May 15, 2001


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Let the nation beware

Arvind Lavakare

Time for the RSS to introspect

A rook for a rook. That's the latest chess happening in the battle of nerves between Prime Minister Vajpayee and the hard-core Sangh Parivar. First, K S Sudershan, the loud-mouthed and pesky chief of the RSS, was moved down the board's "file" from the PM's throat in New Delhi to the Sangh's quiet HQ in Nagpur. Then, in exchange, Vajpayee moved N K Singh from the PMO across the "rank" squares to the Planning Commission. Parity restored.

Currently, even as the PM's press adviser, H K Dua, a Sangh critic, gets ready to be shifted diagonally to a diplomatic assignment in faraway Denmark, the RSS desperately wants one of its knights in the capital to jump into Dua's square.

There is also talk of Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha wanting to quit consequent to being labelled "a criminal" by Dattopant Thengadi, a RSS veteran. The RSS is probably secretly planning a check of its own from that critical slot.

And there's the very latest. With Brajesh Mishra, Vajpayee's principal secretary and national security adviser, being berated for taking the help of the Hinduja brothers to meet Tony Blair in the diplomatic crisis following Pokhran II, the knives are out once again to gobble Atalji's queen.

All these developments reflect terribly on the intellectual calibre, unsuspected lust for power and avowed patriotism of the RSS.

Consider the attack on Nandu Singh. Just because someone on those damned Tehelka tapes mentioned his name, many top brass in the Sangh Parivar wanted him out without specifying why. Bal Thackeray dubbed the entire PMO an extra-constitutional authority, conveniently forgetting the role he and his two sons had played in the BJP-Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra, although, unlike Singh, none of the three musketeers had the moral courage to become a public servant and accept public accountability.

One particular gentleman, generally sympathetic to the Sangh, repeatedly questioned Singh's value to Vajpayee without pointing out his flip side excepting his royal blood connection and his suave manoeuvring in the corridors of power as well of the media.

But was Singh corrupt? Had he indulged in moral turpitude? Did he play favourite to any particular lobby? Was he a laggard at work? Nobody even raised any of these issues. Yet all in that "nobody" group wanted Singh to be kicked out of the PMO.

It ultimately took a columnist from the corporate sector to project Nandu Singh's contribution to the nation's economic cause. Writing in The Times of India on May 6, 2001, Gurcharan Das believes that Singh has left behind a considerable record of reform that culminated in this year's path-breaking Budget. Das credits Singh with an important role in many of Vajpayee's initiatives: the momentum in building highways, the new "open skies" policy, the decision to lease out five major airports, the drive towards privatisation of sea ports, the forward-looking telecom policy and the soon-coming liberalisation of drugs price control.

Have Thackeray and the RSS ever talked of such dynamic economic policies? All that Thackeray did in the sphere of major economic development was to okay the Enron power project from his home and see where that has landed his beloved "Jai Maharashtra".

Take the case of Brajesh Mishra. The renewed cry for his blood is based on the fact that he -- and Vajpayee -- used the good offices of the Hindujas to arrange a meeting with England's PM in June 1998 when Pokhran II had made India a pariah in the Western world. The criticism has been made that the Hindujas were then under investigation in the Bofors scam and that the use of a business house for government diplomacy was abnormal as well as abhorrent.

Look at the duplicity of this criticism. Nobody complained when R K Mishra of the Reliance Group was part of the Vajpayee government's Track II diplomacy with Nawaz Sharief. Nobody complained when Indian entrepreneurs in America exerted their influence on President Bill Clinton to make the USA forge a warm relationship with their motherland. And nobody cares to note that though it did take the help of the Hindujas in 1998, the Vajpayee government didn't stop the CBI last year from charge-sheeting them in the Bofors affair and from pressing for their extradition for court trials in India.

There is also the double standard on ethics. The Tehelka johnnies are treated as heroes for producing their damned tapes through means that were unethical as well as criminal under sections 415 and 416 of the Indian Penal Code, and under Section 12 (giving gratification to a public servant and thereby abetting his offence) of the Prevention of Corruption Act. On the other hand, Mishra -- and Vajpayee -- are sought to be castigated for employing the under-investigation Hindujas to interact with England's PM in order to explain the nation's grossly misunderstood rationale of Pokhran II.

