The Hindu – Obituary: Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a storied career with poetic flourishes

Nistula Hebbar

New Delhi – India 16 August 2018. The former Prime Minister’s legacy is now in the domain of history writers.

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who held the post for three non-consecutive terms in 1996, 1998-99, and from 1999-2004, passed away on Thursday. He was 93.

Mr Vajpayee’s long career in public life was no doubt crowned by his being elected Prime Minister, but the course of it was peppered with long years as a parliamentarian, and with struggles to establish the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, and later the BJP, in national politics.

Born on December 25, 1924 in Gwalior, Mr Vajpayee was elected 10 times to the Lok Sabha from four different States (the first time in 1957 from Balrampur in Uttar Pradesh), and was twice a Member of the Rajya Sabha in a storied career.

He got an early start in public life when he got involved in the Quit India Movement of 1942 and was arrested for it. He was already a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) since 1939, and after finishing Masters in Political Science from Kanpur, he began to work full-time for the RSS.

One of the founding members of the Jan Sangh in 1951, Mr. Vajpayee became its president in 1968 upon the death of Deendayal Upadhyaya. As his parliamentary career flourished, Mr Vajpayee made a name for himself as an orator and for his poetic flourishes.

His poetry, collated in his book Meri Ekyaavan Kavitayein (My 51 Poems) reflects it.

The movement against the Emergency declared in 1975 saw Mr Vajpayee and the Jan Sangh join forces with the Janata Party, and in the 1977 polls, be elected to the Lok Sabha and appointed as Minister for External Affairs.

The peak of that moment contrasted with the trough of the 1984 polls, where the newly founded BJP (after the dissolution of the Jan Sangh) clocked only two seats. Mr Vajpayee took that electoral rout in a philosophical mien, and as the BJP threw its weight behind the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in 1995, he emerged as the prime ministerial candidate on behalf of the BJP.

He led a 13-day government in 1996, as the head of the single largest party, but could not get enough numbers to stay in power. After an interval of two years, with a United Front government having fallen after the Congress withdrew support, he was again sworn in as Prime Minister with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), in place after the 1998 polls.

Within a month of this, Mr. Vajpayee oversaw the Pokhran nuclear test and the subsequent international sanctions that went with it. The term was also marked by his initiatives for peace with Pakistan and the Lahore declaration. His 13-month government, however, could not withstand the rather fragile coalition that he had put together, and with the AIADMK withdrawing support, his government fell.

During his term as caretaker Prime Minister, Mr Vajpayee dealt with the Kargil war, a conflict with neighbouring Pakistan, something that tested the country and his own mettle. The following elections in 1999 saw the NDA ensconced with a comfortable majority and a government that lasted a full term till 2004, the first non-Congress government to do so.

Mr. Vajpayee undertook many reform measures with regard to the economy, keeping it on the liberalisation track despite resistance from the RSS. His efforts at a solution for issues affecting Kashmir are still the most accepted template for political dialogue.

With a poetic bent, and at the head of a coalition of political parties that were ideologically disparate whom he dealt with deftly, Mr Vajpayee has been termed the “right man in the wrong party.” As a staunch member of the RSS, however, this referred to his appeal across party lines and the many friendships that he cultivated through his years in Parliament.

After he lost power in 2004, he still attended Lok Sabha but gradually withdrew from public life. A stroke in 2009 saw him withdraw completely. Known as much for his meaningful pauses as for his poetic oratory, Mr Vajpayee’s legacy is now in the domain of history writers.

What he says of himself and his long career in India’s public life is probably best encapsulated by some lines from his poem: “Kaal ke kapaal par likhta mitaata hoon, geet naya gaata hoon (I write and erase lines on the forehead of time, I sing a new song)”.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/obituary-for-former-prime-minister-atal-bihari-vajpayee/article24704921.ece

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The Hindu – India rejects UK’s DNA test plan for finding illegal migrants’ nationality

Government refuses to sign pact citing ‘privacy issues’

Vijaita Singh

New Delhi – India, 14 August 2018. India has rejected a proposal of the United Kingdom to use DNA sampling to establish the nationality of illegal migrants living there, citing “privacy issues”.

