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September 26, 2000


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E-Mail this column to a friend Arvind Lavakare

The alternative Indians may have preferred to hear

It was preceded by a standing ovation; it was interspersed with applause -- 21 times by one count; and at the end of its 20-minute duration, it was accorded another standing ovation -- of 30 seconds by another count. All that seemed hyped courtesy because Prime Minister Vajpayee's address to a joint session of the United States Congress must rank as one of the drabbest speeches in international political history.

It would be an understatement to say that Mr Vajpayee missed the bus to a tryst with destiny in Washington on September 14, 2000. Here was the redoubtable leader of a billion-strong democracy who was expected to stand tall and plead the cause of his people before the lawmakers of the world's most powerful nation that has long denied us our just desserts. Here was the definitive moment for oratory that could be enshrined in Indo-US relations. And all that our PM's speechwriters did was to botch it up.

That address lacked a heart and a mind. It lacked substance and style. It was devoid of the subtle accompaniments that nibble at the audience's emotions of the kind that simultaneously evoke a pang of remorse and a resolve to make amends.

Instead of what he actually got, the thinking Indian citizen would have preferred his PM's speech to go somewhat along the following lines.

1. "Mr Speaker, distinguished members of the Congress, ladies and gentlemen present in this august House, I must first of all express my deep sense of gratitude for inviting me to address you. Your kind invitation marks a historic honour -- not to me but to the one billion people of my country. It is, I would like to believe, recognition accorded to a civilisation going back over 4,000 years and in which humanity, not hegemony, was always the norm. Even after centuries of wars and conquests, after unbelievable turbulence and turmoil, that trait of humanity guides India 53 years after gaining freedom without violence and without rancour for the colonialists.

2. "Along with gratitude, I offer an apology. I am aware that this is the silly season -- the season of elections in your great democracy. All lawmakers, present and future, are in the thick of campaigning amidst their constituencies, and would be averse to hearing an intruder, be he from the orient or from outer space. I therefore sincerely regret any disturbance that my visit at this juncture may have caused in your personal schedule.

3. "I too have had my fill of the heat and dust of election campaigns. Why, between 1996 and 1999, India has had three such general elections entailing an electorate of over 620 million spread over 538 constituencies. The saving grace has been that, like in the USA, prime ministers and other lawmakers get kicked out by the ballot box, not by a jackboot as is becoming the tradition in India's neighbourhood.

4. "Because of this silly season, there was a large body of opinion in India that advised against this visit of mine. But your President's invitation was warm and, I think, from the bottom of his large heart. And when President Clinton insists on something, I can hardly refuse him much -- excepting a signature here and a signature there on some document he always seems to carry around in his pocket.

5. "And now, let me, as Americans say, get down to business. I will do that candidly but, as Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, "With malice towards none."

6. "Your corporate circles are aware that in the last 10 years we have grown at 6.5 per cent per year; that puts India among the 10 fastest growing economies of the world. Our aim is to double our per capita income in a decade from now -- meaning we must grow at nine per cent a year.

7. "That is not an over-ambitious target considering that important segments of the country's infrastructure have been opened to private initiative, domestic and foreign. Multinational accounts, banking and finance companies have happily settled down in India. Several manufacturing activities like pharmaceuticals, automobiles and consumer durables already bear prestigious foreign labels. Your two famous soft drinks have reached our thousands of villages. The size of our markets is truly gigantic.

8. "I concede that by American standards our moves to fully liberate man's inherent spirit of enterprise may appear slow to you. But remember that the mindset of decades takes time to change. It took years for liberal minded Americans to bring about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the supplementary voting rights bill late the following year. That was a decade and a half after those rights had been enshrined in the Constitution of free India.

9. "Nevertheless, I concede that we must appear tardy to you in our economic reforms and labour laws improvement. And I concede that, as Lewis Carroll advised in Through the Looking Glass, we must run twice as fast to move ahead. We are trying to do just that.

10. "This is where I appeal to the USA to understand us and, without restraint or suspicion, join hands with us to create a massive demonstration effect as a prelude to a truly outstanding and mutually beneficial partnership. Such a partnership can ultimately extend to a large canvas -- business, commerce, manufacturing, information technology, environment, scientific research, combat of terrorism world-wide, perpetuation of democratic governments, cultural advancement, non-proliferation and a more peaceful world. Forge that partnership, and I assure you that you will not find us wanting in putting our heart and soul in making it thrive. It could well become a partnership paying high dividends in much more than materialistic measures. One-and-a-half million Indians in America have demonstrated that already.

