"A thousand Pakistani militants have entered the
Baramula and Poonch sectors of Kashmir" -- that was the lead story
on the 9 pm news bulletin of a leading TV channel on 27 July. I was
properly alarmed. Pakistan had been soundly thrashed on the ground,
its government was still trying to explain the retreat to the
Pakistani public, the country had been roundly censured by the US,
by the UK, by foreign ministers gathered at Singapore. And yet it
had so swiftly resumed pushing terrorists into India.
And so I was even more surprised when the next
morning not one paper carried anything about fresh infiltration. But
it might have been a scoop of the TV channel, I thought. And was
therefore triply surprised to see that the TV channel itself had no
follow-up on the story the next day. The story vanished as swiftly
as the terrorists.
But in such matters it is the single shot that
serves the purpose: "Once again, while this Government is busy
celebrating victory, the Pakistanis have come in," "Kargil is no
victory, see the terrorists have spread even farther," viewers would
have concluded from that broadcast. Now, if you go on repeating it,
someone is bound to ask what the source for the story is, someone
else is bound to start following it up, and discover the truth. As
elections approach, such stories will multiply. The President has
written a letter to the Prime Minister about the telecom policy, ran
the lead story of "one of the world's greatest papers" the other
day. There had been no letter. "Vajpayee and Advani at logger-heads"
-- an item which had become a staple of some papers, and journalists
has resurfaced as a regular feature again, as has its companion,
"RSS unhappy with..."
For years now, Delhi reporting in The Hindu has
been in a class by itself: its correspondent does not report what
has been said at the press conference; the correspondent gives her
opinion on what the person should have said and, in her reckoning,
didn't, she lists the questions which were asked, and, as for the
answers which were given, she merely adds, "To none of these
questions did the BJP spokesman have a convincing answer"! That is a
news report! A breakthrough: day after day, report only the
questions which are asked, indeed the questions you and one other
correspondent ask, omit the answers as you have decided that they
are not "convincing"!
It isn't just the political parties that are
running for elections. A TV channel and some papers are too!
With these "natural allies" being so enthusiastic,
the Congress and our Comrades are able to deploy their customary
devices all the more easily. Their sparkling logic for one!
Pokharan-II? The credit goes to our scientists, they say. Agni-II?
The credit goes to our scientists, they say. The victory in Kargil?
The credit goes to our Army, they say. The inability of Military
Intelligence and RAW to detect the infiltration into Kargil? The
responsibility is that of the Government! In any case, what worked
was American pressure, not anything this Government did, they
declare. Would Pakistan have succumbed to any pressure had it not
been for the fact that it was being driven out from peak after peak?
"But the Government has given the Americans the opportunity to
mediate, to meddle," they declare. Clinton is saying the USA has no
mediatory role, the American spokesman, Karl Inderfuth has said this
time and again, the US Government has conveyed the same message
through diplomatic channels on several times -- but we should
believe Natwar Singh!
And the other favoured device: sow a doubt, and
run! Bhagwat, Mohan Guruswamy? Recall what a din they raised? The
Defence Ministry put out an entire compendium of facts on Bhagwat
and his allegations. Ever heard them mention the matter recently?
Guruswamy? "Scam, scam," they shouted. Their leader, Dr. Manmohan
Singh, had to acknowledge in Parliament that they had no information
on the "serious questions" Guruswamy had raised beyond the articles
he had written. But Guruswamy had said more than once in his
articles that he was leveling no charge of corruption against
anyone! Have you heard any of them raise the matter since?
Even more telling is the case of "atrocities
against Christians". What a din was raised. Most of the incidents
had not taken place at all. Of the three that had, persons were
arrested in regard to two -- the rape of the nuns in Jhabua, the
incidents in Gujarat. Have you heard any of them demand that the
trials of those arrested proceed swiftly? In regard to the third,
the murder of Staines and his sons, the Wadhwa Commission submitted
its report several weeks ago. Have you heard any of them demand that
it be released, or make even a pro-forma, nominal effort to have the
Government act on its recommendations?
That was the sum total of their war-effort during
the Kargil operation: ask questions, sow doubts. My favourite of
that series was one by their Inquisitor-in-Chief, the head of their
mental activity on foreign policy, Mr. Natwar Singh. Mr. Jaswant
Singh, the Minister for External Affairs, had gone to Europe. He was
meeting one representative of the P-5 after another. His meetings
were being reported in newspapers. That they had telling effect has
become more than evident. What was the Congress expert on foreign
policy -- of the "inhein chullu bhar pani mein doob marna chahiye"
fame -- saying? We have their house-journal, the National Herald to
help us: "The Union Minister for External Affairs has not yet
returned to India," the paper's issue of 29 May reported Natwar
Singh as declaiming. "May be, he has been asked to stay abroad by
the Prime Minister. Why is he taking so much time? All these
questions are to be answered by the Government. The people have a
right to know..."
A din having been raised, doubts having been
created, the purpose of our friends having been served, they have
forgotten each of the matters! And in this they are true to pattern.
Remember the Thakkar Commission they had set up to unravel the
"wider conspiracy" behind the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi?
Ever heard any of them mention it after, their lies about it having
been nailed, they were compelled to place it in Parliament? Remember
the Jain Commission set up to unravel the "wider conspiracy" behind
the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi? Remember how they pulled down two
governments, and plunged the country into uncertainty using that
report, -- to say nothing of how they buffeted one of their own
governments, that of Mr Narasimha Rao, using that Commission?