Although a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on return of illegal migrants was initialled, after the due approval of the Union Cabinet in January, by Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju while leading a delegation to the UK the same month, India refused to sign the final pact during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to England in April.

As per the original MoU, security agencies in India were to verify the antecedents of illegal migrants without documents in the UK within 72 days and those with documents within 15 days. If no report was given within the stipulated time frame, the illegal migrant would be deported automatically.

The agreement was put on indefinite hold after National Security Adviser Ajit Doval conveyed that the 15-day limit was unworkable.

Unethical, says India

“In one of the meetings, the UK authorities suggested that the nationality of document-less illegal migrants suspected to be Indians could be established by matching DNA samples of their family members living here.

We raised objections, saying this was a breach of privacy and unethical. How do we know that the document-less person is an Indian,” said a senior Home Ministry official who attended the meeting.

According to the British government’s estimates, there are around 1,00,000 Indians overstaying their visa in the UK.

India has contested this, saying that as per their estimate, the number will not be more than 2,000.

Post April, at least two high-level delegations from the U.K. have raised the issue with India.

During her first visit to India on 7 November 2016, British Prime Minister Theresa May said the UK would consider an improved visa deal “if at the same time we can step up the speed and volume of returns of Indians with no right to remain in the UK.”

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/india-rejects-uk-proposal-on-dna-tests-for-illegal-migrants/article24682854.ece

The Hindu – Ahead of ‘Khalistan rally’ in London, India announces Guru Nanak celebration

New Delhi move is seen as counter to the march in London

Kallol Bhattacherjee

New Delhi – India, 12 August 2018. Hours ahead of the pro-Khalistan rally in London, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj announced on Sunday that all Indian diplomatic missions would celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of the founder of Sikh faith Guru Nanak. The move is seen as a counter to the rally.

Last month, India issued a demarche over the ‘Khalistani rally’, intended to drum up support for and awareness of a non-binding referendum on a Sikh homeland in 2020.

Right to gather

The British government, however, said people had a right to gather and express their views, provided they did so within the law. The London rally is being organised by Sikhs for Justice, a USA-based group, though UK groups indicated they would participate too.

The pro-Khalistan Sikh Federation U.K. said “some members” would be attending the event, while Dal Khalsa UK urged people to join the rally. The organisers received clearance from the London Mayor’s office during the weekend.

“We will take the message of Guru Nanak to the world. His message of sharing the fruits of good deeds with all is the right teaching in this era when I, me, myself is the dominating idea. The Guru visited many places and so did Baba Farid.

The message of One God taught by Guru Nanak is similar to the Indian teaching in the Shastras,” said Ms. Swaraj in her remarks delivered at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas where she was the Chief Guest at a Sikh religious event organised by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).

Indian diplomatic and cultural missions across the world will organise prayers and festivities to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.

The Minister did not refer to the London event in her speech but highlighted the inclusive elements of Sikhism. “We want to convey to the world that the Guru Granth Sahib is the best representative of the Indian understanding of multiple versions of truth.

Guru Granth Sahib is the only holy book in the world which apart from the ten gurus of Sikh faith also contains messages (banis) of other learned saints and great souls (belonging to other faiths),” said Ms. Swaraj highlighting the inclusivist nature of the Sikh faith.

Shabads of six of the ten Gurus are included in the Guru Granth Sahib, together with shabads of Bhagats and Pirs with similar teachings as the Sikh Gurus.
Man in Blue

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/ahead-of-khalistan-rally-in-london-india-announces-guru-nanak-celebration/article24672053.ece?homepage=true

The Hindu – Criminals in politics leave Supreme Court anguished

How can a murder or rape accused become a legislator, asks judge

Krishnadas Rajagopal

New Delhi – India, 09 August 2018. “Something has to be done to keep criminals at bay and prevent them from contesting elections,” Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said on Thursday, voicing the Supreme Court’s anguish at the helplessness of society to prevent criminalisation of politics at the very entry-point.

The Chief Justice is presiding over a five-judge Constitution Bench hearing petitions to bar politicians facing charges of heinous crimes, like murder, rape and kidnapping, from contesting elections and transforming themselves into parliamentarians and legislators in State Assemblies.

