Dear Mr Arun Jaitley,
Pranam, greetings, As-Salaam-Alaikum. I trust you are well and as usual, fighting fit.
As a lawyer you know better than most denizens of this country that the breath and heartbeat of democracy are openness, dissent, civility and non-violence. One other quality that Gandhi had in plenty, but is sorely missing these days, is a sense of humour about our follies. It ensures that we are not only self-aware but are able to internalise the notion that it is the bonds of brotherhood that are the foundation of this marvellous potpourri called India. It is in the light of this background that I find it incomprehensible and disturbing that a seasoned lawyer like you, who is also our finance minister, keeps talking about the imminent dangers to the polity just because a university student spoke openly about her desire to defend the right to freedom of expression and drew a fine but thoughtful line between the people of Pakistan and war.
Who is the real enemy?
A few weeks ago, I had written an article asking how we don’t know who the enemy in the North-West is even after decades of being victimised. The enemy is definitely not the majority of Pakistanis who, like us Indians, are busy making ends meet. The enemy is the Pakistani Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence who control not just the terrorist organisations in Pakistan like the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Al-Qaeda and Jaish-e-Mohammed, but also mastermind the planning and execution of terror attacks in India, and even in Pakistan itself, destroying the holy sites of Sufi saints and killing hundreds of their own people. We know that the Pakistani Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence control that country’s prime minister himself and dictate policy. General Pervez Musharraf, the former Pakistan President, was happy to admit to this just a few days ago.
Who should know this better than you? After all you and Amit Shah are one of the triumvirate headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. We know that while your portfolio is finance, you often speak on behalf of Modiji and the Bharatiya Janata Party. You express your wrath often on every conceivable subject, especially the country’s territorial integrity and the student community. But starting with your daily reversals and revisions in diktats during the demonitisation tsunami, why does almost everything have to boil down to a mantra of nationalism and patriotism? Why are you constantly fuming and conjuring up sedition fantasies? Why are you suffering from so much insecurity? Do you really believe that our beautiful, strong and ancient country, which weathered 250 years of foreign rule and many other disasters, is so shaky that it is in perpetual danger from a few students who express dissatisfaction with the state of the nation?
Come on Jaitleji, you too were a firebrand in your youth with perhaps a different bee in your bonnet. India is unlike any other country. We have deep roots that go back all the way to Mahavir and the Buddha and to Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Rabindranath Tagore, Gandhiji, his colleagues and the foot soldiers of our freedom struggle. Surely you and your party do not need to be reminded that this is how we are still the only country in the world that stood up to the might of the British Empire and won independence with the most unique weapon on earth, non-violent civil disobedience.
On the other hand, not for a moment do I underestimate the appalling danger that ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] poses to the free world. But there is a cure for ISIS. It is democracy at its best where every citizen has the same rights, the same superb education (not doctored texts by ideologues of any variety), the same opportunities and the same rights and duties. In short, a binding inclusiveness where everyone has an intense feeling of belonging to this land.
I hope to God that the citizens of our country will never permit the highly inflammable and barren hate campaigns of Donald Trump in the US, Marine Le Pen in France, Nigel Farage in the UK and so many others to find fertile ground in India.
‘Talk to the youth’
Jaitleyji, if you want to win over the minds of youngsters, then “chill out”, as they put it, and sit amongst them minus your overheated rhetoric. Instead of talking down to them, talk with them about their ambitions, literature, idealism, the intense need for a wide open and enlightened educational system, listen to their opinions. You will be amazed at how knowledgeable many of them are. Show them that the oxygen of democracy is freedom of expression and inclusiveness. Show them that you would have cared deeply about Gurmehar Kaur even if her father had not been a military man who lost his life. Show them that you would protect anyone – young women or men, the elderly or the middle-aged – because that is where this country’s honour lies. That anybody who threatens a woman with rape, verbal or physical harm will be arraigned instantly and punished under the law. The same will hold for the threat of violence against anyone. And if it is not too much to ask, put an end to the glib doublespeak. Cut out the platitudes. Mean what you say. Insist on actual action, and show the people that our democracy is in top shape and functions for every single person.’’
