April 9, 2002


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Arvind Lavakare

'National shame' is not for premiers, Mr Vajpayee

When even the slightest doubt is cast on his own persona, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee flies into a rage and self-publicises his "impeccable" record in half a century of public life. Thus, when that treacherous Tehelka exploded in March last year, he said that having spent all his life fighting corruption, he didn't need a certificate of patriotism.

Late last year, when Sanjay Nirupam, the Shiv Sena MP, hinted at telephone conversations linking Vajpayee's family with the shenanigans in the Unit Trust of India, Vajpayee was so offended that he used all his prime ministerial clout to make Nirupam eat humble pie, his charge not even being subjected to investigation.

And on March 26 this year, during the joint parliamentary debate on POTA, Vajpayee countered Sonia Gandhi's attack on POTA with verbal terror on the lady without uttering a word on POTA, proclaiming, instead, that he cannot and will not stand personal criticism against himself.

It is strange, therefore, that so-self-sensitive Vajpayee cannot understand the Hindu reprisal in Gujarat after gruesome Godhra. He cannot understand that as against his 45 years of parliamentary career, the Hindu has almost silently suffered the pro-Muslim secularism of 55 years practised by successive governments in New Delhi that have been so mortally afraid of the Muslim sentiment that they have not even thought of taking up the Uniform Civil Code enshrined in our Constitution as a Directive Principle of State Policy. Consequently, the wound of the majority Hindu psyche has now become putrid and full of pus. If its reprisal after Godhra is condemnable -- and it certainly is -- so is the anti-majorityism of the government and Vajpayee's verbal assault on Sonia Gandhi.

It is strange, therefore, that so-self-sensitive Vajpayee had called the Gujarat reprisal "a blot on the nation" in early March and has now dubbed it "a national shame". It is so very embarrassing to him, he says, that he, poor dear, does not know what face to show when he goes abroad.

Well, well, our PM needn't be so very sensitive and deprecating about his -- and our -- nation. Other PMs and Presidents of the world just don't have the phrase "national shame" in their vocabulary; events in their country worse than the Hindu reaction in Gujarat have never been dubbed by them as "a blot on the nation". Take some random instances from the history of the world.

Start with the USA that loves to talk down others on the question of human rights.

President Truman of the USA ordered atom bombs to be dropped on Japan in 1945 although the latter was on its knees and its German ally had surrendered in World War II. Thousands of innocents in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were thereby annihilated and thousands more of that generation and the next were mutilated and maimed for life. Has any US president thereafter dubbed Truman's horror act a blot on America or a shame on America?

General Dyer shot down hundreds of unarmed Indians gathered for a freedom rally on April 13, 1919, at Jallianwallah Bagh. Has any British prime minister ever dubbed that sadistic act as a stigma on His or Her Majesty's government? Why, when a leading member of the British royalty was our VVIP guest a couple or so years ago, he chose to quibble over the numbers Dyer killed in cold blood rather than apologise for what truly was a stigma on England's colonial rule over India.

The pope was another VVIP guest of ours a couple of years ago. Despite the widespread demand of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad that he apologise for the vile Inquisition of old that was, in reality, a shame on Christianity, the pope had the abrasive audacity to advocate a bigger harvest of converted souls in south Asia. The Inquisition a blot on Christianity? Nonsense! Rome didn't think it warranted even a mumbled "sorry".

During President Bill Clinton's rule, a black man, Rodney King, was the victim of inhuman torture by white policemen. Another black was chained to a truck by some whites and dragged along the road for a journey to hell. Several churches of the blacks were burnt. More than once, schoolchildren killed several colleagues and teachers with gunfire. None of these terrifying events was dubbed by the American president as a black spot or a shame on the USA.

President Clinton had oral sex in the sacred Oval Office with a government intern and later prevaricated about it to his country's special counsel in front of billions of people on the TV world. A corollary was the initiation of impeachment proceedings against Clinton -- only the second time in America's long history that its president faced such ignominy. Yet, during the campaigning for the last presidential elections, George W Bush never said his Democrat rival had been a blot on the nation.

And there's President Bush himself. His election campaign was liberally funded by Enron Corporation, which has recently been stripped naked for committing unparalleled fraud on stockholders, employees, et al. Conspiring in this malevolence was Arthur Andersen, the hitherto world-renowned auditors, who asked damaging Enron records to be burnt. Yet, President Bush has not labelled Enron as a blot on the nation and Andersen as the USA's national shame.

Communist China's brutality against the youth agitating for their rights at the Tiananmen Square over a decade ago is a dark page in recent world history. Yet no Chinese leader has ever described that brutality as a blot on the nation. Why, though China's report card on human rights is poor by Western standards, it had the gumption to silence America by producing, some months ago, a document of facts and figures highly critical of America's own record in that field rather than abjectly hanging its head in shame before the world.

Comrade Stalin's pogrom of eliminating his rivals is another facet of world history. But neither the erstwhile Soviet Union not present-day Russia cast a blight on the man. And our own Communists, of course, have never opened their loud mouths on that subject.

Speaking of communists, K T Jayakrishnan, a schoolteacher and state president of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, was hacked to death at Panur in Cannanore district (Kerala) in full view of his students inside the class on December 1, 1999. That macabre murder was probably an act of political revenge not uncommon to the Marxists. Yet, neither Somnath Chatterjee nor Sitaram Yechury nor Vajpayee himself ever referred to it, leave alone labelling it as a blot on Marxism or a shame on the nation.

In 1975, Indira Gandhi blotted out democracy from our land and stamped in a dictatorship instead. Her successor in 1977, Morarji Desai, didn't dub the woman as a blot on the nation, did he? And when Mrs Gandhi's treacherous assassination by her own guards led to the butchery of 3,000 Sikhs by Congress goons in Delhi, her son didn't dub the reprisal as a shame on the nation but only as a tremor after the fall of a big tree.

All that and more has now been overturned by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Instead of empathising with Gujarat's colossal sense of rage at the event in Godhra on February 27, and instead of appealing to both the Hindus and Muslims to put the national war on poverty above religious obsessions, India's prime minister has demeaned the Gujarati people as deserving of disgrace. Instead of consoling them, he condemned them; instead of dousing their wrath, he may well have stoked it.

If Vajpayee were a courageous statesman, he should have used his latest visit to Gujarat to appeal to the Sangh Parivar to immediately desist from indulging in Muslim- and Christian-bashing, to rid itself of petty objectives such as protesting against certain films and the celebration of Valentine's Day. Simultaneously, he should have reminded Muslims that though the "secular" word in our Constitution stands undefined till now, its meaning has been stretched over decades by the powers that be in accepting or endorsing --

Considering the above most sympathetic attitude of the nation towards them, the PM should have entreated the Muslims to stop thinking in terms of minority versus majority and instead live as an integral part of Hindustan, determined to sing Sare jahan se achha Hindustan hamara in thought, word and deed.

What a shame then that Vajpayee should have chosen Gujarat to blot the nation.

Arvind Lavakare

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