But at the same time, the Supreme Court said it could not legislate for Parliament. “The court declares the law, the Parliament makes the law,” Justice Rohinton Nariman observed.

The court is mulling over what it said was its “genuine concern about criminal politics”. Under the Representation of People Act, only convicted lawmakers are disqualified, not those accused.

“Can we make such a law disqualifying persons against whom charges of heinous crimes have been framed by courts of law or should we tell the Parliament that by not laying down such a law, you are really giving criminals encouragement and hope?

This is the question bothering us,” Chief Justice Misra told the petitioners, including advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, represented by senior advocates Dinesh Dwivedi, Siddharth Luthra and Gopal Sankaranarayanan.

Fast track courts

Attorney-General K K Venugopal submitted that fast track courts to try accused politicians were “the only solution”.

Mr. Venugopal said charges in such cases are kept pending for long as witnesses don’t testify as the Whistleblowers Protection Act, which protects informers, is too weak to protect them or their families from repercussions.

Justice D Y Chandrachud asked how a murder and rape accused can become a legislator. Mr Venugopal replied that a person is presumed innocent until he is proven guilty.

The Constitution Bench even considered asking the Election Commission to frame guidelines to prevent an accused from becoming a member of a political party. But Mr Dwivedi countered that such a person can even contest as an independent.

Mr Dwivedi said the court should intervene as lawmakers may not bring a fresh law, considering that 35% to 45% of them have criminal records or face charges.

“We share your concern. We will think of a constitutional remedy… the Parliament has an obligation under Article 102 (1) (e) to make a law. As conscience-keepers of the Constitution, we (Supreme Court) can ask you (Parliament) to do it,” Chief Justice Misra observed.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/criminals-in-politics-leave-supreme-court-anguished/article24646782.ece

The Hindu – Obituary: M Karunanidhi, Dravidian stalwart

B Kolappan

Chennai – Tamil Nadu – India, 07 August 2018. Karunanidhi was a strong advocate of the rights of the State governments, State autonomy and federalism, and he secured the right for Chief Ministers to hoist the national flag on Independence Day.

M Karunanidhi, five-time Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK president for nearly 50 years, died at 6.10 pm on Tuesday after battling illness for 11 days at the Kauvery Hospital in Chennai.

Affectionately called Kalaignar (artiste and man of letters) by followers, he was 94.

“Despite the best possible efforts by our team of our doctors and nurses to resuscitate him, he failed to respond,” Aravindan Selvaraj, executive director of the Kauvery Hospital, said in a press release.

The stalwart of the Dravidian movement is survived by wives Dayalu Ammal and Rajathi Ammal; children M K Muthu (born to his first wife Padmavathy); M K Alagiri, M K Stalin, M K Tamilarasu and daughter Selvi (through Ms Dayalu); and M Kanimozhi, born to Ms Rajathi.

The DMK patriarch, who outlived all his contemporaries in the Dravidian movement, except general secretary K Anbazhagan, was rushed to the hospital from his Gopalapuram house in the early hours of July 28 after a drop in his blood pressure.

His health had begun to deteriorate on Monday evening with doctors acknowledging that maintaining his vital functions remained a challenge considering his age related ailments and setting a 24-hour deadline for determining the prognosis.

At 4.30 pm on Tuesday, doctors announced that his condition was “extremely critical and unstable”.

On Tuesday afternoon, Mr Stalin, Mr Alagiri and Ms Kanimozhi, along with senior party leaders T R Baalu, I Periyasamy, E V Velu and Pondmudy, had a 20-minute meeting with Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami at his official residence on Greenways Road, ostensibly to inform him of Karunanidhi’s declining health and seek permission to bury him on the Marina by the side of his political mentor and DMK founder C N Annadurai.

They returned to the Kauvery Hospital thereafter.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/kalaignar-m-karunanidhi-dravidian-stalwart-passes-away/article24624489.ece

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The Hindu – Killings of journalists raised in Rajya Sabha

Special Correspondent

New Delhi – India, 02 August 2018. Communist Party of India (Marxist) member in Rajya Sabha Jharna Das Baidya on Thursday raised the issue of killing of journalists and sought clarifications from the government on measures taken to prevent such attacks and protect their freedom of speech.

