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'You need not just one strong leader, you need a strong Opposition'

March 08, 2024 12:04 IST

'Those who hope for a strong united Opposition are disillusioned at the way in which the INDIA alliance has already been caught in debilitating squabbles.'

IMAGE: A meeting of INDIA leaders. Photograph: ANI Photo

Retired IAS officer, 85-year-old Thottuvelil Krishna Pillai Ayappan Nair has the unique distinction of having served in the prime minister offices of Inder Kumar Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Dr Manmohan Singh.

Mr Nair was principal secretary and advisor to Dr Singh, with the rank of minister of state.

He joined the Punjab cadre of the Indian Administrative Service in 1963, served as the state's chief secretary before being assigned to the Centre as a secretary, Government of India in different capacities.'s Shobha Warrier met Mr Nair at his residence in Thiruvananthapuram and spoke to him about the prime ministers he had served and, of course, Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi.

The concluding segment of a multi-part interview:

When there was a discussion on the Constitution, the ruling party said the words secular and socialist in the Preamble, shouldn't be there...
Don't you feel those two words make real India?

Yes, I have 100% faith in the wisdom enshrined in the Constitution and the fundamental philosophy underlying it.

The Preamble to the Constitution embodies the basic principles which form the essence of our democracy and our plural society and diverse country.

India is not a monolithic country where there is unanimity or oneness in everything, be it religion or language. The Constitution seeks to strengthen and preserve that plurality and diversity of the country.

Deviation from the Constitutional scheme of governance of which secularism and socialism are essential features will undermine the very existence of India. There is no doubt about that.

Of late some attempts, sometimes veiled and sometimes open, at diluting or negating the spirit of the guiding principles of the Constitution are visible, and they are dangerous portents to our secular democracy.

Do you think a Ram temple in Ayodhya will unite all the Hindus of India? That's what the BJP and the RSS are saying..

Well, as you know there are different perceptions and views about it. The Sankaracharya of Jyotish Peeth in an interview to Karan Thapar has said in the context of the pran prathista that Ayodhya is dividing and not uniting India, and only political Hindus are happy.

Certainly, Lord Ram and the saga of Ramayana in different versions are etched in the collective conscience of Hindus.

Regrettably, the consecration of the Ram temple turned out to be a divisive but splendorous celebration superbly orchestrated by the prime ,inister.

Some former bureaucrats I spoke to said the situation today is worse than the Emergency...

Certainly not. Agreed, Hindutva is being pursued vigorously and some aspects of it are not in tune with the spirit of the Constitution of India.

There have been reports of attempts at muffling the media and stifling the voice of the leaders of the Opposition and harassing them by government law enforcement agencies. Those reported attempts deserve to be condemned unequivocally.

But in spite of that, I don't believe we are in an Emergency-like situation.

But I do definitely feel that the government is intolerant of voices of dissent.


Do you feel only if a strong leader emerges in the Opposition that Modi can be stopped?

You need not just one strong leader, you need a strong Opposition.

The country needs a credible vision and narrative of inclusive development. Lack of such a narrative and the ultra-selfishness pervading its leaders is the undoing of the Opposition.

Those who hope for a strong united Opposition are disillusioned at the way in which the INDIA alliance has already been caught in debilitating squabbles.

Do you see any leader who can take on Modi?

Let's be clear. A credible Opposition alliance with an inclusive agenda of development addressing the basic issues of hunger, malnutrition, poverty, unemployment and the divisive rhetoric can do it.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers his remarks at the second Summit for Democracy, via video conferencing, March 29, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

How do you compare Modi with Indira Gandhi?

Modi is more formidable than what Indira Gandhi was in her hey day. She was no doubt one of the most powerful and charismatic leaders of her times, especially acclaimed for her role in creation of Bangladesh.

Modi is adroitly cultivating the image of a Vishwa Guru while he is being perceived and painted as a megalomaniac by his political opponents.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/