‘Remember the Constitution’
As a highly-respected lawyer, perhaps you and Ravi Shankar Prasad, our minister of law, should remember that the only sacred – but areligious – text in our polity is the Constitution of India. Forgive me for putting the matter in such a tentative manner but the two of you and even our much-revered Prime Minister often have memory lapses and seem to be unaware of a document of such enormous importance. We must, however, grant that every now and then your memory is active enough to invoke the Constitution. For instance, we watched you flare up last year on the issue of Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Kanhaiya Kumar, who was jailed on the charge of sedition, or regarding Rohith Vemula, the doctoral student from Hyderabad Central University who committed suicide after he was thrown out of his hostel room. In Vemula’s case the government asked his mother to prove her Dalit antecedents within 15 days. Are we to understand that the Dalit label has overnight become so highly prized that Vemula and his mother would claim to belong to the much-maligned “wretched of the earth”, as the psychoanalyst and philosopher Frantz Fanon called the poor and depressed classes?
Here’s another instance. How could one forget that Mohammed Akhlaq of Dadri village in Uttar Pradesh was lynched by a mob, and his young son brutalized, because a Brahmin priest from the village temple claimed that there was beef in the family fridge? Police investigations and the forensic probe proved that there was no beef in the house. But months later, it turns out that the tested substance had changed its chemical or other components and gone back to being beef. So now Akhlaq’s bereaved family is once again in serious trouble with the law.
How come you and Ravi Shankar Prasadji are so incensed when students voice their opinions that you hold forth on the danger to the nation from these young people, but seem utterly indifferent to the law transmuting Akhlaq’s victimised family into criminals? It is incomprehensible how the government can alienate our minority communities with such abandon.
The case of Kashmir
And here’s one more egregious case of antagonising our own people. I am talking about what happened in Kashmir a few months ago. Let us grant that things got out of hand. Was that so unusual? Our relationship with that former jannat (paradise) has been dicey from the time we won independence. Could you two senior ministers at the Centre, the honorable Prime Minister, the home minister and the chief of the Army not see the horrendous consequences of firing pellets that blinded so many people, especially children? How have we become so callous and blind? Surely there are many other less dangerous but effective methods of controlling mobs. Can’t you see that you are not just making lifelong enemies, you are ensuring that the next 50 or 100 generations will keep these terrible crimes and injustices alive, and never forgive us? Can you not see that the Indian State is turning into the most efficient recruiting agency for ISIS in India?
Bounty on Vijayan
Then on March 2, Kundan Chandravat, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh sah pracharak pramukh (joint head of dissemination for RSS ideology) announced a Rs 1-crore bounty for anyone who murdered Pinarayi Vijayan, the chief minister of Kerala. According to Chandravat, Vijayan was responsible for the deaths of 300 RSS activists in the state. Were these alleged murders a clandestine operation by Chief Minister Vijayan that even the Centre was unaware of, or was this just routine Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh political hyperbole? But Chandravat had more poison to share with the public. He said he was willing to “offer a garland of 3,00,000 human skulls to Bharatmata in revenge”.
As expected, the RSS leadership announced that it was disassociating the institution from this statement and its source. However, there was total silence from the Union government. Modiji, Jaitleyji, Prasadji, and Singhji, there was not a peep out of you. When it comes to India’s youngsters, you hector people, you spew extreme disapproval and your diatribes get louder and more intolerant and more hostile, all in the name of sedition. But you take zero note and action when someone from the RSS, in full public view, using the most obnoxious words, threatens death to a chief minister and three lakh citizens. Is silence all you can offer to such vile threats? While students get jailed, Chandravat gets to walk freely and spread his deadly talk without the police or the leadership of the ruling party doing a thing.
So, does our country now have two Constitutions – one for the ruling party and its affiliates, and another for the rest of the country? This also raises another question: why has the judiciary not issued a suo moto notice to Chandravat yet?
I will take my leave now. Do remember that there is no malice here, just what the French call “a cry from the heart”.
Warm regards, and may God keep all of you safe and in good health,
PS: One simple question: How come we, the people of this land, cannot have a conversation with you, Prime Minister Modi, Amit Shah, Ravi Shankar Prasad, and most of your leaders and spokespersons? The slightest disagreement and all of you come down on us as if we were traitors. Is it not possible to lower the temperature and talk to each other instead of being constantly slammed down? Is dialogue with all of us outside the pale of Hindutva? It might come as a shock to you but we are not the enemy. We too belong to the same country as you and are Indians.