Raising the issue during zero hour, Ms Baidya said five journalists were killed in the country this year. “In Kashmir, Shujaat Bukhari was gunned down outside his office. Gauri Lankesh was shot outside her house and, similarly, a senior journalist was murdered in Punjab,” she said.

The member said two journalists were killed in Tripura.

“The journalists who report on corruption, violations and bad policies are attacked. They have the freedom to speak the truth, but they are being targeted for that. Under such circumstances, how would they work, report the truth? Gauri Lankesh, who had written about a former Chief Minister, was murdered,” she said.

Ms Baidya said in her State Tripura, newspaper Daily Desher Katha had a circulation of 52,000, but it had reduced to just 6,000 after the 2018 election because its reporters were being threatened that the publication would be shut down.

Several members of the Opposition associated with the concerns. Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu said the issue applied to all the States, and the country as a whole.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/killings-of-journalists-raised-in-rs/article24585320.ece

The Hindu – Our first aim is to oust BJP from power: CM Mamata Banerjee

Opposition will fight the 2019 Lok Sabha election under a collective leadership, she says.

Sobhana K Nair

New Delhi – India, 02 August 2018. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has said that the Opposition would fight the 2019 Lok Sabha election under a collective leadership, and the first aim was to oust the BJP government from power.

Ms Banerjee’s statement to journalists in New Delhi on Wednesday came after she held daylong parleys with leaders of 10 Opposition parties.

The Trinamool Congress chief met all leaders expected to play a key role in the Lok Sabha election: Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Samajwadi Party leader Ramgopal Yadav, Janata Dal (Secular) leader Deve Gowda and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

To a question at a media interaction after she met the Gandhis, whether she considered herself to be the face of the Opposition coalition in 2019, she said: “There is a song by Rabindranath Tagore that in a democracy ‘Amra saboi raja’ [All of us are kings].

All of us are together, we are all for all.” The question was posed to her repeatedly through the day.

Answering it earlier in the day, she said, “Please don’t discuss all these things. The Prime Minister does not matter to us. I want my country to progress. I want farmers and labourers to have a good life. I want communal harmony… ‘Pehle BJP ko haraane dijiye, phir baith kar dekhenge’ (Let’s first defeat the BJP, then we will sit and discuss)”.

She spent the first half of the day in Parliament meeting floor leaders of various parties. Her first meeting of the day was with BJP elder L K Advani. After the meeting, she said, “I know Advaniji for a very long time. I went to enquire about his health. It was a courtesy call”.

Back in the Trinamool Congress office, packed with MPs and reporters, senior leaders walked in one after the other. The first ones to arrive were Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ahmed Patel.

“Trinamool and Congress will chalk out floor strategies against the government, especially on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) issue. Mamata expressed pleasure at the Congress-Trinamool working in tandem. Congress-Trinamool will carry out joint issue-based protests,” a senior Congress leader said.

Then walked in Mr Ramgopal Yadav. He was followed by Rashtriya Janata Dal leaders Misa Bharati and Jai Prakash Yadav.

YSR Congress leader Vijay Sai Reddy walked in with a single pink rose in hand. But before he could reach Ms Banerjee, a contingent of the Telugu Desam Party, comprising former minister Y S Chowdary and MP Kesineni Srinivas, walked in.

Ms Banerjee told them to convey her regards to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. After the TDP delegation left, Mr Reddy got a few minutes with her.

The other leaders who came to meet her included DMK’s Tiruchi Siva, Congress leader Ashwini Kumar, Rajya Sabha member Jaya Bachchan and BJP rebel Kirti Azad. Later in the evening, Mr Kejriwal met her.

Targeting the BJP government over the NRC update exercise in Assam, Ms Banerjee said, “The NRC is a global issue because 40 lakh people have been deleted from a list of 2.2 crore people. Only BJP voters will have space in this country and non-BJP voters will be isolated,” she said at the Trinamool Congress’s Parliamentary Party office.