11. "President Clinton's visit to India last March was a milestone in this partnership of our joint vision. He saw the Taj Mahal and much more. He saw our people and our efforts at upliftment across the board -- from Nayla village to the cyber city of Hyderabad. We are indeed grateful to him for signing that Vision Statement then. This visit of mine is to put a seal on it -- the eagle seal of the great United States of America.

12. "I wish to assure you today that we in India admire America for its many attainments in diverse fields. We admire those achievements because they have emerged from the vibrant inter-play of individual liberty and collective wisdom of genuine democratic debate. Yes, we may disagree from time to time with certain approaches, certain attitudes, but we accept that even in the best of marriages, the two partners do not always see eye to eye, do not always prefer the same dessert after dinner. But adjustments are always made to overcome differences and often the taste buds themselves undergo a change. As a nation, ladies and gentlemen, we believe in reconciliation, not in hasty divorces regretted later.

13. "I had promised candour with President Lincoln's rider of malice towards none. I crave your indulgence as I proceed to do that.

14. "From times immemorial, we Indians have been very sensitive by nature. We are introverts by and large, firmly believing in "live and let live". And we have tended to live in consciousness, accepting that there is a third eye up there that watches what we do and also wants us to spot it if we can. This nature of ours may be on account of the fact that we are located at the foot of the heavenly Himalayas.

15. "Whatever the reason, it is in our genes as a nation to take quiet umbrage when slighted for reasons that we do not perceive as valid. We feel slighted when what is our just cause is misunderstood, deliberately or otherwise. We feel slighted when different yardsticks are applied: one for us and another for someone else. Because we do not react angrily, because we prefer to believe that truth shall ultimately prevail, our silence is construed as consent or cowardice or comeuppance.

16. "I would like to cite a few instances of how our national sentiment has been disturbed and our energies dissipated by attitudes that simply confound us.

17. "Recall how we were treated when we took a major step forward in May two years ago to defend ourselves from evil designs as perceived by us. Hardly had we gone public on the subject than the whole elite world pounced on us. We were immediately ostracised and quarantined. Some of the language used was hardly diplomatese. It was as if we had sent six million to the gas chambers or sparked off mushrooms over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. All this calumny came despite the moratorium we quickly announced and the promise we quickly made of pulling the trigger only in self-defence. Even after millions of sound bytes of explanation, we are made to believe that our so-called sin of guarding our national security cannot be sanctioned away. In contrast, those who smuggle in nuclear dangers or smuggle them out are let off if not lauded.

18. "Another charge, hurled often, pertains to religious freedom in India.

19. "I cannot over-emphasise that one Article of our Constitution guarantees every citizen the free profession, practice and propagation of religion. Another Article guarantees the interests of minorities. Yet another empowers the minorities to establish and administer their educational institutions along with the right to impart religious instruction. A fiercely independent judiciary zealously protects each and every such right. What more then is India expected to do in respect of religious freedom? Should we also endorse conversions through deceit or monetary inducement or threats?

20. "As for attacks on minority religion groups, we most certainly condemn them; we do our utmost to apprehend and punish the guilty as per the law of the land. But there are two aspects here which I feel the need to amplify.

21. "The first is really a rhetoric question. Are people of a particular faith expected to always turn a deaf ear and the other cheek when some other religion or two periodically proclaims from the roof tops that its practice is the only way to attain salvation?

22. "The second and more germane issue is whether any country in the world is free of fanatics. Churches of one minority community have been known to be burnt down -- you are only too aware of it. But does it mean that the government is the one that is guilty of the arson? If there are deaths through shoot-outs in some school classrooms, should the government be vilified for murder most foul?

23. "Similarly, if terrorists with AK-47 rifles are gunned down, if their fellow conspirators are shot by those who guard the national frontiers, are human rights violated? What of the human rights of innocent people sleeping at home being blown up by masked men?

24. "Which brings me to the K-word. For years, India has been lectured on resolving that K-word. We have been admonished for not resolving what is called the Kashmir dispute. For years, we believed that experts would study the relevant history and understand who is guilty and who the innocent victim. We appear to have been wrong in making that elementary assumption.

25. "I would request forbearance therefore as I explain, very briefly, this issue that is now graphically painted as the "nuclear flashpoint" in South Asia.

