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  • Was Mr. Narayanan right?

    Posted On January 31, 2000

    By Karan Thapar

    Normally I don’t like to comment on political issues and I definitely don’t like to take sides. I see that as inimical to sunday morning sentimentalising. It’s far too serious but it’s also likely to be misunderstood. Today, however, I shall break this rigid rule. Not to pass a comment. No, heavens, certainly not. And definitely not to take sides. But to point out something that has been forgotten or, perhaps, deliberately overlooked. Thereafter any conclusions you come to are your concern. Not mine.

    The National Democratic Alliance won a majority in the 1999 elections on a manifesto that included a specific commitment to review the functioning of the Constitution. Whatever their reasons for wishing to do so and regardless of whether there are more than they admit to, this manifesto and therefore this commitment was endorsed by the verdict of the people of India.

    Does this mean that the Government has a mandate to review the Constitution? No doubt you could argue that few, if any, of the country’s voters are aware of the NDA manifesto or voted because of it. You could also point out that most, if not all, governments ignore their manifestos once elected. Both of those arguments could apply to the NDA as well. But that would be to make a mockery of the democratic process. Ours may be flawed and abused but if it is to count for anything then we must assume that to be elected means something. And that something has to include attaining a mandate.

    When Mr. Narayanan spoke out against a review of the Constitution (although on some interpretations of his comments it would appear he did not) he was not just taking a personal position on an important issue and he was doing more than simply firing a shot across the bows of his government. He was also placing himself in opposition to a position endorsed by the majority of the voting people of India.

    They may be only 60 odd per cent of the population and within that only 40 per cent may have voted for the NDA, but so what? Our electoral system has always given a majority on a disproportionate vote share but that has never been grounds for questioning a government’s mandate leave aside the people’s verdict.

    So, was Mr. Narayanan right to speak out? I offer no opinion although, of course, I have one. And let me add that if you think you can infer it from what I have written you may be horribly wrong. Yet what I will add is that whilst today many of my middle-class, urban-living, english-speaking friends may agree with him, because they share his fears or suspicions, he may also have established a dangerous precedent that a future president might use in circumstances where his (or her) views are not necessarily the same as theirs. What would happen then?

    Ask yourself that question. See if you like the answer. Then – and only then – go back and attempt the question I refuse to answer : was Mr. Narayanan right?

    A compliment we could do without

    There are times when the ISI appears to be responsible for almost everything that happens in India with the possible exception of the growing number of white hairs on my head. To be honest I even have my doubts about that. I count a large number of Pakistanis as my friends and they could have cast a spell!

    In Pakistan the opposite is equally true. They hold RAW to blame for everything that goes wrong in their country. And just as our newspapers and commentators are obsessed with the ISI theirs can’t stop speculating about RAW.

    From every bridge that is blown up in the North-East, to every road block checking traffic in Delhi, the spectre of the ISI haunts our fear. Now look at how they view things in Pakistan. From every shooting incident in Orangi in Karachi, to every shadow that flits across the often empty streets of Islamabad, the presence of RAW is discernible.

    “If you think about it it’s the most astonishing compliment we pay each other” my friend Perty exclaimed. “I had no idea either of us was so good!”

    That’s precisely my point. Is this actually so? Are the two agencies really the culprits popular belief holds them to be? Or are we exaggerating? Worse, are we simply blaming each other because we don’t know who else to accuse or because we desperately wish to discredit?

    I don’t know. Other than top politicians, well-informed intelligence officers and, perhaps, senior diplomats perhaps no one does. Yet what I think – or, to be honest, what I suspect – is that it simply cannot be. After all, do you really believe RAW or ISI are as omniscient and omnipotent as their opponents make out? And if they are would we (or they) not be immediate and outright victors in our long drawn out feud? To me the answers are obvious. Yet this folie de grandeur persists.

    All of this would be amusing were it simply harmless self-deception. Sadly, it’s not. We may not realise it but it’s hurting us. I’m sure there are many counts on which that is so but I shall restrict myself to three.

    The first is perhaps the most obvious. The more we blame the ISI (or they RAW) the less we look for the real causes of our problems. Much – if not most – of these lie elsewhere. Our problems are not beyond remedy. In fact some are simply cries for help but at the moment we are neither attending to them nor even hearing them. It’s not a question of turning a deaf ear. It’s deafness itself.

    Yet that is not all. If one day, God forbid, the ISI (or RAW, I suppose) is really guilty of a heinous act no one will believe our pointing finger. We will have cried wolf so often that like the little shepherd boy our call will be dismissed. In the meantime the rest of the world thinks we are silly children. They laugh at us and I, for one, don’t like being laughed at.

    My final point is perhaps an emotional one. At the moment, for no obvious benefit, we are whipping up animosity against each other. Whatever you may think of Pakistanis (or they of us) to gratuitously incite a dislike of each other is hardly the wisest way of sorting out our differences. Since fate and geography have condemned us to be neighbours we might as well make a decent fist of it. Accusing each other of everything that goes wrong may be convenient and, at times, comforting but it’s neither helpful nor will it take us very far.

    So let’s stop it. Let’s grow up. Let’s confront the truth rather than bury it under ridiculous accusations against each other.

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