Counters Shah

Questioning BJP president Amit Shah who, on Tuesday, said ‘Bangladeshi ghuspethi’ (Bangladeshi illegal migrants) will be thrown out one by one and will not be allowed to vote, Ms. Banerjee said, “Bangladesh is not a terrorist country! When you say ‘ghuspethi’, you are insulting Bangladesh and India too because we speak the same language”.

She accused the BJP of doublespeak, with one section saying there would be no harassment, while another issued threats.

“Rajnath Singh says that no one will be harassed but his party says that we will push them out. Who is infiltrator? Who can be a bigger infiltrator than the people who dictate what to eat, what to wear…the ones who control media and one who interfere in judiciary too,” she said.

Ms Banerjee quipped that she herself would fail if such an exercise were to be repeated in West Bengal. “Luckily I am not from Bangladesh. Otherwise they would have labelled me too ghuspethi,” she said.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/our-first-aim-is-to-oust-bjp-mamata/article24576222.ece

The Hindu – Kathua rape and murder case: J&K Crime Branch files supplementary charge sheet

It includes medical opinion about the effect of sedatives on the victim as well as the location of son of Sanji Ram, alleged to be the mastermind behind the abduction and killing.

Jammu/Pathankot – J&K/Panjab, 30 July 2018. The Jammu and Kashmir Police’s Crime Branch on Monday filed a supplementary charge sheet before a Pathankot court in the case of rape and murder of an eight-year-old from a minority nomadic community in Kathua, officials said.

Senior Superintendent of Police (Crime Branch) R K Jalla, accompanied by Special Public Prosecutor J K Chopra and other lawyers, submitted the charge sheet before District and Sessions Judge Tejwinder Singh, the officials said.

The charge sheet includes medical opinion about the effect of sedatives on the victim as well as the location of Vishal, son of Sanji Ram, alleged to be the mastermind behind the abduction and killing in January this year. Vishal had claimed he had never visited Kathua.

The Crime Branch has arrested Ram, Vishal and his juvenile nephew, two special police officers Deepak Khajuria alias ‘Dipu’ and Surender Verma and friend Parvesh Kumar alias Mannu. All of them were named in the first charge sheet on April 9.

It also arrested Head Constable Tilak Raj and Sub-Inspector Anand Dutta, who allegedly took Rs 4 lakh from Ram and destroyed crucial evidence. Raj and Dutta have since been dismissed from service.

Destruction of evidence

The supplementary charge sheet has summed up the investigation, alleging that Kumar was not only in constant touch with co-accused Khajuria, but also in contact with Raj.

Raj is believed to have played a pivotal role in striking a deal between Ram and the police for destruction of evidence.

The charge sheet also submitted Kumar’s detailed call analysis to show he shared a common location with other accused on crucial dates of crime and immediately thereafter.

The duration of the calls made and their frequency increased after the rape and murder of the girl, leading to the “irresistible conclusion of knee deep involvement of accused Surinder Kumar with other accused…”, the charge sheet stated.

Cash withdrawn to bribe police’

The Crime Branch also conducted an analysis of the two bank accounts of Ram, custodian of the temple where the child was allegedly confined, and found he made huge cash withdrawals.

Witness statements recorded by the Crime Branch confirmed the accused had undertaken no constructional activity and had no social obligation either, the document said.

The charge sheet alleged that the withdrawals were made to bribe the police officers for destruction of evidence.

Earlier this month, the Crime Branch informed the Supreme Court that it would submit a supplementary charge sheet in the case. The court had given them eight weeks to file it.

The district and sessions court in Pathankot framed charges of rape and murder against the seven accused in the case on June 8.

Ram is alleged to have hatched the conspiracy with the other accused for kidnapping the girl as part of a strategy to remove the minority nomadic community from the area.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kathua-rape-and-murder-case-jk-crime-branch-files-supplementary-charge-sheet/article24553718.ece

The Hindu – Imran Khan to be sworn in as Pakistan PM before August 14, says party

Islamabad Capital Region – Pakistan, 29 July 2018. Imran Khan will be sworn in as Pakistan’s new Prime Minister before the country’s independence day on August 14, his party has announced, even as it is trying to reach out to smaller parties and independents to form the next government.

Though the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has emerged as the single largest party in the National Assembly after the July 25 elections, the party is still short of numbers to form its government on its own.