Like Nandu Singh, Brajesh Mishra was earlier being held guilty for no other ostensible "crime" excepting that he was mentioned on those damned Tehelka tapes. He is acting too big for his boots, said some. He dabbles in everything, said others. He is an extra-constitutional authority, said the likes of Thackeray. He needs replacement with someone more efficient, said the likes of Sudershan. Nobody, however, has found anything significantly amiss with Mishra, excepting perhaps that he always means business, and never gives a quarter to the Sangh Parivar even as he pursues his agenda of national interest, first and last, albeit somewhat overbearingly as demanded by the stature of his office.

As to why he hasn't given up his second position of national security adviser to a separate individual -- as demanded by the chairman of the Kargil Review Committee -- nobody had the guts to even pose him that question when he faced a media conference soon after the Tehelka storm broke out.

One does not know whether there's anything at all that will compel Sudershan and Thackeray to remove the blinkers they seem to wear as their permanent accessories. But those who are puzzled by Vajpayee's faith in his principal secretary will be pleasantly surprised at the assessment of Mishra by K P Nayar, a senior journalist of The Telegraph.

Writing in the May 2, 2001, issue of the Kolkata newspaper, Nayar says that while those gunning for Vajpayee's principal secretary are by no means anti-Indian, "they are simply unaware of what Mishra has done for India and its place in the world since he assumed office in South Block in 1998".

Adds Nayar, "Much of what he has achieved has been secured through a combination of stealth, daring and bravado, guided always by what the BJP and its predecessor, the Jana Sangh, envisaged for India for decades."

Nayar gives two compelling instances of Mishra's deep commitment to the nation. On March 28 this year -- when India was to launch its historic GSLV into space -- Mishra had cancelled all his appointments for the day in order to stay glued to the TV set in his office, taking in every detail of the launch. In contrast, secretaries in various other ministries were doing either nothing of the kind or had only a vague recollection of the launch date.

What is even more indicative of Mishra's utility and dedication to the nation is his role in making the GSLV launch a reality in the first place. The sanctions on the country after Pokhran II had meant denial of certain equipment absolutely essential for the launch. The Russian equipment was not up to the mark. An advanced west European country offered to supply the needed equipment, but at thrice the normal price.

It was then that Mishra took the matter into his hands. Using his widespread connections built over a period, he persuaded an African government to first buy the needed equipment from the west European country and then to resell it to India -- at the same price! No Mishra, no GSLV, QED.

Nothing resembling that national contribution can be expected from the present political Opposition that thinks its mission is to oppose everything the government does or tries to do. But has the Sangh Parivar contributed to Vajpayee anything even vaguely similar to what Mishra has in the matter of GSLV? On the contrary, the Parivar has made life miserable for Vajpayee with its umpteen pinpricks instead of understanding his vision and complementing his efforts, advising course correction privately and with logic, facts and figures.

The time therefore seems to have come for the Sangh to do very serious introspection on its role in the country.

The RSS & Co must first of all examine why even huge chunks of India's 82 per cent Hindu population do not vote for the BJP. Simultaneously, it must understand from Sharad Pawar why he considers the prime ministership of India the most difficult job in the world. It may then realise the futility of seeing each and every facet of the country's governance through Hindutva eyes.

It is true that pseudo-secularism has harmed the Hindu interest in certain areas and helped pamper the largest minority. But that condition is a legacy of half a century and cannot be overturned in one single term of national governance. After all, mindsets in a vast, pluralistic democracy cannot be changed in five years without causing Himalayan upheavals. Why, even the RSS itself hasn't changed its comical khaki shorts in the last 75 years!

At this crucial juncture when five fresh state governments have thrown up conclusions about the people's expectations, the RSS & Co must remember that, as it never stops claiming, it is really a cultural organisation, not a political one.

Governance is not everyone's cup of tea, at least not without considerable study and practice. Towards its constitutional end, therefore, the Sangh must first win the nation's heart by social service to one and all. Its viewpoint on Hindutva or swadeshi or whatever needs to be propagated with gentle, innovative skills, without confrontation. Its battles against Nehru's fraudulent secularism or whatever must be taken up with imagination, not anger, with homework, not hot-headedness, with patience, not pomposity.

Finally, the Parivar must accept that we live in the 21st century where the whole world is a village that has a mix of both swadeshi and videshi. Absolutely nothing can change that reality in the lifetime of one Sudershan or of even two generations of Thackeray.

If the RSS & Co doesn't introspect now, it will, sooner rather than later, only checkmate Vajpayee's government and hurl the BJP back to the Opposition benches for Ram knows how long.

Arvind Lavakare

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