26. "The modern history of Jammu and Kashmir state is one that can be capsulated simply enough provided one sticks to facts, not to fiction.

27. "The first fact is that consequent to the partition of India on August 15, 1947, the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir had the option of being either tenuously independent or accede to one of the two Dominions created by the British Parliamentary legislation on Partition.

28. "The monarch of that State was undecided when hordes of tribesmen from across our north-west borders invaded his sovereign territory in the last week of October 1947. Parts of his territory were quickly seized by these invaders armed to the teeth. Much more trauma occurred. The ruler therefore asked for India's armed help to drive out the marauders and to restore peace in his domain. He signed the stipulated Instrument of Accession. India sent its Army and Air Force to recover what had now legally become its own territory.

29."A lot of Americans may be surprised to learn that the accession of the state of Jammu and Kashmir to India on October 26, 1947 was very similar to the way Texas was merged with the USA over 155 years ago. Let me elaborate this point.

30. "Your country's history tells us that when Mexico separated from the Spanish Empire and became an independent Republic, Texas was an integral part of it.

31. "Later, Texas revolted and became an independent entity. In 1844, threatened by predatory incursions, Texas requested the USA government to annex the State. The American Congress sanctioned the proposal in a joint resolution in March 1845. America thereafter sent an Army to defend the western frontiers of Texas. The government, affected by this military action, protested that the American action was a violation of its rights.

32. "The US government's reply to the protest did not consider its action as a violation of any State's right because Texas was an independent power and owed no territorial or sovereign allegiance to a third party. Nobody then contended that the annexation of Texas then was by force or by fraud. Rightly so. Similarly, Jammu and Kashmir's accession to India in 1947 is above board. But it was good for the USA, I suppose, that there was no United Nations in 1845 to mediate as the judge and the jury.

33. "In 1948 however, India chose to refer the invasion of Jammu and Kashmir to the United Nations so as to get justice in an atmosphere of peace instead of escalating the conflict on the ground. Although not so stipulated in law, India also agreed to let the future of Jammu and Kashmir be decided by the United Nations through the wishes of the people of the State.

34. "Accordingly, the UN Security Council approved a detailed road map for resolving the issue once and for all. The primary condition of that plan was that those tribesmen and nationals of the country that had entered Jammu and Kashmir for the purposes of fighting would be withdrawn to where they had come from. All subsequent paths of the UN plan were to follow only after that first junction was passed.

35. "That has not happened till now, more than 50 years after it had been agreed in black and white before the United Nations. How, then, can we keep our side of the bargain?

36. "Half a century is a long time even for a country. Jammu and Kashmir could not expected to be in a perpetual state of animated suspension. Its people could not be expected to stand still in history, waiting for the aggressor to keep his sacred promise.

37. "So the people of Jammu and Kashmir went ahead to fulfil its long-cherished aspiration of wanting a constitutional democracy based on the wishes of their representatives elected through universal adult franchise. Accordingly, such a democratic Constituent Assembly started deliberations in October 1951.

38. "The stakes for India were high in that democratic process set in motion. One of the options before that Assembly was to request the Indian government to abrogate the Instrument of Accession and cede the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Instead, in February 1954, the Assembly ratified the accession. And in 1957 came the State's own separate Constitution as the documented expression of the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir regarding their future status.

39. "The most important element in that Constitution which the world should note is its Section 3. That Section lays down that the State of Jammu and Kashmir is and shall be an integral part of the Union of India. What is more, the founding fathers of that Constitution made that assertion incapable of any amendment at any time in the future.

40. "What then remains of the K-word? As far as India is concerned, the only dispute now is how we should be given back what was rightfully ours and remained so after the wishes of the people concerned were obtained -- not in the heat of the moment, but through deliberations over five years.

41. "I am sorry to have laboured over Jammu and Kashmir. But I do believe that the time has finally come to make people the world over understand its real story.

42. "As I reach the end of this address made possible by your graciousness, I once again offer my country's warm hand for a long friendship based on mutual respect and on individual sources of heritage and circumstances.

43. "Max Lerner's America As A Civilisation has become a classic for all times. In that book he says, "The fact that Americans have an assurance about their future does not exclude a pride about their past." So it is with India. More the reason why the USA and India should move ahead as natural allies.

44. "Thank you, thank you all, once again."

Arvind Lavakare

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