PTI leader Naeenul Haq told media last night that consultations are on to complete the number game. “We have done our homework and he will take oath as Prime Minister before August 14,” Mr. Haq said.

According to the complete preliminary results announced by the ECP, the PTI has obtained 115 general seats — 12 short of a simple majority — while the PML-N and PPP have won 64 and 43 seats, respectively.

Pakistan’s National Assemby, the lower house of Parliament, comprises a total of 342 members, of which 272 are directly elected. A party can only form the government if it manages to secure 172 seats in total.

Meanwhile, political activities are at full swing and parties are holding open meetings and secret parleys to arrange the political chessboard.

Pakistan’s two major parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), are expected to meet in a couple of days to devise a joint strategy in a bid to give a tough time to the PTI in parliament, Dawn reported.

The Pakistani electronic media throughout the day on Saturday went through the names of possible candidates for key government offices and possible members of the federal cabinet.

The PTI leaders who have won more than one seat will have to vacate additional seats as the law allows an individual to retain only one seat. PTI chairman Khan has won five seats and he will have to vacate four seats.

Ghulam Sarwar Khan of Taxila has also won two NA seats by defeating former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and he will also have to vacate one seat.

Former chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pervez Khattak has won both National Assembly and provincial assembly seats.

If the PTI decides to nominate him again for the office of the chief minister, he will also have to vacate the NA seat which means that the party’s seats will be reduced to 109.

It was after these calculations that the PTI leadership has now decided to reach out to other smaller groups and independents since the party has already declared that it will not join hands with the PPP and the PML-N, the daily said.

Dawn reported that Former secretary general of the PTI Jahangir Tareen had established contacts with independents and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) which has won six seats. There are 13 independents who have won NA seats.

If the PTI obtains support of the GDA, MQM-P, PML-Q and the Awami Muslim League, the number of its seats will become 122 — still 15 short of the required numbers, which is more than the independents who have won the elections.

Other parties which will have representation in the NA are the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) with three members, and Jamhoori Watan Party, Awami National Party and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaniyat with one seat each.

Though the PPP and the PML-N have also rejected the elections results, sources in the two parties told Dawn that they would not support the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA)’s call for boycotting the oath-taking session of the National Assembly.

We have decided to play the role of an aggressive opposition in parliament, said a senior PML-N leader who had participated in the MMA-convened multiparty conference in Islamabad on Friday.

A senior leader of the PPP said so far they had not finalised any strategy for the elections of key parliamentary offices.

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Saturday formed a committee to engage with political parties to discuss the way forward in the post-poll scenario.

The sources said contact had been established between the PPP and the PML-N and the leaders of the two sides were expected to hold a meeting in a few days.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/imran-khan-to-be-sworn-in-as-pakistan-pm-before-aug-14-says-party/article24545716.ece?homepage=true

The Hindu – We need a clear signal from the top to stop mob lynchings, says Shashi Tharoor

In conversation with Congress leader and Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor

The Congress leader and Lok Sabha member on why the Prime Minister should speak up on lynchings, his own recent controversial statements, and the 2019 polls.

Sobhana K. Nair

New Delhi – India, 25 July 2018. Congress leader and Lok Sabha member Shashi Tharoor has been making headlines a lot lately, for comments that have sparked controversies and for a case against him that he says is a “politically motivated witch-hunt”.

In a wide-ranging conversation, he spells out the Congress’s idea of secularism, explains how Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s hug in Parliament “shifted the media narrative”, and speaks of the abetment to suicide case against him.

QThe Congress is in power only in Punjab, Puducherry, Mizoram, and in Karnataka thanks to an alliance. Will the 2019 general election be the toughest it has faced in many years?

A – Yes and no. In many ways it is a national election and we don’t expect in every case that the State realities of today will be reflected in the outcome of the national election.

There is also the fact that the number of States you have mentioned is certainly going to go up by the end of this year when the Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh elections take place. All the polls suggest that we are way ahead [in these States].

What is the 2019 election all about? It will be about the government that people want to live under.