Remember how they paralysed Parliament on the charge that the Action
Taken Report on that Commission's findings was designed to shield
some of those responsible? Ever heard any of them so much as mention
the matter recently?
The penchant of the Congress for falsehood remains
unimpaired -- that is an important fact that we should remember as
elections near. It has been compounded, I would say. For the
Congress has been taken over by high-school debaters, it seems. A
smart one-liner, a sly phrase, a seemingly penetrating question for
the day -- the Party seems so satisfied with these. And so oblivious
of the consequences: you would have to watch Pakistan TV for just
two-three days to learn what comfort Sonia Gandhi's falsehoods on
Kargil have been to the Pakistanis.
When this is their facility with untruth when they
are out of power, what will they not do should they gain control of
the State apparatus?
Event after event during the last year has been a
reminder of the perilous times through which we are passing. The
economic breakdown in South East, sanctions, the invasion in
Kargil... In a word, in addition to our long-standing problems, here
is a new danger: a squall can hit us suddenly from any side.
On the other side is what is by now a central
feature of our system of governance. We style ourselves as a
Parliamentary form of government, as a Cabinet form of government.
Such characterizations are only partially correct. A Prime
Ministerial form of government -- that is much nearer reality. The
Prime Minister is not what the outdated phrase suggests, the first
among equals. He is the one person who matters. His instincts, his
nature, the kinds of persons he is comfortable with -- these
determine policy and performance much more than almost any other
feature. Mrs. Indira Gandhi's instinct -- for timing, as well as for
not tolerating an assault on the country -- that determined more
than anything else what the country did to Pakistan in 1971, her
instinct for self-preservation more than anything else caused the
Emergency in 1975. In the face of the collapse of what was then, in
effect, our patron State, the Soviet Union, it was Mr Narasimha
Rao's adroitness more than anything else which ensured that our
foreign policy landed on its feet. Similarly, it was his nature --
of benign neglect -- which ensured that institutions which were
fortunate to have good persons heading them at the time -- the
Supreme Court under Justice Venkatachalliah -- were restored. The
same facet of his nature ensured that several ministries
In Kargil too, the instinct and long experience in
public affairs of Mr Vajpayee have made all the difference. The
pincer that caught Pakistan in the end -- that our response was
massive, and simultaneously so restrained, so carefully calibrated
-- has everything to do with those two personal traits of the Prime
Minister: his instinct and his experience.
Another circumstance, all too visible in the case
of the Congress, compounds the apprehension. Even when the cabinet
and party are robust it is the nature and inclination of the one who
is Prime Minister which determines the outcome more than almost
anything else. Now that the Congress is reduced to a sack of
domesticated "jee memsahib"s this becomes all the more certain.
Among the developments which have struck me since I got to sit in
Parliament, this has been one of the most disheartening ones: to see
persons for whom I had developed great regard become so totally
servile, to see them agitate, to see them take positions which are
so plainly alien to their nature has at times well-nigh broken my
heart. What this internalised servility spells for the future is
evident. Recall June 1975. The prime impulse for imposing the
Emergency was of course Mrs Gandhi's scale of values -- her
continuance in office ranked higher in that scale than law and
institutions. But what made the Emergency inevitable, what made it
to so easy to throw a lakh and half people into jail was the
servility to which the Congress had already been reduced: what with
the then Congress President being so proud of his enunciation,
"India is Indira, Indira is India," how could there spring any
corrective from within? But that was twenty five years ago. Since
then the Congress has become infinitely less of an organization. So,
should the party be catapulted to power, Sonia's instinct -- the
greed for the Prime Ministership that led her to lie to the
President and the press, the imperious streak, "Those who do not
agree with me should leave the party here and now" -- her ignorance
will act completely unimpeded on the country and its future.
Thus, perilous times on the one hand, and, on the
other, the fact that in our system of governance everything depends
on the person of the Prime Minister. That is the central question
that the crises of these months -- the South East Asian economic
collapse, sanctions, Kargil -- pose for the electorate. In such a
time, is the country to be put in the hands of a person about whom
it knows nothing?
About whose views on no matter does it know
anything -- save her anxiety to become the Prime Minister?
Is the country to be placed in the hands of a
person about whom, as she merely reads speeches written by someone
else, no one knows whether she even has a view on any matter -- save
that one exception of becoming the Prime Minister?
About whose associates, the persons she trusts, the
ones she listens to, even the ones who write her speeches the
country knows nothing?
Is the country to be put in the hands of a person
who has absolutely no experience of any governmental office?
Is the country to be put in the hands of a person
who is so much at ease with falsehood -- "I have the support of 272
M P's" "The President has asked me to continue my efforts to form an
alternative government," to say nothing of what Mr. P. A. Sangma has
since revealed -- that the Congress Working Committee had not
authorized her to stake a claim to be the Prime Minister at all,
that all it had authorized her to do was to see whether an
alternative government, one not necessarily headed by her, could be
The other point is as important. Even the most
astute Prime Minister can do little if he does not have sufficient
numerical strength in the Lok Sabha. It was a stroke of luck for the
country that the war broke out after the Lok Sabha had been
dissolved, and hence Mr. Vajpayee and his team were able to craft a
coherent and massive response. Had the Lok Sabha been in session, he
and the Government would daily have been baited and jostled in
Parliament. The war effort would certainly have been impaired. Short
of insulating the conduct of governance better from our legislators,
the crises teach us that we must give sufficient numbers to the
government we vote into office.
And in today's context the key to that is to rise