October 21, 2015

India:: Dear Minister Jaitley: Open Letter from Mani Shankar Aiyar

ndtv.com - October 20, 2015

Dear Minister Jaitley,

Although you took even longer than your boss to do so, I am relieved you have at long last discovered that the lynching of poor Mohammad Akhlaq at Dadri was "extremely unfortunate and condemnable". Of course, much stronger language was called for and, given that you are Number 2 or 3 in your government, it would have been better when you saw your Prime Minister keeping his mouth firmly shut that, as a "right-thinking person", you should have jumped up much, much earlier to damn your many colleagues who were seeking to "rationalize and condone such action".

But I am distressed that your principal reason for speaking up late than never is that "such incidents bring a bad name to the country". This is essentially an ethical and moral issue, not a matter of realpolitik. Don't you see that all these sinful things are "bad" in themselves and not to be condemned only in a belated effort to salvage the nation from getting a "bad name"?

Until such moral imperatives take precedence over utilitarian considerations in your way of running the government, there will be cause for deep concern amongst all "right-thinking" persons. And might I remind you that all the writers who have returned their awards and are now the object of your scorn are "right-thinking" people?

Of course, some of them do happen to be "with left or Nehruvian leanings". That does not stop them from being right-thinking. Indeed, it is precisely because they are "right-thinking" that they are leftist and Nehruvian. Otherwise, like you, they would be Rightist and Savarkarian. On one point though, you are perfectly correct: "the thrust of the writers' protest appears to be that under the present Central Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an atmosphere of intolerance has been created in the country."

Can't you see the atmosphere of intolerance? Do you not feel it in your bones? When a man is killed and his son left for dead for not following the dictates of the self-righteous clan you belong to, do you not see that as intolerance? When you hear the reactions of your ministerial colleagues, your parliamentary comrades, your party bullies, does not the stench of intolerance fill your nostrils? When faces are blackened for holding a different view, is that par for the course? When stadia are vandalized by your partners in state governments, does that not disgust you? It does us.

That is what makes for the rift valley between your Sangh Parivar Hindutivists and the vast majority of democracy-loving, open-minded, decent citizens of this country. It is what drives the conscience of over 40 of our most distinguished public intellectuals, the glitterati among our literati, to cast away the one recognition they have received of their worth to society. They do not take to mob attacks and lynching to make their protest; in a perfectly democratic, tolerant but decisive way, they are trying to ask you to end the sin of Dhritarashtra in which you and your lot are caught, the sin of moral blindness.

It is absurd to suggest, as you have, that these 40 and more labourers of the intellect and the imagination are motivated by their "political prejudices". They are not. Acting quite independent of each other, from qasbahs and small towns to giant metropolises, from all corners of the country, east, west, north, south, these prisoners of conscience have broken their chains and stood up for a cause greater than any politics: the great human cause of the right to life. Theirs is no "paper rebellion" or "manufactured crisis". It is your response that is manufactured, a paper tissue of irrelevancies and outright lies. You belong to a hide-bound tradition that allows of no dissent, dictatorial in conception, narrow in outlook, authoritarian in manner, and thuggish in action. That is what prevents you from seeing wrong in your own ranks. I concede you are quick to discover what is inconvenient - such as that dangerous innocent, your Minister of Culture, naively, if wickedly, mouthing the truth about all of you while not seeing the political pitfalls of doing so. But, at heart, there is no difference between Mahesh Sharma and you. For who can forget that, despite your decades-long membership of the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat - and perhaps in sheer servitude to the man who bestowed that favour on you - you have never uttered a word of condemnation of what happened post-Godhra in Gujarat under the stewardship of your mentor, Narendra Modi. When silence was not an option, you chose to remain silent and have kept silent for over a decade. The passage of years does not take away from the pogrom you have never found fit to deplore and make amends for.

Instead you keep flogging the political dead horse of the Emergency. Of course the Emergency was wrong. It should never have happened. But it was the very people who threw out Indira Gandhi for the Emergency who brought her back. They could see the country needed her; they could see that the pack of jokers who had replaced her had ignominiously collapsed, woefully betraying those who put them into office. But that apart, how dare you invoke the Emergency when railing against that "leftist and Nehruvian" Nayantara Sahgal, whose was the first pebble that started the avalanche? Was it her "political prejudices" or her conscience that led her to denounce her cousin-by-blood, Indira Gandhi, all through the Emergency and beyond. She protested then. She protests now - for her outrage is based on fundamental values and fundamental rights. She protested the suspension of fundamental rights during the Emergency. She protests the suspension of fundamental values under your dispensation. Hers is not "politics by other means" as you derisively describe it; hers is morality by every means. She spoke out and still speaks out against the horrors of Gujarat 2002.

You claim that to "manufacture a revolt, it is necessary to obfuscate the truth". This is no "manufactured revolt": it is the agonized cry of the conscience, a conscience that always acts individually and is, therefore, sincere. These writers have not selectively condemned what they see around them. They have collectively condemned what can only be described as the putative Nazification of our society.

You will not succeed. For India's civilization is stronger than your political obfuscation. It is precisely the triumphalism that has made you Finance Minister that breeds the arrogance and moral purblindness that stands nakedly revealed within 500 days of your dalliance with political power. You are transient. The Idea of India has not been extinguished. These writers are the torch-bearers of all that has kept the flame alight these thousands and thousands of years. It is your perversions of that heritage that will be re-consigned to the dustbin of history in 2019, as they were in 1979.

(Mani Shankar Aiyar is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha.)