And it seems to me that a government that has failed to keep every single promise that its leaders so eloquently made in the last campaign is going to face a challenge [when it asks] the same voters again for their votes. A young person who, for example, was promised a job and never saw one is unlikely to be fooled twice.

Q You recently hit the headlines twice – for the ‘Hindu Pakistan’ remark and the ‘Taliban in Hinduism’ remark. Aren’t these at odds with your party which is asserting its own Hindu identity?

A – So am I! In fact, I am proud of the fact that I have initiated this discussion through my book, Why I Am a Hindu. There are many proud Hindus in the Congress who see a very inclusive kind of Hinduism, the Hinduism that Swami Vivekananda preached, which was a Hinduism that went beyond tolerance and to acceptance.

To my mind, that is the key to the kind of Hindu ethos that has made Muslims, Christians, Sikh, Jews and Jains safe in our country.

The two statements… number one, in a speech, I was asked to address the challenges to Indian democracy and secularism. The biggest challenge is the rejection by the BJP/Sangh Parivar ideologues of the entire constitutional basis for Indian democracy. They have taken the view that this country needs a Hindu Rashtra.

In fact, Deen Dayal Upadhyay, who is the ideologue Prime Minister Narendra Modi refers to most, is an interesting intellectual figure. He said that the Constitution should be torn up on two grounds: first, that it is based on Western ideas written by Anglophile lawyers and is in the wrong language.

That happens to be true, we can do nothing about it. The second and more far-reaching objection was that the Constitution rests on a false premise. He says it has the wrong idea of what a nation is. The Constitution assumes [that a] nation called India is a territory called India and all the people living in it.

Wrong, he says, a nation is not territory but its people. The people of India are the Hindu people and the Constitution should have been written for the Hindu people and the Hindu Rashtra. That idea is fundamentally troubling.

Because it means that anybody who is not a Hindu or is not willing to identify himself as a Hindu is either a guest or an interloper.

When our nationalistic movement was fighting the British, it divided into two groups. One said that religion should be the determinant of nationhood. That was the idea behind Pakistan. The other said that we are fighting for the rights of everybody and that was the idea of India. Now, India still reflects this idea.

Pakistan reflects their idea in the worst form. Why would these people advocate an idea which is a mirror image of Pakistan? That was my point. My point was not that Hindus are in any way like Pakistan; it was a rejection of Pakistan and an assertion of the idea that a majority of Indian Hindus will not be in that Pakistan.

That is why I said, ‘Will the BJP remove this challenge to Indian democracy by giving up the idea of Hindu Rashtra?’ No BJP spokesperson has said we give up Hindu Rashtra and stick to the Constitution. The Prime Minister says the Constitution is his holy book and Deen Dayal Upadhyay is his ideologue. The two ideas are incompatible.

Isn’t the Congress diluting the secularism it stands for through the ‘good Hindu’ versus ‘bad Hindu’ debate? And wouldn’t you be competing for the same vote bank with the BJP and end up being a poor second?

The BJP is competing for the Hindutva votes. Hinduism is not Hindutva. Hinduism is a religious identity of 80% of our population and Hindutva is a political ideology of, I dare say, 20% of our population. I think the 31% votes that Mr. Modi got included a certain percentage of people who said he is the CEO of Gujarat Inc. and he is going to be the general manager of the Indian economy if we make him Prime Minister.

They were not Hindutva inclined. It may be that those 20% are part of the 80% who are calling themselves Hindus. There are another 60% of Hindus who haven’t either thought about it very much or have been deceived to believe that as good Hindus we need to support Hindutva. We need to fight that.

And the only way we can fight it is by not ceding space to the BJP to assert that this entire struggle is between good Hindus and godless secularists. Because once you are on that wicket, the godless secularist will never prevail over the good Hindu in seeking the votes of other Hindus.

So I would say we are secular in the sense that we want the state to be distant from religion, we don’t want a Hindu Rashtra. But that does not mean we have no personal religion ourselves. There are very many Hindus in the Congress. Their Hinduism is a Hinduism of acceptance, coexistence.

Such Hindus will be ashamed of people lynching an innocent man on the grounds of his religion, of a cap on his head, of the meat he is carrying, or that he is herding cows.

