and order problems, challenges to the Constitution, poverty alleviation and other contentious issues does not augur well for the country.

The elected government of the day, without a doubt, is charged with the responsibility of governance. What prevents it, especially in the largest democracy of the world, from consulting and incorporating in its decisions the wisdom and experience of certain other political luminaries and leaders, economists, security analysts and experts from various fields?

Before the 1971 operations against Pakistan, did not then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi send to global capitals dozens of delegations comprising eminent Indians of all political hues, including her political adversaries like Jayaprakash Narayan, the Jan Sangh’s Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Left’s Jyoti Basu and others, to explain India’s case?

The collective wisdom of many shades of even differing opinions should be synergized for the national good. Unfortunately, exactly the opposite is happening.

Notwithstanding India being a parliamentary democracy, with the Union cabinet having its share of collective responsibility, in the end, it is the prime minister who will be judged by posterity for his achievements or otherwise. History is a harsh judge and no amount of tampering with it can take the truth away, especially in today’s all-pervasive media-driven world. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, armed with a formidable second-term mandate, has many great and multi-faceted challenges on his hands. As is the wont in our governing culture, dozens of his ministers, advisers and bureaucrats would like to paint rosy pictures about the state of the nation to him, when the reality is quite otherwise.

To me Mother India, is above all the gods in our pantheon and thus, I would take the liberty to proffer unsolicited advice to our Prime Minister. It would be more than appropriate for him to commence interaction with the many experts, including those belonging to different ideologies and other political parties, on the problems confronting the nation.

As an example, to speedily address the grave economic situation facing India, he should convene an emergency meeting of the top economists of the nation, including those who resigned from government positions in recent years, members of the academia and political leaders from the opposition to convey their views on restoring the failing Indian economy.

The current impasse in J&K, post abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, can be best overcome by a conclave of senior politicians from all parties and a sensible and united way forward can be found. Indians of all hues, notwithstanding their political orientation, are all patriots. It is for Prime Minister Modi to marshal them together, to synergize their wisdom in the larger interests of the nation.

On contentious issues like the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the government may have got the law passed by parliament, where it enjoys majority, but it is being vehemently opposed by people across the nation, especially in our sensitive North-Eastern states. Even neighbouring nations like friendly Bangladesh have voiced their discomfiture with it. Unfortunately, the India-Japan Summit planned in Guwahati, which would have given a fillip to our ‘Act East’ policy, had to be called off due to the violent protests there against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

Many youth across the nation are aggressively campaigning against it and so are virtually all the opposition parties. Why could not the government discuss it threadbare in a mature manner with the opposition before reaching a policy decision? It could have this avoided unnecessary problems right across the country. In the same breath, I must add that violence has no place in a civilized society and all those who are opposing this Act must desist from violence while venting their dissent.

My humble suggestion to the Prime Minister is that genuine statesmanship and consensus-building is the need of the hour to bridge all chasms within the nation. Arrogance must be scrupulously avoided in governance. Only then will this nation achieve heights not yet attained. In unity within lies the future of India.

(The writer was the first chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency and is currently president of the Delhi Forum For Strategic Studies)

(Published 19 December 2019, 17:43 IST)

Follow us on