QThe Prime Minister said recently that people have started calling Congress ‘bail gaadi’, since so many of your leaders are on bail. The list includes you too. Is your party struggling to counter this image?

A – Well, the cases are all very different. I am not sure there is a particular image. There are many BJP leaders also on bail on political and other cases. I am obviously offended to be included in this category. I am somebody who grew up never expecting to set foot in a court or a police station in my life.

And I have had to do it because of a politically motivated witch-hunt against me, which I am contesting vigorously. I have a clear conscience and I am sure the truth will show me out.

The truth is that the ‘bail gaadi’ reference also gave me the opportunity to hit back at Mr. Modi to say that he has finally descended from bullet train to ‘bail gaadi’. That may be the beginning of our journey from rhetoric to reality that is long overdue.

QThe Delhi police recently charged you with abetting the suicide of your wife Sunanda Pushkar. If convicted, you will be disbarred for six years from fighting elections. How does this play on your mind?

A – The intention of all of this is precisely for it to play on my mind, so I have to find a way to resist all of this. A second case has been filed against me in Kolkata for the ‘Hindu Pakistan’ remark. It is sad. In no other democracy where freedom of expression is accepted would such a case have been admitted.

On top of that there are other forms of political harassment that have been unleashed against me. The only strength I have is a clear conscience. I know that I have not and would have never done anything along the lines that have been alleged.

I am confident, having seen the charge sheet, that there isn’t a shred of evidence for even the thought that she committed suicide. I and none in her family believe it. Since it is sub judice, I can’t say more, but we will be following the process through to its conclusion.

QThe jury is still out on whether Rahul Gandhi hugging Mr. Modi was a churlish act or if he actually did manage to draw the binary of love versus hate.

A – Look, I believe it was spontaneous and it had a tremendous effect on the narrative. The way the media works, the next day’s stories… whatever Rahul Gandhi had said would have been about Mr. Modi, that’s how we have seen in the last four years.

However, once Rahul surprised everybody, including Mr. Modi, with that hug, it was inescapable for any journalist with a news sense; it was on the front page of every newspaper. It shifted the narrative. It was a masterstroke, spontaneous, but also very well illustrated, the point that we are not a party of hatred, [but] of love.

QWhat is the difference between the Congress under Rahul Gandhi and the Congress under Sonia Gandhi?

A – He is youthful and energetic; he says things that his mother would probably never say. You would have never seen his mother giving a hug even to Sushma Swaraj. I think there are some differences of style.

Some of the old-timers who have served the party in the last 20 years of Sonia Gandhi’s leadership have gently and respectfully been replaced by younger people who are closer to Rahul Gandhi.

But in terms of substance, ideology, policy, and so on, I don’t see much difference. Organisationally, there is one important difference: Rahul has reached out to new constituencies.

QYou recently wrote that it is safer to be a cow than a Muslim in India. What is your advice to the government to stop mob lynching?

A – We need a clear signal from the top. Taking refuge behind the idea that law and order is a State subject and therefore is not the Central government’s concern is appalling. It is beyond debate that the forces that have been emboldened by the victory of the BJP, that are loosely described as the Sangh Parivar, are behind all this.

The violence is committed in the name of protecting the cow, which itself is an idea that has been unleashed by the leadership that is in power today.

[Former U.S. President Barack] Obama, soon after a high school shoot-out, was on national TV to reassure the public, express his anguish and share the pain of the victim. I have never seen our Prime Minister doing anything of this sort, even though there have been incidents after incidents.

QThe Congress is facing a leadership crisis, which escalated further after the lone Rajya Sabha seat was handed over to the Kerala Congress. Your comments?

A – There were reasons for that. The Kerala Congress was associated with us in the past. It was only a temporary sacrifice. Equally important is the fact that the Congress has a tremendous hold on the affections of the people of Kerala. Having said that, there are a couple of problems.

There is well-known groupism that has been the bane of the party for the last 30 years. There is the fact that for the moment, the high command has not yet announced a permanent official arrangement for the leadership of the party in the lead-up to the elections. Eventually, whoever Rahul Gandhi appoints will have the support of the party.

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/we-need-a-clear-signal-from-the-top-to-stop-mob-lynchings/article24505126.ece